What is yoga?
Yoga in Sanskrit (the ancient Indo-European language of India) means Union. This is the union of the mind, body, and spirit. Totally woo-woo right?! Modern-day yoga takes the forms of goat yoga and wine yoga. Or an hour to unwind through moving your body and a savasana, the 10 minutes you have at the end of class when you lie in stillness and pray to not go back to your hectic reality. Yoga is like Marmite - love it or hate it. There is however a whole yogic style of living and it goes beyond that hour on a Tuesday night that you rush to from work. So here's the low-down:
Yoga began (in India, rumoured to be 5000 years ago) as seats of meditation. Meditation is the training of your attention and your awareness to achieve clarity and emotional balance. This takes many forms from candlelight meditation (focussing on a candle), body scan (focussing on points down the body) to mantra's (singing). You do not need to sit cross-legged and chant om to meditate. It is a deeper experience than that. A chance to give the mind a break from the constant noise and chatter from what you'll have for dinner to that thing you did (usually something we feel guilty or upset about) 5 years ago that you still beat your self up about. This is the hardest part of yoga - silencing the mind. The road to meditation is not always smooth. One day you've nailed it and the next you are back to square 1, this, however, is how we stay humble.
Moving meditation takes the form of the physical practice (called 'asana' in Sanskrit) of yoga, how most of us understand yoga. With multiple benefits losing weight, better balance and increased flexibility. Yoga does it all as well as improve heart health, reduce joint pain and protect the body from injury. That's why many elite athletes are practicing yoga!
There are more styles than you can count on both hands from structured fast-flowing Ashtanga classes to Yin classes where you can hold postures anywhere from 45 seconds to 5 minutes to laughter yoga. There is a style for everyone and everyone can practice yoga. Find the style that is right for you, do some research, ask around. If you've attended a class you didn't like then try another style, another instructor, another studio - it's all about the vibe that you get, it's meant to be fun (as well as challenging, spiritual, exercise, relationship building and totally zen).
The concept of living the yogic life took the longest for me to grasp. I believe this to stem from the philosophy behind the eight limbs of yoga, in particular, the Yamas. The Yamas detail practicing non-violence (which is why most of us are hippy vegans), being truthful, not stealing, being non-judgemental and forgiving others (as well as yourself). The lifestyle of yoga to me pretty much means be a good human.
The mind, body, and spirit are intricately linked and one does not exist without the other. Spoiler alert: it never gets easier. In yoga, there is always something to learn and somewhere to go. Always pushing to the edge in your practice but never (and I stress never) to the point of pain. This goes for all three areas explained. In your yoga journey be open, be kind and breathe. As the quote goes "Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down."