Think yoga, and a picture of a person contorted in an incredibly complicated pose comes to mind, or that of a person in a deep meditative state with sublime peace on their face.
Acrobatic flexibility is out of the question for many of us, and a peaceful mind is an even rarer gem. In short, though inspiring, these images are a little daunting too.
The key to unlocking yoga - an aesthetic, energizing, and enriching practice - is to know one simple fact - yoga is for everyone. Yes! EVERY ONE!
Yoga doesn't call for fancy setup or expensive equipment. It requires nothing more than space slightly longer and broader than a yoga mat and the willingness to keep at it. (No one turns an expert or yogi overnight.)
Like Indian philosophy and spiritual practices, yoga can be approached from many different angles. The tangible benefits of practicing yoga are myriad. Besides mere exercise, it is a wonderful method of strength training sans the props. It is effective physical therapy and can prevent injuries. It enhances body balance and is a potent full-body indoor/outdoor workout.
Yoga is an engaging and holistic practice - the word 'holistic' is not used lightly. The system integrates breath, body, mind, and spirit. It can control anxiety, improve immunity and reduce stress. For those seeking a deeper meaning, it can be the means to exploring spirituality and self-realization. For those so inclined, it is profound enough to become a way of life.
The system itself is robust and inclusive and has survived several millennia. There are records of the yogic practice dating back to 2700B.C. Sage Patanjali systematized and codified the then-existing practices of yoga. The treatise 'Yoga Darshana' or 'Yoga sutras' are attributed to him, and he is considered the master of classical yoga.
The word comes from the Sanskrit root 'Yuj,' meaning 'to join' or 'to unite.' The 'joining' refers to seeing past the duality of our existence and finding the oneness or connectedness with everything that surrounds us.
Swami Vivekananda's lecture at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions in 1893 sparked widespread interest in the practice in the United States. Since then, teachers like B.K.S Iyengar have popularized the system among Americans.
The system, like the exercises, is flexible – allowing for many teachers to develop various schools of practice. Yogacharya B.K.S Iyengar introduced props to help practitioners achieve the perfect pose and developed a technique that is now known as "Iyengar Yoga."
Each generation has adapted yoga and integrated it to achieve their goals. Yoga is timeless; its soaring popularity is testimony to the fact. Even locked in and shut out, yoga practitioners continued to breathe deep and relax through daunting times.
Yoga is a vast science that has many subliminal levels. Once learned, it's a tool that you can turn to at any time. Yoga is a path. It can lead where you want to go – towards health, strength, fitness, flexibility, well-being, spiritual growth, and oneness.
On International Yoga Day, which falls on June 21, take a brief look at what the ancient practice is all about.