So the big question - what is Yoga?
If you are intrigued by Yoga and not entirely sure of what it is, then read on…. This blog is perfect for you.
Is Yoga just a group of people stretching & saying “Om”…. sometimes, but that’s not all it is, not even an inch of what Yoga represents.
Yoga is the Sanskrit word for Union – connecting breath with movement. Balancing physical, mental & spiritual practice. “Practicing the postures and breathing with awareness develops harmony, unifying the mind-body & spirit, and helping us to release our nature” (1)
There are various types of Yoga, but before we delve into that, let's start with a little bit of history – just a little don’t worry.
Yoga was roughly established way way WAY back in 200bc. I won’t take you through the full timeline, but briefly, Yoga started purely with songs & rituals, moving to ritual sacrifice through self-learning & wisdom, then becoming a major source of Hinduism (ancient Indian text). Skip a couple of centuries, and then Yogic lifestyle came in – a way of living, a way of being – something called the 8 limbed path – which in a nutshell is a pure way of being, learning to not steal, to not judge, to forgive & to be kind; guiding us to become centered & find full enlightenment.
Skipping forward again (about 8 centuries c 1300bc) the physical practice was introduced, the asanas (yoga poses) were introduced – still some time ago right? Hatha (which I’ll explain later) was the very early form of practice, with originally only had 16 x poses. Fast forward again to more modern times, and we started seeing Yin, Vinyasa, power, Bikram and many more. In this blog, I will explain the difference between Vinyasa, Hatha & Yin.
Firstly, note Yoga is not just a physical practice, it is much much more. It is exercise, it is breathing, relaxation, a diet, it is thinking & meditation; it’s a journey within, a way to connect deeper within yourself and to your soul – if you choose to.
Everyone’s experience in yoga is unique, it is your own journey. The biggest advice I received as a teacher which I have passed down to my clients through my classes, is to try not to compare our own practice to others. We all have different bodies and different abilities, we have different minds & our own emotions, so I stress the importance of trying to focus on your own practice – the teacher is merely a guide.
So which asana practice is right for you? Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin? Not sure, below is a guide to help you along the way.
A Yoga class is typically written like a bell curve where we go through different elements; earth, water, fire & air.
One of the newer forms of Yoga is Vinyasa. Vinyasa means movement with breath, which is exactly what the practice involves; moving between poses with each inhale & exhale. Vinyasa is a faster paced practice, fluid movement like water moving with each breath, creating heat, building fire through regular standing sequences and leg work. Poses are usually held for 5 breathes or less – bar the likes of Pigeon for example, which is usually held for 10-15 breaths, giving us time to come to the “air” part of the practice, a time to reflect & reconnect with the slower breath.
The time holding the asanas is pretty much the biggest differentiator between Vinyasa, Hatha & Yin.
Hatha (Ha – the sun & tha – the moon), to me means where rest meets strength, action to reset; allowing time in our practice to absorb the energies of both the sun & the moon. Hatha is finding the union between two opposites, aligning the body allowing energy to flow more freely. Whilst this is a slower practice typically holding asanas for 10-15 breaths, it can be considered more challenging in terms of strength in order to hold the poses longer; whereas Vinyasa can be considered more challenging in terms of its pace (i.e. much more cardio driven).
Yin is the 3rd well-known flow. Yin – coming from the term Yin & Yang, a meaning of “cosmic duality”, two opposites, but yet complementing principles or energies. Yang would typically cover Vinyasa, our faster-paced practice, being the opposite of Yin. Yin is a much slower practice, with minimal poses, holding poses sometimes up to 20 minutes. Whilst much more chilled than a vinyasa practice, for example, can still be considered difficult as this practice can be more challenging in terms of focus & strength, holding your pose in full stillness. Yin is perfect for those wishing to connect deeper & to have time to turn inward, the stretches are deeper, stretching out those muscles and rarely-used tissues – taking time to learn to breathe through sometimes discomfort to find relaxation.
My preference is to teach Vinyasa & Hatha, purely due to my own style. Each of my classes has an intention and the length of time in the elements is judged upon the theme; for example, in a more grounding class, I would spend more time in the earth element, spending a larger amount of time connecting with the earth on the floor. In comparison, if I wish to build more energy, more heat, I would bring the focus to building more fire, so typically bringing in faster-paced sun salutations & standing sequences.
I suppose my classes are a hybrid between Vinyasa & Hatha. I like to bring the theme in to give the class a deeper meaning – which can help guide those who are seeking a deeper emotional journey through their practice.
Whilst all Yoga practices involve mindfulness tools – movement, breathwork & meditation – personally I find Yin the most challenging, but everyone is different, therefore I encourage you to try all and see which practice resonates best with you. You may find you love them all!
The main similarity with all these yoga practices, however, is the ending, Savasana – the term savasana means corpse pose. This is the pose where we lay at the end in full relaxation, where we can truly switch off and pay gratitude to our mind & body, for the strength used through the physical practice, by surrendering into the floor. Whilst “corpse” pose doesn’t sound too appealing, it is the best feeling at the end of a class. I like to think the reason for being called corpse pose, is not only due to being in stillness but also having the time and space to fully let go. The ground has an innate ability to absorb toxins, therefore it is a good time to let go of any emotions, any feelings trapped, anything that is no longer serving you purpose – that may be feelings of anger, upset, stress, anxiety, perhaps you are too critical of yourself? This is the time to let go of these emotions, freeing up space in the heart for more love & compassion.
So whichever practice you choose, whether you prefer one, or love them all, Yoga is much much more than a physical practice, it is time for you, it is time for your soul to heal, it is time to appreciate both your mind & your body.
For me it is a lifestyle, for me, it is my therapy.