What is Yoga
The bigger picture of yoga
Yoga is over 5,000 years old, and originally was developed as a set of practices and a way of life in order to escape the usual human condition of suffering, into becoming a more enlightened being.
This suffering was identified as being mainly conditions of the mind including fears, anger, jealousy, anxieties, worry, desires and general unhappiness.
The enlightened sages saw that these conditions arose primarily as a result of over identification with the ego and by clinging or over attachment to objects in one’s life.
The path towards enlightenment was primarily through meditation.
Over the years, the body of knowledge of yoga developed many practices and techniques which were designed to support and strengthen the meditation practice.
In general these practices can be categoriesed within the 8 Limbs of Yoga
- yama (self restraints or behaviours to avoid)
- niyama (moral code and things to do in one’s life)
- asana (physical postures)
- pranayama (working with energy through breathing practices)
- pratyahara (freeing the mind from one’s senses)
- dharana (focussing the mind on an object)
- dhyana (merging of one’s awareness)
- samadhi (state of bliss which arises and defied description)
The first 3 limbs of yoga contain mainly the physical aspects of yoga including yoga postures, what one should do in life and certain things one should avoid.
The 4th gets more subtle and has to do with practices to get in touch with, and then to influence the internal energies.
The 5th and 6th limbs have to do with more subtle mental practices drawig one’s mind away from external objects and going more deeply within.
And the 7th and 8th limbs are states which arise as a result of practice of the first 6 limbs.
The physical postures or asanas are a very small part of the wide range of practices which make up the transformational Yoga practice.
A much large part involves working with one’s mind and one’s awareness. Other practices involve working with inner energy and also moral code of activities one should try to include in one’s life, and other habits or behaviour which should be avoided.
The corner stone of yoga practices and the most important for transformation has always been meditation.
In general, all the other practices and techniques are primarily there to prepare oneself for meditation and to support oneself as one continues this path of using meditation.
Teacher Aspirant relationship
Up until 100 years ago, most people undertook the practice of yoga under direct guidance of a yoga teacher who themselves had already undergone this transformation practice.
It was very important that the teacher would already have transformed themselves through the practice of all yoga and then the teacher would be able to ‘see’ the weaknesses and difficulties of the student and also their strengths and other character traits.
Based on what the teacher ‘saw’ in the aspirant, they would select the practices that the student should learn and accomplish.
Very often the practices that we are not drawn towards are exactly those practices that we need in order to transform ourselves.
For example a lazy person might like the gentle easy to do postures, whereas the teacher would know that in order to break down the inner resistance of their ego, this person should practice quite strenuous postures for example many sun salutations. This type of practice would release endorphins and eventually the person who used to be lazy would begin to enjoy and feel good through the physical exertion and would be able to leave behind other habits and tendencies they had been carrying with them through their life.
Modern day yoga
About 100 years ago an influential yoga teacher in India called Krishnamacharya developed a more physical style of yoga and focussed mainly on the physical postures as he was teaching active young boys.
This style is known today as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
Among the young boys were Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois who both went on the teach mainly the physical aspects of yoga, and were very influential in bringing yoga to the western world.
As a result of the Krishnamacharya lineage, much of yoga today in the western world primarily focuses on physical practice and unfortunately the hidden gems of yoga involving working with the mind and inner energies have been largely overlooked within many modern yoga classes.
Luckily there are still some living traditions of the fuller picture of yoga including Satyananda yoga and Sivananada yoga where the full 8 limbs of yoga are taught and practiced.
Different types or schools of Yoga
Nowadays there is a confusing array of types of yoga and these include
- Vinyasa flow
- Power yoga
There is more information about the different types of yoga at xxx
Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
The benefits include
- Stress reduction
- Deeper relaxation
- Improved sleep patterns
- Reduced anxiety
- Toning of the body
- Increased flexibility and mobility
- Increased energy
- Better concentration
- Improved awareness
- Self development
- Improved peace of mind
- Greater happiness
- Non attachment
- Access to deeper states of awareness
- Loosening the knots
Who can begin to learn Yoga ?
Anyone can begin to learn Yoga.
One word of caution… some forms of Yoga are quite energetic right from the start.
These types of Yoga should really only be started by those who are already fit and supple or have practiced other forms of Yoga previously.
But most forms of Yoga particularly Satyananda Yoga can be started by everyone, young or old, fit or unfit, large or small.
These classes start very gently, and the postures progress at your own pace. Emphasis is placed on inner awareness and most of the postures are practiced with the eyes closed and develop inner peace and calmness in addition to working on the physical level.
What does one learn in a Yoga class ?
Different classes teach different things. However in general Yoga includes the following
- Physical postures which tone the body, massage the internal organs, direct the awareness inwards and coordinate movements of the body with the breath
- Breath work which can include ways pf breathing calmly and letting go of tension, ways of breathing to increase energy within the body, ways to increase heat and others to cool down the body
- Deep Relaxation techniques to let go of tension in both body and mind
- Meditation or preparation techniques which increase mindfulness, inner awareness and single pointed focus of mind
- Strong dynamic movements coordinated with the breath and designed to remove energy blocks
- Cleansing practices
- Detachment from the distractions of the mind
- Self restraints
- Steadying the mind
- Self study
- Samadhi or blissful awareness
Please note that each Yoga type and each level of class may deal with one or more of the above. Its possible to practice yoga for years and still only deal with two or three of the above areas of Yoga.
How to learn Meditation
Dave Brocklebank who is the author of this article, and who founded the Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre has an instructional CD to teach you Meditation.
Mantra Meditation CD
How does one start ?
One starts usually by attending a Yoga class or by coming on a yoga weekend or week long retreat.
It is very important to find a yoga yoga teacher to attned right from the beginning, so that one can be sure that one is being taught the practices correctly, and by someone who has had many teachers of both practicing yoga asnd meditation and also of teaching these.
This is much more advisable than buying a book and practicing oneself. The reason for this, is that one may think one is following the postures correctly, but may not be aware that ones alignment of the spine is not correct, and one may in fact be putting undue pressure on the body rather than getting the benefits from the posture.
One should consider what type of Yoga one would like to practice and then look for a teacher.
In choosing the type of yoga, one should consider whether one prefers
- Gentle postures at the beginning giving one time to gradually get more fit and ready for stronger Yoga poses
- Emphasis on inner awareness, breathing and relaxation
- Stronger postures right from the start working more with physical alignment rather than inner awareness and relaxation
- A quite dynamic class of younger people who are already quite fit
How to find a Yoga teacher
That really starts with the set of questions above for yourself.
- Why do you want to learn Yoga?
- What is it you are seeking?
Depending on what you want, there are various forms of Yoga which will enable you experience what it is you are seeking more quickly and more directly.
If its fitness, and endurance and toning up your body…. then it may be one of the stronger forms such as Ashtanga, Anusara or a strong from of Vinyasa flow yoga.
If it is fitness and body awareness, flexibility rather than ensurance, then possible Iyengar yoga.
If its lying down and relaxing, standing up and stretching, tuning inwards with awareness, breathing slowly and mindfully… it may be Satyananda,
If it is a middle of the road with a little of all of the above, then maybe it is Hatha yoga.
And having said that each of the above possible types of Yoga all have something to offer in each of the areas of fitness, awareness, improved health and well-being, breath work and relaxation.
One thing to check is what qualifications your Yoga teacher has.
Ask them how long they trained to receive those qualifications.
Any training that is under 2 years in length should be questioned.
Equally well, ask whether the teacher practices themselves each day and how long their own experience with Yoga and Meditation is and how long they practice each day.
List of Yoga teachers in Ireland
Please see Yoga teachers in Ireland and UK
Choose the type of yoga to best suit your needs
What type of yoga is best for me ?
Where can one find out more information?
The Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre is on the Galway Clare border and offers over 40 residnetial eco yoga retreats of the highest standards every year since 1999.
Author of this article
Dave Brocklebank B.A., M.A. (psy), Qualified Satyananda Yoga teacher