The Meaning of Yoga
The word Yoga comes from the sanskrit root word, "Yuj," which means to yoke or unite. No matter the style which you choose, while practicing and afterward, you should feel a sense of self-connection as well as a connection with those whom you practice. No union = no Yoga.
There are two approaches to the practice of Yoga: Hatha and Raja. At Lake Tahoe Yoga we practice both, simultaneously. The effort, or movement, is Hatha. The mindful aspect is Raja. An authentic Yoga practice with offer both physical and mindful practices. Each movement should require focus and attention while at the same time an experience of release of distractions. As the practice continues, you should feel a sense of freedom and one-pointed focus.
Alignment is everything. Any teacher that tells you to "listen to your body," or "move freely in any way that feels good," is doing you a disservice. We each have our own anatomical alignment, but that doesn't mean we are all aligned properly. We have spent years moving in unhealthy, habitual ways. Yoga Asana is designed to help us adjust our bodies into the best position and to move more healthily. While moving, your attention should move to misalignments and a good teacher will help you identify ways in which to correct them.
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of Hatha. In a traditional practice, you will learn the postures first, and then the breath that directs each posture. Each breath is important as it helps to move not only your body, but your energy as well. Poorly directed breath can result in physical issues, mental strain and energetic blockages. Your breath should be effortful, but not forceful. If you are ever breathing with more effort than you are applying physically, you are breathing too hard.
Finally, energetic awareness is the key to a good class and high quality instruction. Your instructor should be able to hold your focus no matter where you are practicing. Shaktipat is the exchange of energy between yourself and your guide during your practice. If your instructor is distracted, unfocused, continuously talking, giving inclear instructions, etc., there is no shaktipat. Throughout the entire practice you should feel as though you can completely let go and just follow the guidance of your teacher.
Yoga has recently become a hot word to add to anything you do. There is Yoga with Kittens, Yoga with Goats, Naked Yoga, Paddle Yoga, etc. With the word yoga being thrown into everything from athletic work outs to types of tea, it can be difficult to figure out what type of yoga is correct for you.
We've learned that Hatha Yoga or Union through Effort focuses on cleansing the physical body first. Unlike the practice of Raja Yoga which focuses upon the Yamas & Niyamas as the beginning of our practice, Hatha Yoga focuses on controlling the body.
If we can understand how our body works, then not only can we control it but we can respect it. Cleansing isn't necessarily about using a neti or swallowing a milk-soaked rag. It's about thinking about what you're putting into your body, how you use your body and what you do to your body. When we understand our bodies, we understand ourselves and we are better able to look upon ourselves with honesty.
Have you ever viewed yourself with honesty? Without denying the aspects that you dislike or fear to admit to? The saying "you can't make others happy unless you are happy yourself" is about how you view yourself not about how much money you make, the car you drive or the clothes you wear. Know yourself and you'll learn that these things are not you. Know your body and you will find out who you really are.