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What is Yoga?

Yoga is a science that was developed in India thousands of years ago. It is the oldest system of personal development in the world, encompassing body, mind and spirit and the word Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning union; the union of body, mind and spirit. The practice of yoga is a way of balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions. There are many branches of yoga; raja, hatha, jnana, karma and bhakti yoga. Hatha yoga has become the most well-known and wildly practiced form of yoga today. Throughout the west Hatha Yoga incorporates the practice of asana, pranayama and relaxation.

Asanas are the physical postures. The combination of asanas or postures exercise every part of the body, stretching and toning the muscles, joints and spine. This creates great suppleness and flexibility throughout the entire body while toning the internal organs, glands and nerves, thereby the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive systems all benefit. Yoga works holistically keeping the whole body in radiant health. Central to the practice of yoga is the movement of prana (life force/vital energy) in the body. Through the practice of asanas in combination with the breath, energy blocks in the body are removed increasing the flow of prana taken in and stored in the body. The removal of energy blocks and increased flow of prana increases vitality and promotes increased health. This infuses into our day today lives giving an increased sense of well-being and relaxation in both body and mind, allowing life to flow with greater ease.

Pranayama is the science of breath control. Breath is the essence of life which most of us take for granted. It is the first thing we do when we are born into the world and it is the last thing we do when we leave and every moment in between is connected by breath. As babies and young children the art of proper and effective breathing was intuitive but through the stresses of modern life our bodies and mind are continually burdened with anxiety and tension and we have lost touch with what we instinctively knew at birth. Reconnecting with the art of proper breathing can greatly enhance the quality of our health and our emotional and mental well-being. Breath is the most vital process of the body, effecting the functioning of each and every cell, is intimately linked with the performance of the brain and our levels of vitality and resistance to disease. Through pranayama we can re-establish natural and regular breathing patterns, dramatically increasing our energy levels. The practices of pranayama utilises breathing to influence and increase the flow of prana (vital energy/life force) throughout the body releasing blocked energy and deep and hidden tensions, supporting the whole immune system, keeping us vital and free from disease. Furthermore as the state of our mind is deeply connected with our breath the practice of pranayama promotes a calm and contented state of mind enabling us to maintain equilibrium of mind in our day-to-day lives.

Relaxation is the natural state of our body and mind but because of the pace of our lives we rarely achieve a state of true relaxation. In yoga we begin and end the class with relaxation. A few minutes of relaxation at the beginning of the class enables us to let go of the day, our worries and anxieties, allowing the mind to become clear and relaxed and helps to release any unnecessary tension and tightness in the body in preparation for the asanas that follow. During the class the combination of asanas with the breath further enables the body to release and the steadiness of postures and awareness of the breath induces a clarity and subtleness of mind. The class always ends with relaxation allowing further relaxation on a physical, mental and emotional level. Relaxation is a letting go as opposed to holding on; of non-effort as opposed to effort. As the whole body relaxes certain physiological changes occur in the body; muscle tension is reduced; the breath becomes slow and deep; activity in the mind slows down; there is a decrease in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and an increase in the parasympathetic activity. A few minutes of deep relaxation is more effective than many hours of restless sleep. Release of tensions, relaxation and peace of mind are the secrets of transformation.

And that is ‘the magic of yoga’; it has the power to transform at all levels, physical, mental and emotional. For whatever reason you choose to do yoga, whether it be for a stronger, flexible more toned body, for relaxation or relief from a specific complaint such as backache, yoga can give you this and much more. Through sustained practice you will begin to notice subtle changes in your approach to life and will begin to feel not only more relaxed but more aware and alive, more connected to your inner self and begin to glimpse a state of inner peace which is your true nature. It is this that constitutes the magic of yoga. Experience yoga for yourself and let the magic happen for you!

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