To introduce yoga to someone who is completely new to it, and to do it in a succinct way, is a tall order. With several thousand years of accumulated knowledge and with a thriving and growing community of yoga students around the world, there are a million interpretations and understandings of what yoga is. The definition is often personal, experiential and depending on your take on it, can be hard to express to someone else to do it justice. With the upcoming introduction to yoga workshop on March 21st, we are taking just 3 short hours to explore and introduce it but it'll just begin to touch the surface...
For some yoga is a physical practice to keep fit, moving the body into a range of sometimes unusual postures to build strength, flexibility and to energise the body. This is the most common western notion of yoga and it has much to offer practitioners at this level. But there are other meanings to what yoga is aswell that go a little deeper and can become more esoteric. For many it is a way to work with the body along with a particular mental attitude, in an effort to try to establish and develop mental focus and stamina. Many use yoga to help them bring a meditative space into their lives. Some use it for therapy and healing to help recover from or reduce illness and discomfort. Some use it as a tool for self-enquiry or even enlightenment. (The psychology in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras offer an ancient explanation that is useful today for understanding ourselves better and supporting us on a journey through personal change.) Many develop a sense of communion with something beyond the everyday into their yoga and some bring religion and devotion aswell. The experience and meaning of yoga is widely varied and can sometimes be worlds apart from each other - in common is that they all bring benefits to the practitioners that develop through regular practice.
Experiencing a level of benefit is an obvious but key aspect to continuing to pursue yoga practice. Yoga isn't something you master quickly - it can become a lifelong pursuit for someone who is interested. Just as you feel you have the hang of one thing, you realise there is much more to it than you first thought and doors open to many things beyond it. The key aspect is about practice, there is plenty of theory but without practice, you can only go so far.
The term yoga, from the root 'yuj' in the ancient indian 'Sanskrit' language, means to 'yoke' or to 'connect', 'harness', or 'union' (further definitions of the term yoga read more here). For those starting with the physical yoga practices, you are connecting more closely with your body, harnessing it's power and strengthening and toning the muscles, structures and systems within it. For those developing the more mental practices, you are connecting the mind and the body, often uses the breathing practices of yoga as a key connection between the two. It sounds obvious, but many of us today are out of touch with our bodies, have no idea how to control or contain our thoughts, and find ourselves not quite keeping up with where our minds and bodies want to take us. Yoga aims to help us harness and gain some level of control over our minds and bodies so we can focus and direct ourselves, perhaps to more meaningful pursuits if that is what we are after, or to move beyond our minds and bodies.
So how far will we get in our three hour workshop?! Well of course some yoga practice to start to experience what it might be about, an introduction to some key postures and ideas, some context to help get an overview of it all, and informal and helpful discussion to help clarify what it might mean for you. It should be an interesting Sunday afternoon.
For more info on the next Introduction to Yoga workshop, visit the Yoga workshops page.