The word Yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. The Indian sage Patanjali outlines eight limbs of Yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of Yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. Somehow the ancient Yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell. Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste means “I bow to you.” Although in the West the word “namaste” is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing. We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation. For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.
Yoga is amazing—even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. We suggest starting by attending class two or three times a week and establishing a daily home practice of 20 minutes per session. Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle—do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will likely find that after a while your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.
Unlike stretching or fitness, Yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali’s eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of Yoga. Even within the physical practice, Yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes Yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing Yoga, and so will your mind.
Yes! Come as you are and you will find that Yoga practice will help you become more flexible. You will also improve your strength, coordination, cardiovascular health, as you gain a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being.
In Yoga practice we twist from side to side, turn upside down, and bend forward and backward. If you have not fully digested your last meal, it will make itself known to you in ways that are not comfortable. If you are a person with a fast-acting digestive system and are afraid you might get hungry or feel weak during Yoga class, experiment with a light snack such as yogurt, a few nuts, or juice about 30 minutes to an hour before class.
All you really need to begin practicing Yoga is your body, your mind, a bit of curiosity and a Yoga mat! it is also helpful to have a pair of Yoga leggings, or shorts, and a t-shirt that’s not too baggy. No special foot gear is not required because you will be barefoot.