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Yoga       Origin - Sanskrit "yuj" or "yug"       Meaning - to yoke, or unite

Originating around the 5th or 6th century BCE in India, yoga includes a range of physical, mental and spiritual practices with the common aim of uniting the body, mind and spirit.

Much modern interpretation of yoga is taken from the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, written 2000 years ago.  The yoga sutras, a collection of short philosophical statements, broke yoga down in to eight "limbs" or ashtanga (ashta=eight, anga=limb), each of which provides guidance over an aspect of human life.  Of these, "asana", the physical practice to which the term yoga usually refers today, is just one of those limbs. Asana, or hatha yoga, is the third limb of yoga, concerned with the care of the physical body, through which we might develop discipline, concentration and stillness, necessary for meditation and spiritual growth.

The other seven limbs include pranayama (breath control) and dhyana (meditation).  More on the eight limbs can be found here.


Sarvanga       Origin - Sanskrit "sarva" and "anga"      Meaning - whole body, or all limbs

The name Sarvanga comes from the sanskrit “whole body” and reflects the all encompassing nature of yoga- a practice which engages every muscle, your mind and your spirit.   It also reflects my belief that yoga is a whole body-mind way of exercising, growing stronger, calmer and learning to be at ease with your body and your own self.


A strong mind and a strong body work well together, but neglect one and you may find the other doesn’t work quite so well either.  Yoga is a powerful way of realising that your body and mind are one, part of a single system that must learn to work in balance.  Engaging with this as we practice brings depth to our understanding of ourselves and our wellbeing and teaches us to respect the openness of our minds and the wisdom of our bodies. We learn to listen to ourselves, to move with greater ease and  give our minds the space to think clearly, we provide ourselves new and healthy ways of expressing our emotions.  We give ourselves space to relax.


Yoga asanas have many variations and modifications enabling yoga to be practice by almost any individual with their unique range of movement, and even with very limited movement, pranayama (breath work) and meditation can be wonderfully beneficial and accessible. 



Yoga benefits can be seen as falling in to 3 key areas:



1. Mental and emotional

  • relieve stress, tension and anxiety

  • improve sleep patterns

  • boost concentration and memory

  • increase focus and mental discipline


2. Exercise (and rehabilitation)

  • core strength

  • improve breathing

  • increase strength & improve muscle tone

  • strengthen bones

  • improve balance

  • increase and maintain flexibility

  • improves circulation and the immune system

  • injury prevention and recovery


3. Spiritual


  •  deepens our awareness of ourselves and our connection to the subtle world around us

  • stills the mind

  • connects us to our inate inner wisdom, the inner guru


Credited with everything from improving flexibility to elevating consciousness, the benefits of yoga are as diverse as its many forms.

Dozens of scientific studies have examined these claims, and whilst there is always room for further information, there is evidence to suggest regular yoga practice can help those with stress, depression, aches and pains, heart disease and high blood pressure.  By improving balance and strengthening the lower body, yoga can help prevent falls.  Yoga is a great way for those with limited movement, or conditions such as arthritis to take gentle exercise.


There are no age limits to yoga, it can be practised from very early in life (babies are seen to benefit from gentle yoga stretches) right through to your advanced years.  And you don’t need to be fit or flexible to join in, there are classes to suit all abilities, even classes which are chair based.  To join a general mixed ability class you may need to be able to move up and down to the floor.  For those with very specific requirement, one-to-one or private group classes can be a fantastic way for ensuring your practice meets your personal or group needs. 


Yoga asana works physically by flexing and contracting your muscles, targeting a range of specific muscle groups but with a whole body focus.  Most sitting or standing asana require us to engage our core muscles to maintain a position or protect our bodies.  By regularly using muscles we build their strength, elasticity and flexibility, helping us to feel more awake and enjoy free and easy movement, guiding us to better posture and an improved relationship with our bodies.


As well as working our muscles, yoga, like other physical exercise, can strengthen our bones. A 2009 study* found that practicing yoga could increase bone density in older adults.


Typically yoga asana practice also asks us to allow our movement to be guided by our breath, which we learn to relax and control through particular breathing techniques.  Some faster paced yoga classes such as Ashtanga can also help to improve stamina and aerobic ability.

By learning to slow and control our breath, we also slow our heart rate, helping to control or improve conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or aid recovery from a stroke.


In addition to its physical benefits, the wider limbs and study of yoga,  including pranayama (breathwork) and meditation, offers mental, emotional and spiritual gains. Regular practice can relieve anxiety and stress, help to combat depression, boost memory and focus and allows us to create space to connect to our true and deeper selves. Yoga takes us out of the head, and into the heart.

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