What is Yoga?

There are many definitions of Yoga and these generally depend on who is defining Yoga.

A healer may define it as: "A practice which produces balance and harmony between the body and the mind. It produces more healthy functioning in both body and mind and then brings about balance between the two".

A shaman or a spiritual aspirant may define it as: "A way of life which leads towards harmony within oneself and also harmony between oneself and the wider Universe. A merging of the individual consciousness and the cosmic consciousness. It broadens one’s sense of awareness and deepens the depths of consciousness that one can attain".

It all depends on how one looks at the art or science, or way of life known as Yoga. One can look at it as one or all of the following;

  • A tuning up of the physical body including muscles, internal organs, endocrine system, circulatory system producing more healthy functioning within the body
  • A balancing of the physical systems within the body including endocrine glands, the nerves and internal organs, leading to more energy, more optimal functioning of one’s health, stronger immune system, and better disease prevention
  • A balancing of the mind and body leading to a more harmonious state of being which in turn leads to increased happiness and greater well-being
  • A deepening of the inner awareness which leads one towards a greater appreciation of one’s own spirituality
  • An excellent way of dealing with today’s stresses by producing deep states of relaxation and releasing tension from both the body and the mind

Yoga can also be looked at as a process. The process for each person is different. Yoga is different for everyone. Depending on one’s state of health in both body and mind, one may be working with oneself at different levels.

One does not have to deal with Yoga in an intellectual way. One can simply practise Yoga and see what develops. Maybe you will simply enjoy the relaxation, or like taking a rest from your busy life, or enjoy working hard on oneself, or simply like the toning and stretches within the practice.

Is Yoga a religion?

The plain and simple answer is 'No'. Yoga is compatible with whatever religion you practise. Yoga does not force you to believe in any particular belief. You simply follow the Yoga practices and allow yourself to appreciate whatever benefits you experience yourself.

Where does Yoga come from?

The origin of Yoga lies hidden in the mists of prehistory. It evolved slowly and was developed by the ancient sages, not only in India but also all over the world. Generally the techniques of Yoga were passed on from teacher or guru to their disciples by word of mouth.

Some of the earliest written texts, which mention Yoga and allude to its practice, were the ancient Vedas, which are approximately 4000 years old.

More direct descriptions were later written down by the Yogi Patanjali and are often mentioned as the oldest written record of Yoga. These are approximately 2000 years old.

The Yogas, which we see today in the West, have generally originated from India and have been brought to the Western world over the past 100 years. There are now various types of Yoga available. They have evolved from teacher to student so that each Yogi has added their own flavour to the ancient practices. Some begin with quite strong postures while others begin very gently and gradually get stronger with the pace and ability of the person learning.

Are there different types of Yoga?

Yoga can be both strenuous and relaxing at the same time. It can also be gentle and more meditative, or dynamic and energy inducing. There are many forms of Yoga and you should be aware that each class may be quite different.

  • Get fit and energised like Madonna - Asthanga
  • Lie down, relax, and stretch a bit, deep relaxation - Gentle Yoga
  • Progress at your own ability; tune inwards, awareness of breath - Satyananda
  • Alignment of body, good strong stretching, holding and toning - Iyengar
  • Salutation to the Sun to increase energy and eliminate energy blocks within the body - Hatha Yoga including IYA, Satyananda and other forms.

The benefits of Yoga include

  • Stress reduction
  • Deeper relaxation
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Toning of the body
  • Increased energy
  • Better concentration
  • Improved awareness
  • Self development

Who can learn?

Anyone can begin to learn Yoga. One word of caution - some forms of Yoga are quite energetic right from the start. These types of Yoga should really only be started by those who are already fit and supple or have practised other forms of Yoga previously. These are namely Asthanga or power Yoga.

But most forms of Yoga particularly Satyananda Yoga can be started by everyone, young or old, fit or unfit, large or small. These classes start very gently and the postures progress at your own pace. Emphasis is placed on inner awareness and most of the postures are practised with the eyes closed and develop inner peace and calmness in addition to working on the physical level.

What does one learn in a Yoga class?

Different classes teach different things. However in general, Yoga includes the following:

  • Physical postures which tone the body, direct the awareness inwards and coordinate movements of the body with the breath
  • Breath work which can include ways of breathing calmly and letting go of tension
  • Deep relaxation techniques to let go of tension in both body and mind
  • Meditation or preparation techniques which increase mindfulness, inner awareness and single pointed focus of mind
  • Strong dynamic movements coordinated with the breath and designed to remove energy blocks
  • Cleansing practices
  • Detachment from the distractions of the mind
  • Self restraints
  • Steadying the mind
  • Self study
  • Samadhi or blissful awareness

Please note that each Yoga type and each level of class may deal with one or more of the above. It's possible to practise yoga for years and still only deal with two or three of the above areas of Yoga.

How does one start?

One starts usually by attending a Yoga class. This is much more advisable than buying a book and practising oneself. The reason for this is that one may think one is following the postures correctly, but may not be aware that the alignment of the spine is not correct and one may in fact be putting undue pressure on the body rather than getting the benefits from the posture.

You should consider what type of Yoga you would like to practise and then look for a teacher.

If it's fitness and endurance and toning up your body, then it's possibly Asthanga.

If it's lying down and relaxing, standing up and stretching, tuning inwards with awareness, breathing slowly and mindfully, it may be Satyananda,

If it’s more toning and aligning, quite strong and energising, it may be Iyengar.

And having said that, each of the above possible types of Yoga all have something to offer in each of the areas of fitness, awareness, improved health and well-being, breath work and relaxation.

One thing to check is what qualifications your Yoga teacher has. Ask them how long they trained in order to receive those qualifications. Any training that is under two years in length should be questioned. Also, ask whether the teacher practises himself or herself each day, how long their own experience with Yoga is and how long they practise each day.

Where can one find out more information?

The Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre is on the Galway Clare border and offers evening classes in Galway city and also weekend Yoga courses throughout the year. The types of Yoga include Satyananda, Iyengar and Asthanga.

You can also telephone the centre for information on Yoga or for advice at 091-637680 , or you can contact the centre via email at or you can visit the website

Another useful website is the Yoga Ireland website at

Author of this article

Dave Brocklebank B.A., M.A. (psy), Qualified Satyananda Yoga teacher


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