In a time when everyone is staying inside and the gyms are closed, it's difficult to get a good workout in, so many people are turning to yoga.
There are many benefits to doing yoga, such as:
1. A decrease in stress
2. Less inflammation
3. Better heart health
However, starting yoga can be confusing and difficult. Here is an introduction to the two main forms of yoga as they were traditionally taught, and how they are practiced in our modern day.
Developed as a method to develop the key qualities of awakening, Buddhist yoga is the practice of ethics, exertion, sense restraint, and perspective. If you've done any form of yoga, then you have likely experienced an aspect of these in your practice before.
Two basic mental practices are indispensable to the Buddhist yogi in his practice, samatha and vipassana.
Samatha is the quality of a stable, relaxed mind. It is also associated with mental clarity. One can enjoy this in both their yogic practice and life, and yoga was likely thought to be a way to enhance this virtue.
Vipassana is a sense of insight or understanding into the true nature of all things. This 'sense' is understood in many different ways, but a modern explanation would claim Vipassana to be a realization of selflessness, or that the self is an illusion.
Kundalini yoga seems like an outlandish idea in our modern society, but it is quite interesting to contemplate as a structure of practice in itself.
The idea of Kundalini yoga is to awaken a sleeping energy said to be inside of our bodies. It is based on Indian theories of breathing and body exercises to awaken this energy named Kundalini, or 'the coiled one'.
The basic concept of Kundalini is the divine serpent energy that resides in all of us, and awakening this energy to unite it with the more universal, cosmic energy that surrounds us. Without getting too much into chakras, Kundalini yoga may be thought of as beginning with the sleeping serpent energy that resides coiled at the root chakra, and guiding this energy to awakening through the highest chakra (in the head).
Yoga as Exercise
In our modern day, yoga is considered by most as no more than a form of exercise, with the occasional breathing exercise, and typically ending with a long rest or meditation. Despite the complexity of it's tradition, it is referred to simply as 'yoga'.
Since the 1930's, there has been a revival of yoga. Back in the 30's however, there were really only a few standing poses that people did (remember, this was a time when doctor's were smoking cigarettes and nobody went to the gym). Then in the 1950's, there were a few gymnastics poses that were carried over into yoga and tweaked slightly to fit the practice. There were a few waves like 'power yoga' and 'light yoga', whatever that is, which were popular, but the practice didn't become big until the goals of enlightenment and awakening were replaced with relaxation and fitness.
In 1984, the spring of yoga poses sprang from a few 200 to over 900 poses, as recorded by Dharma Mitra. When this growth occurred, the traditional goals of yoga were cast away and some forgotten entirely.
Despite the rich past that yoga has in various religions, most of what it used to be is forgotten. But, this does not mean that yoga is useless.
On the contrary, yoga is a business in itself. If you look on YouTube, there are hundreds of people out there trying to teach you their yoga practice, and you can find a weekly practice in nearly every city you go to.
So I would argue that the roots of yoga are not exactly gone, but have simply grown into a concept that is more readily understood today.
Just imagine, if I tell you to do a workout that will leave you awakened, what do you expect? I probably wouldn't even want to do it, because the term awakened is ancient and vague.
But if I'm told that this exercise will help reduce stress and anxiety, I would be all for it!
Above all, yoga is a way to connect to your breath and discover a side of yourself that you may have never been exposed to before. So if you are looking for a workout that is different, and something that will push you both physically and mentally, then give yoga a try. There are plenty of teachers out there ready to help. My personal favorite is Yoga with Adrienne, she's great.
As always, if you have any thoughts about this post or comments about how you currently practice yoga, leave them below. I love to see what you guys think and how you conduct your practice.