What is Yoga?

“Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science, which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is an art and science of healthy living.” — Dr. Ishwar V. Basavaraddi, director of Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga,  New Delhi

Yoga, as it is most often practiced in the United States, focuses on the pairing of poses or “asanas” with breathing techniques or “pranayama.”

The practice of these poses with controlled breathing is used to rinse out the body and build the physical strength and endurance required to spend long periods of time in meditation. When a session of yoga practice is complete, the ideal mind/body harmony has been reached to facilitate deep, relaxing meditation. 

Besides training your mind away from distracting thoughts and toward living in the present, yoga practice yields a host of health benefits for the body — improved balance and flexibility, strengthened muscles, higher energy, better heart and circulatory health and protection from injury. 

Most yoga classes are built on a framework starting with a period of breathing exercises (pranayama), followed by a series of poses (asanas) and concluding with a moment of meditation (sometimes called dhyana). 

Pranayama functions as a warm-up period for your body and mind, and often is performed with the first gentle poses of the session as students prepare for the more controlled postures. 

Asanas can refer to an individual pose as well as the practice of yoga through maintaining various postures. Most poses included in yoga classes today focus on strength, flexibility
and balance. 

The most important poses for beginners to master include mountain pose for learning how to root yourself into your body and your body to the ground; downward dog to stretch your body and calm your mind; and plank, for balancing on your hands while using your whole body to support you, especially your core abdominal muscles.  

Classes usually conclude with a period of meditation which encourages students to reflect on their progression or simply focus on their inner sense of being.