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What is yoga? A view at an ancient practice
Yoga is a traditional physical and mental discipline originally developed in India. The word yoga is derived from Sanskrit language. At the root is a word yuj, meaning to control, to yoke or to unite. Therefore, yoga is often translated as joining, uniting, union, conjunction, and means. A person proficient in yoga is often called yogi or yogini. Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years for its diverse health benefits. Today, it is much popular all over the world, and the most commonly practiced type of yoga is the so called Hatha yoga, also known as Hatha vidya. The word Hatha is a compound of the words ha and tha meaning sun and moon. As the name suggests, Hatha yoga combines opposites, and that is why it is today practiced for both mental and physical health benefits.

Yoga practice

When we think of yoga, we usually think of a series of different postures, described by the Sanskrit word Asana. However, typical yoga training usually consists of these postures, combined with different breathing techniques, also known as Pranayama, and meditation. Asana is one of the “eight limbs of yoga”, where each limb relates to one aspect achieving health and wellbeing. Only one of these limbs is associated with physical exercises and the rest of them include ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards others (Yama), towards oneself (Niyama), breathing exercises (Pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and the bliss (Samadhi).

Yoga classes

Most of the yoga classes available today will include Asana postures and breathing exercises. Sometimes, the teachers may induce chanting, meditation or some kind of inspirational reading. However, the busy lifestyle of modern people focuses on physical benefits of yoga postures and soothing effects of breathing exercises. The typical class at a gym is focused on stretching, improving posture and building up the strength, through the low-impact workout. A class in the yoga center usually takes more into the spiritual dimension. 

The most appropriate type of classes for the beginners are Hatha or vinyasa yoga classes. A nearby gym is probably the best place to start and explore basic level exercises. Depending on the trainer, there may be a short breathing exercise or meditation at the start. Students will typically need to warm-up through a series of light stretching exercises, before continuing to poses that are more adventurous. The class usually ends with relaxation in the “child pose”. Many great yoga books and videos are also available, and internet offers many specialized websites with complete free training programs.

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