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What is it?
In our hectic modern world many people are taking 'time out' to practice yoga - a system of philosophy that originated in India 5,000 years ago. Everyone regardless of age, ability or disability can practice yoga. Yoga offers us a holistic approach to body, mind and spirit, which can provide us with the tools to cope with the challenges of daily life. Yoga can also complement medical science and therapy for specific conditions.
You may be drawn to yoga simply for health and fitness, or be seeking relief for a specific physical condition. You might want help with managing stress, or you may be seeking gentle exercise while pregnant or to suit a limited ability. By making yoga a part of your daily routine, you may become aware of subtle changes in your approach to life and feel a greater sense of inner calm.
What should I expect from a class?
Yoga classes include a session of preparation, or warming up, followed by posture work (yoga exercises) followed by relaxation. There will also be a focus on breathing, and improving breathing and postural patterns. Some classes may be low impact while others can be very demanding.
Relaxation and centreing
In a typical class, 10-20 minutes is usually given to relaxation, at the beginning and/or the end. Most students lie in 'savasana' (lying on your back). Various relaxation methods are taught ranging from physical relaxation and simple breathing exercises to visualisation (imagining a scene) and techniques such as 'autogenic suggestion'.
Asana (yoga postures)
Many British Wheel of Yoga classes begin with sequences to warm up the muscles and joints. This prepares the body and mind for asana (posture) work which strengthen and tone the body and improve the flow of energy - regulating physical systems of the body and breath, and stilling the mind for meditation. The asanas used in a class will vary from teacher to teacher and depend on the abilities of the students. The objective in asana work is not how far you can stretch or contort your body, but to combine stability (stira) with ease/relaxation (sukha). BWY teachers are trained to modify asanas for individuals with medical conditions ranging from pregnancy to arthritis.
Simple breathing techniques are taught to develop awareness and relaxation of the breath. These are then developed into 'pranayama' exercises – controlling and moving prana through the breath. Prana means the 'vital' or 'life force energy'. Not all exercises are suitable for those with respiratory or circulatory conditions, so be sure to advise your teacher if you have a condition before you start a class.
History and philosophy
Some BWY teachers try to include some history and philosophy in their yoga classes by introducing a weekly or term 'theme'. This will help you understand how the yoga you are doing fits within the original spiritual context and history. Don't hold back in asking your tutor questions - in most yoga classes, discussion and feedback is actively encouraged.
There are a huge variety of meditation techniques and styles. The ones you're most likely to come across will have the objective of stilling the mind by focussing your awareness on a single object – the movement of the breath, an image, a sound or chant. Not all teachers will include meditation within a class.
How to start and where to begin
Different classes will have a different emphasis – some being more physical, some focussing more on relaxation, breath work and meditation. It's worth speaking to a teacher about their approach before you sign up for a class. Wear clothing that you find easy to move and stretch in. Most yoga is practised on non-slip mats – check with the teacher to find out if they will be provided. Be sure to tell your teacher if you have a medical condition before you start your class. For a full list of local classes click here.