Many people view Yoga as simply stretching. Athletes have turned to the practice to get more limber and are commonly surprised with the other components involved. Yogis who have experienced the all encompassing practice of Yoga know the real benefits and are often shocked to hear Yoga referred to as “just stretching”. There is even a Funny Comic that went viral recently which showcased this perfectly.
Yogi’s practice Pranayama which is Sanskrit for “life force extension” and is a set of breathing techniques used to influence the nervous system to create a specific outcome whether it be greater relaxation, concentration or energy etc. Pranayama can be practiced before, during and after Yoga poses. Read our previous blog on “3 Yogic Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress”.
Yoga is often referred to as a moving meditation because of the mindfulness encouraged during the practice. A 2,000 Year Old Text, The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which is still regarded as the most authoritative text on Yoga said “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” which is Sanskrit and loosely translates to mean “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. During Yoga students are taught to turn their awareness toward the present moment (as opposed to replaying the past or projecting into the future). Mental focus is directed in an equanimous way on their breath and the sensations in their body (which only exist in the here and now). This assists the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind and facilitates the “observer consciousness” which helps a person to see reality more clearly.
As you have witnessed so far, many Yoga terms are in Sanskrit. Yoga originates from India and although Yoga is not a religion, this ancient practice is steeped in spiritual practices from following Ethical Codes of Conduct to meditating on the Chakras and chanting Deities names to invoke their powerful qualities within. The word Yoga is Sanskrit and means Union. Many Yogi’s believe that the ultimate goal in Yoga is to experience oneness with all by uniting an individual's consciousness with infinite consciousness (which you could think of as God). Yoga poses were initially (and still are) used as a way to open up the body so that one can comfortably sit for long periods of time in meditation and spiritual contemplation. Yogi’s less focused on these traditional roots can attest to how simply practicing Asana (yoga poses) in a mindful way can generate a feeling of bliss, reverence and gratitude that mirrors the results of a spiritual practice.
There are many styles of Yoga from Yin which involves static stretching to Ashtanga which involves incredible strength as one lifts the weight of their body into many impressive shapes. The majority of styles incorporate poses that increase a person's strength similar to the way body-weight exercise would which simple stretching does not.
Similar to increasing strength, Yoga can also challenge a person's endurance. A Power Yoga class can be a 90 minute long aerobic exercise with continuous fast-paced movement and body weight exercises. The associated increase in a person's heart rate with the proper breathing techniques can lead to an improvement in their overall endurance which cannot be said for stretching alone.
The practice of Yoga is more vast than the 5 aspects touched on here but this starts to paint the picture. The next time you hear someone say “Yoga is just stretching” you can playfully roll your eyes and laugh to yourself! Yoga is a practice that has benefited many people's lives. Try it for yourself today and join one of our Livestream Classes from the comfort of your own home.
Lauren Dee Teaches Yoga Online and at International Yoga Retreats. Find Her on Instagram @laurendeeyoga or on Her Website laurendeeyoga.com to Receive Her Free eBook “Spirit Sweat” a How-To Handbook that Unites the Physical and Philosophical Practice of Yoga.