Is yoga a religion? | Live Science

Watch a yoga class and there’s a good chance that by the end of the session you will have seen students bow their heads, hold their hands in a prayer position, and quietly whisper “Namaste”. So is yoga a religion? This is a reasonable question to ask, especially since they may also have knelt down on their mat with their eyes closed and chanted “OM” in front of a statue of a Buddha or an Indian god. .

While these rituals are not uncommon in yoga, most classes today focus on physical postures. However, this has not always been so; the early practitioners of yoga had an entirely different program. Here, we talk to James Mallinson, world-renowned yoga expert and co-author of Roots of Yoga, about the practice’s origins. Next, British author and yoga teacher Eve Boggenpoel explains how to start yoga so that you can enjoy its many benefits.

Is yoga a religion?

Dating back over two thousand years, yoga has drawn inspiration from various traditions including Hinduism and Buddhism, but it wasn’t until medieval times that physical postures were introduced, Dr. James Mallinson, Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical and Indian Studies at SOAS. , University of London. Nevertheless, he was still very concerned with spiritual matters at this time. “The first text to teach the practices of physical yoga [known as hatha yoga] was written by Buddhists in the 11th century and called Amá¹›tasiddhi, ”he told Live Science,“ and certainly through these practices they were aimed at some sort of salvation or liberation.

Modern yoga echoes these religious beliefs – natarajasana, or dance pose, for example, is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva, and sun salutations may also reflect earlier beliefs. “In the Vedas [ancient Indian texts], the sun is a god, so you could argue that sun salutations are religious to some extent, ”Mallinson suggested. Today, however, many practitioners simply enjoy yoga as a physical practice that increases feelings of calm and gives them the opportunity to carve out a place for themselves in an otherwise busy week.

Is yoga a religion?  The image shows a woman doing a yoga pose

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How to start doing yoga

Ideally, try to learn yoga in the physical presence of a teacher who can tailor the postures specifically for you, offer personalized advice based on what they see, and provide practical adjustments so you can experience the best alignment you can find. your body can reach. If that is not possible, the pandemic means teachers are increasingly teaching on Zoom, while online streaming sites, such as International Yoga Where Ekhart Yoga in Europe, offer a wide range of yoga teachers and styles. Classes can range from 10 to 90 minutes, and you can usually search by teacher, yoga style, skill level, and other parameters, such as energy, relaxation, or women’s health. Initially, try a variety of classes to find something that you resonate with, then build a base from there.

Is yoga a religion?  Two women, one younger and one older, raise their arms in a yoga pose

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What you need to get started

You don’t need to invest in expensive clothes when you are starting out, as long as what you wear is comfortable and allows you to move freely. If you are doing hot yoga, however, you may want to invest in workout clothes with absorbent qualities, as they will transfer moisture from your body to the outside of the fabric where it evaporates. Avoid loose-fitting t-shirts, as they can pull up when you strike poses where your head is lower than your hips.

Yoga studios will provide you with the equipment you need, but if you plan on practicing at home, you will need a good mat. Often referred to as sticky mats, specialty yoga mats provide cushioning for your knees and prevent your hands and feet from slipping in poses such as downward dog. Depending on the style of yoga you practice, there are a few other accessories that can be very useful, especially for beginners. Yoga blocks and straps can act as extensions of your arms, helping you take full advantage of the pose before you achieve full flexibility. Bolsters are also super useful. They help you maintain good posture while seated when your hips are straight, and can be used to gently open your joints or reduce tension in other parts of the body – placed under your knees when lying in a reclining position. relaxation, for example, they take the pressure off your lower back.

Is yoga a religion?  The image shows a woman doing a yoga pose

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Define aims

Yoga is different from other forms of exercise, in that progress is not necessarily measured by external gains. It’s what you feel inside that matters. In the book, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Edwin Bryant (North Point Press, 2009), the author translates the famous definition of yoga from Patanjali, the father of modern yoga: or place your palms flat on the ground in a forward bend, if you are learning to connect with a place of inner calm and find it easier to contact stillness both on and off the mat, you will certainly make good progress.

Having said that, it helps to have a roadmap for starting yoga, and one approach is to work with your breath first, followed by your “foundation” and then your spine. Learning to control your breathing helps you be more present in your body and will come in handy as you progress into yogic breathing techniques that support more complex poses and sequences. Your “foundation” refers to the area of ​​your body that touches the ground, and like a building, the stronger the foundation, the more stable your postures will be. Finally, as the central axis of your body, your spine plays a key role in yoga poses, providing stability, facilitating flexibility, and absorbing shock. A healthy spinal alignment will allow you to develop good form in the postures and to maximize the benefits of your practice.

Is yoga a religion?  The image shows a group yoga class

(Image credit: Getty)

Are there different types of yoga?

There are now many styles of hatha yoga, each with a different emphasis, so when starting a practice it is worth considering what you want to achieve. If your main goal is to improve your posture, Iyengar yoga can be a good place to start as it focuses on proper alignment. Or at Paulie Zink Yin yoga, which holds poses for up to five minutes or more to open the joints and stretch the fascia, is a good option for those looking to work their flexibility deep.

If you are looking for an intense workout, Ashtanga Yoga, developed by K. Pattabhi Jois, will guide you through a series of stimulating sequences, while other students or those with health concerns might prefer restorative yoga, where poses are on the floor, use bolsters and blocks to support the body, and are held for up to 20 minutes to relax deeply. Of course, you can also try a diverse range of yoga styles for a balanced exercise program that works on multiple levels. To learn more about this, take a look at our article on how to improve your flexibility Where Yoga for back pain: what you need to know.

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