The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit for union. It is an ancient tradition originating in India of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines. In practical terms it draws together diet, stretching and meditation. There are many schools, practices and goals in Yoga reflected in Hinduism and Buddhism. The practice of yoga is, in many ways, a personal journey and means different things to different people. Truly dedicated yoga enthusiasts assume yoga into their lives and it becomes a part of them - not just physically, but in the way they behave and look at the world around them. Many people use yoga as part of their regular exercise routine but also speak of the positive effects the practice has on their mental well being, and how they really miss it if they drop the practice. People looking to reduce the stress in their lives are increasingly looking to practice yoga in conjunction with meditation.
There are many variants of yoga, each with a different focus. Hatha Yoga focuses on breath work and gentle asana (postures); Ashtanga on dynamic posture; and Iyengar on perfecting asana. Vinyassa is a flowing form of postures mixed with breath work while hot yoga (Bikram) involves yoga performed in a very hot room.
Pilates was developed in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It uses yoga-style stretching exercises that concentrate on the core muscles in the centre of the body.
WHAT TO EXPECT
A 45-90 minute class that begins with a brief relaxation session lying on a yoga mat followed by instructions on how to perform the individual postures. Breathing is generally guided throughout. Classes usually end with the “dead man’s pose” (lying flat on the floor) in a state of relaxation, listening to a guided meditation.
Pilates classes vary in intensity but tend to be more strenuous, addressing one individual muscle group at a time.
Yoga seeks to benefit mind, body, and spirit by balancing the chakras (seven centres of spiritual power in the human body). People tend to feel relaxed and positive after a yoga class. Over time you can expect increased suppleness and a reduction in minor ailments. In addition to the physical upside, you are likely to feel an overall improvement in your mental well-being - part of what makes yoga so special.
Pilates tones and strengthens the body, benefiting posture and back problems.
You may need to test out more than one yoga class to find the right one for you. Because yoga is more than just a form of exercise, there is more to consider than your fitness level. Your relationship with the instructor and your reaction to the style of yoga will play a part in determining what positive you get out of the classes. It can be difficult at first to follow an instructor, particularly if not surrounded by novices, so it is advisable to look for a beginner's class if you are a beginner. Or at least communicate to your instructor if you are having problems following the poses and s/he will be able to give you a hand getting them right - very often the instructors will do this anyway. Hot yoga is not for everyone. It is intense and a bit sweaty for some!