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What is Yoga?

It is believed that yoga was first practiced around 3,000 B.C. And when we say practiced, what do we mean? Many of us have been exposed to Hatha yoga, the branch of yoga that focuses on the connection of mind, body, and spirit (or breath). However, there are eight other main branches of yoga besides Hatha: Karma, Jnana, Raja, Mantra, Laya, Tantra, Bhakti, and Kundalini. You may be wondering why you don’t see Vinyasa, Ashtanga, restorative, or another type of yoga that you practice on that list. And that’s because most of what we see referred to as yoga in the West is under the branch of Hatha yoga. Hatha involves a movement practice, but not all yoga does. For example, the path of Jnana yoga emphasizes the path of knowledge; Karma yoga emphasizes right action; and Bhakti yoga emphasizes devotion towards God.

When we participate in a yoga practice under the branch of Hatha yoga, it is important for us to remember that this involves a trinity: the trinity of mind, body, and breath. This is not just a movement practice; this is not just a breath practice; and this is not just a mindfulness practice. Hatha Yoga is the combination of all three, the mediation of all three. And while yoga helps us enjoy the experience we have in our body by making us more limber, increasing our circulation, giving us energy, along with many other physical benefits, the main reason we practice yoga is to keep our minds healthy. All of our bodies are going to decay, so the real trick is figuring out how to keep our minds from doing the same.

In Hatha yoga, we use formal technique and repetition to gain insights about our body, mind, and breath. By consistently coming back to similar shapes, or asanas, we gain understanding about our internal and external being. If you pay close attention to your practice on the mat, you may notice that a habit you have in one position, you have in all (or many) other positions. For example, if you put a lot of weight in the heels of your hands in tabletop, you probably have the same habit in downdog and chaturanga dandasana. And if you’re putting weight in the heels of your hands, you probably spend quite a bit of time in your past, in your memories. Whereas, if your tendency is to have a lot of your weight in the knuckles of your hands, your thoughts tend to take you forward into the future. In this way, you can use your practice to understand where you’re spending most of your time (physically and mentally), and then use your will to mediate between the polarities of life (like past and future, hot and cold, forward and backward) to become more fully present.

This article was written by Haley Lovejoy of A.G.A.P.E. Wellness.
Photo Cred: Majo Lovejoy

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