Yoga is everywhere. In ads from McDonalds to mattresses, people are shown striking a yoga pose. Television characters are running off to a yoga class. Friends and family own yoga mats and blocks and videos. Local studios are opening up, classes are being offered at churches and schools. So, it seems like everybody is doing yoga, but what exactly is it that they are doing?
A hatha yoga class will generally contain three elements: breathing, postures, and relaxation. Different types of yoga will offer these elements in different amounts and different orders, but most always the three will be present in a class. Breathing, really becoming conscious of the breath and using it with awareness, is one of the most physically and mentally beneficial aspects of yoga. There are many different kinds of breathing exercises, some that create calm and balance, others that create energy and heat. These exercises may seem unusual and even awkward at first, but allow yourself to simply experience them, and you will come to enjoy them.
Yoga postures are practically infinite in variety. There is a core of between 15-30 postures that are most often done in class. These include seated postures, standing postures, balancing postures, twists, and inversions. The postures may be sequenced in a variety of ways, depending on what the teacher is emphasizing in the class. Different postures may open the hips, lengthen the hamstrings, stretch the shoulders, build strength, increase spinal flexibility, and even change a mood. The breath will be emphasized during the postures as well, with coordination between movements of the body and the inhalation and exhalation of the breath.
The end of class is time for a deep relaxation. As you lie on your back on the mat, the teacher will begin by leading the students through some type of guided relaxation for the body and mind, progressing to silence. At first, you may fall asleep as the body relaxes fully. But as you continue to practice and your body and mind become accustomed to releasing, you will find this time relaxing and rejuvenating, but not sleep inducing. When the relaxation period is finished, usually indicated by the ringing of a bell or chimes, you will slowly sit up and come into a cross-legged position again. Traditionally, a yoga class ends with the chanting of OM three times. The sound OM has no meaning in itself, but is considered a cosmic vibration. It sounds similar to the sound Amen.
After class, students feel incredibly peaceful and relaxed, and the body feels awake and comfortable. Students report having a very good night’s sleep on a day they have taken a yoga class, feeling more patient, less in a hurry, and in a good mood. If all this sounds like a tall order, investigate for yourself: sign-up for an introduction to yoga course. Commit to taking a yoga class once a week for a couple of months. See for yourself what yoga can do for you.