The word Yoga means union. Union with self and union with source of which we are all a part.
Yoga finds its roots as a deeply spiritual and meditative practice. Through synchronizing mind, body and breath, a yoga asana practice becomes meditation in motion.
Dispelling some misconceptions about yoga:
Yoga is for women: The original yogis were men. Male athletes and body builders use this practice and the military is now incorporating yoga into its fitness regimen.
You have to be thin and/or fit: Body size does not restrict someone from practicing. Some find that by reducing stress through this practice, regardless of the level of difficulty, weight loss may occur naturally.
Yoga is only for young people: Yoga is practiced by both students and teachers who are well into their 70's 80's or 90's. The earlier you begin, the longer you can enjoy good health.
You have to be flexible: One of the greatest benefits of this practice is gaining flexibility, in both body and mind. It is thought by many that flexibility is of greater importance to our health and longevity than muscle mass or strength. Begin slowly and practice with consistency to gain and maintain greater flexibility.
One of the things that I love most about all of the places I have practiced is that most of the teachers have been very warm and welcoming and the atmosphere has been one of fun, acceptance and encouragement. No pressure and no competition.
In the West, yoga is becoming more widely used and recognized for its
therapeutic health benefits for mind, body and spirit. This is due, in
part, to the different styles that have emerged such as Acroyoga, Yogalates and Boot Camp Yoga to name a few. But the "Americanized" versions of yoga have also created an air of judgment among teachers and students. Some have very strict ideas about what yoga is and how and why it should be practiced.
I have heard statements such as "that's not real yoga" or "you don't
practice the yogic philosophy, lifestyle or diet, so you're not really a yogi."
To me, nothing could be further from the truth. I see this expansion of
styles as a wonderful opportunity for so many people to explore and
experience this practice and all of its tremendous benefits, many of whom may have otherwise felt uncomfortable, intimidated or unaccepted.
Some come to yoga seeking relief from physical pain or mental stress, others look for greater physical strength, endurance and flexibility. Some are looking to lose weight. Still others are seeking a deep spiritual and meditative experience. Yoga is also used as part of treatment programs for addiction and acute and chronic illnesses.
I say, there is no one right way, no one right reason to yoga. If someone is receiving benefit and their life is being enriched in some way, then it has to be right. The greatest thing of all is that no matter what the initial intention, more often than not, people will gain benefit in areas they hadn't expected.
As a long time student and soon to be instructor, I embrace all of the reasons that people choose to come to the mat, while offering what yoga is and means to me and receiving all of the benefits that my yoga practice brings to me.
For anyone who is looking to begin a practice, it's important to
investigate. Research the different styles to get an idea of which one or
ones appeal to you, suit your likes and needs and are within your physical capabilities. Try different classes at different studios. Many studios offer a FREE initial class. Find a teacher that you connect with and a space that just feels good to you. Maybe find a friend to join you. Start slowly and most importantly, have fun!
The following link will give you a general description of the more common styles: yoga.about.com/od/typesofyoga/a/yogatypes.htm.
Before starting any exercise program, consult your health care practitioner.