Pat Henry: Seek out the essence of yoga
The ultimate goal is not to contort your body into outlandish poses - it is simply to find yourself, writes our fitness expert
In 1973, the bishop of Cork, Cornelius Lucey, condemned yoga from the pulpit, claiming it was the devil's work. Since then, yoga has gained a foothold in Ireland - where it has been a godsend for our nation of stocky frames and tight muscles.
Nowadays, everyone from premiership footballers to three-year-old 'yoga buds' have tried the discipline, with all extolling its virtues. It's evident that we have come a long way in our understanding of yoga since Bishop Lucey's day, however, lately I have begun to fear we are again in danger of misinterpreting the essence of the practice.
There are so many different types of yoga practised that the confusion is perhaps understandable. But if you ask your yoga teacher what is the purpose behind the asanas (poses) you are completing and get a blank look, it's time to move on from that class. Yoga is not simply aerobic exercise with stretches, it is an entire philosophy which, if practised correctly, has direct medical benefits for the entire body.
Yoga focuses mind and body on seven energy points (or glands) which have a specific energy path or firing order and which, when opened correctly, are said to give enlightenment. These glands increase their output of energy and hormones when yogic exercises are performed 100pc correctly (which can be rare). The order of the exercise is important to achieve results.
There are many different forms of yoga, ranging from kundalini yoga, which is based on working the seven energy points that correspond to glands in the body (pituitary, thymus, thyroid, etc) to raja yoga (mind yoga), where mental awareness and meditation are joined with exercise. Tantra yoga is about achieving enlightenment through intimacy. Pure hatha yoga is merging deep postures with concentration. Then you have Iyengar yoga which involves even deeper poses.
Having practised all forms of yoga over the years, I know that each person has to find the form best suited to them. And even then, it can be easy to get it wrong.
The European Physiotherapist Organisation has recorded a 65pc increase in injuries to neck, back and hips attributed to people stretching beyond their limit. So seek out a yoga class with a small pupil/teacher ratio, where you can be observed closely by your tutor and ensure you are not pushing yourself too hard.
The word yoga means union between you and creation. It is an aid to help you to return to our human origins - a form of self-realisation. This is the real function of yoga. If you are great at the exercises and don't understand the philosophy of yoga, all you are doing is deep stretching. With yoga, the philosophy is more important than the exercises.
For those who practise yoga intently, it is a way of life. It brings meditation, eating well, self-knowledge and philosophical living into their everyday world. Yoga starts with you. It is a way of helping you become who you are meant to be. It might sound airy fairy but, in actuality, it is a way of helping you stay grounded.
Don't confuse new forms of yoga such as hanging yoga, roasting hot yoga, aerobic yoga and power yoga with the real essence of each yogic movement. The ultimate goal isn't to contort your body into more outlandish poses than your neighbour, it is simply to find yourself - something that is often simpler, yet more difficult to achieve.
Health & Living