A Yoga Primer
Yoga is not a religion. It does not require that practioners surrender their own religious beliefs to practice.
Yoga is a philiosophy that began in India over 5000 years ago. The father of classical ashtanga yoga (the eight limbed path) is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras, which form the basis of yogic philosophy. These writings provide practioners with a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental bodies. Often yoga interweaves other philosophies, including Hinduism & Buddhism, but it is not necessary to have an understanding of them in order to practice or study yoga.
Asana is a Sanskrit term meaning "posture heald in stillness" both mentall and physically - most people recognize asana as complex poses. Practioners of asana are conscious of the subtle physical and mental shifts that arise during the physical practice of yoga. Asana serves to strengthen and heal the physical body while calming the mind. Continue practice and dedication cultivates a sense of calmness, concentration and lightness.
Mantras have been used for thousands of years to help ease the suffering of the mind. Typically, mantras are spoken aloud - the vibration of the mantra emanates and stimulates stangant energy in the body. Mantras are like affirmations and can be used in many different ways. The most common mantra is AUM (commonly seen as OM).
AUM is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of a yoga class. It is considered to be the primordial sound and vibration of all things. Somehow, the ancient yogis knew what today's scientists are just discovering - that the entire universe is pulsating and moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of AUM. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it rustling in the autumn leaves, the waves crashing onto the beach, or the inside of a seashell.
All Vedic mantras start with AUM. Chanting AUM allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves - the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow the tides, even the beating of our own hearts. As we chant AUM, we are taken for a ride on this universal movement. Through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
Often students and teachers will place their hands to their hearts and bow their heads saying namaste at the end of class. This gesture of namaste represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart. It is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another. It is used as a greeting to see beyond labels, judgments and prejudice. It means "I see you", referring to the pure essence of each person's inner beauty.
Savasana is the final resting pose or meditation at the end of each class. It provides the time your body needs to absorb the benefits of the asana (physical) practice. It allows your heart rate to slow and the oxygen in your blood to circulate to your entire body. It offers a chance to still your mind and accept feelings that may have come up during practice. Racing out of a yoga class without time to adjust can defeat the purpose of the practice and give you a headache! Savasana is your moment of completion.