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What is yoga?

If you’re interested in trying yoga but don’t really know what it is, you are not alone! In fact there is not necessarily a simple answer to the question ‘what is yoga’ as it has encompassed so many ideas and practices since it first began in India, at least 5,000 years ago (and perhaps much earlier).

In our society, yoga has come to be associated primarily with a series of physical postures and movements that can often appear pretty extreme. It’s true that an asana (physical) practice is a great way to stretch, strengthen and challenge the body to move in different ways. However, it’s not a requirement to be able to bend yourself into improbable shapes and being flexible doesn’t necessarily make you good at yoga.


The word yoga means ‘union’ or ‘to join/yoke’. Since yoga began, it has been a way to quieten our thinking minds so we can come to experience a sense of wholeness and connection. This is especially valuable in this day and age when there are so many distractions and we are pulled in so many different directions. Movement is one way to explore this connection; breathing, meditation and a mindful approach to living are other ways and I draw on all of these in my classes.


The movement aspect of yoga can be practiced in a slow and mindful way, which is the way that I teach. By moving in time with the breath, we can quieten our minds and stay present in our bodies. Slowing down the breathing also helps to calm the nervous system and access the body's natural capacity for healing. Some of the practices I incorporate are more active and help to raise energy levels, boost endorphins and increase our fitness and sense of wellbeing.


There is no right or wrong way to practice yoga. Different practices and styles of yoga work for different people at different times in their lives. Hatha has become an umbrella term for the physical practice of yoga in the West though it often refers to a slow-moving practice.

Vinyasa yoga threads postures together in smooth, flowing movements, while certain types of Vinyasa (especially Power yoga) can be fast-paced and physically demanding. Iyengar focuses on longer holds and finding a precise alignment in each pose. Then there are styles such as Yin yoga and Restorative yoga which offer a calming and reflective experience. You can also choose classes related to a particular stage of life or physical requirement such as children's yoga, pregnancy yoga and chair-based yoga.


When I first went to a yoga class 15 years ago, I was simultaneously attracted by its gymnastic aspect and looking for a way to find new meaning. Now it is a way of life for me that is constantly unfolding, helping me to connect with myself - and life - more deeply and live in a way that is true to me. Wherever you begin, whatever your reasons, there is always room for your yoga practice to develop in new ways. The beauty of yoga, I have found, is that it as we evolve, it evolves with us.

If you'd like to find out whether my classes are for you or get guidance choosing another type of class, email me at annarookeyoga@gmail.com


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