What is Yoga?

Yoga Pose Standing BowTranslated from Sanskrit, the word “yoga” literally means “union” or “connection”. It’s a lifestyle, a complete system of health and well-being. Very often in the West it’s practiced in a series of physical postures (called “asanas”), however this is only one aspect of what yoga has to offer.

As a way of life, yoga can offer guidance on morals and ethics (the Yamas and Niyamas), the physical aspect which is most emphasized in the West (Asanas), breathing techniques intended to “extend the life force” (Pranayama), and meditative aspects all the way from withdrawal of the senses to full enlightenment (Pratyahara, Dhrana, Dyana and Samadhi). These form what’s known in yoga as The Eight Limbs of the Path of Self-Transcendence.

Note: The meditation I teach is based on mindfulness, which is slightly different from the meditative aspects of yoga. While both the yoga and mindfulness I teach are completely secular, yoga comes from a Hindu background and mindfulness from a Buddhist one. Although they come from different origins, they are very complementary – having both available enables you to find the right balance of each in your life.

What is Hot Yoga?

Hot Yoga is often mistakenly characterised as yoga being practised in a heated room. What actually makes it “Hot Yoga” rather than just “normal yoga in a hot room” is lineage. Hot Yoga originates from Calcutta in northern India, so while many poses are similar to other styles of yoga, Hot Yoga often has different names for the same poses (or conversely, different poses for the same name!) So technically it’s not the heat – you could practice Hot Yoga in a non-heated room.

However, as you can imagine, a Hot Yoga studio is almost always heated. So why the heat?

There are many benefits of practicing yoga in a heated room; two of the main ones are:

  • Muscular flexibility: When you practice in a heated room your muscles are naturally more relaxed and flexible, enabling you to safely stretch further and deeper than you would otherwise be able. Care must of course always be taken not to overstretch a muscle; however, the chances of this happening are greatly reduced in a heated room.
  • Concentration: The heat adds a new mental dynamic that doesn’t exist in a non-heated environment. To maintain a pose for any reasonable amount of time, your concentration must be fully focused on what you are doing. No attention wandering. You can almost think of it as a forced meditation for the entire duration of the practice – a great result at the end!

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