What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Yoga is one of the six Āstika schools of Hindu philosophical traditions. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. – From Wikipedia
Nobody can strictly identify who started yoga, but Patanjali is the very first one to record details about Yoga. The Yoga Sutras (threads) as documented by Patanjali is highly subjective to different interpretations.
The word "yoga" literally means "union". As we are made of body (physical) and mind (subtle), the practice of yoga unites both in each individual. We could also view it as uniting our Atman (individuality) with the Brahman (universal consciousness).
Atha yoga anushasanam
Now, the teachings of yoga.
—Yoga Sutra 1.1
This is the very first wisdom shared by Patanjali. It describes Yoga as being in the present. This is why we focus on our breath with each movement. It brings about the practice of the stillness of the mind.
More on my personal take on yoga here: "What is Yoga?"
What is OM (Aum)?
OM is a mantra, it is the universal vibration that connects us all. OM is often said to be the sound of the Universe. The sound OM is spelled "AUM" and its symbol is ॐ.
Know that OM chanting is NOT a religious practice. The sound Om vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. When we chant this, we are tuning into the vibration of the universe.
We do the chant at the beginning and end of a class to bring the class together and to signal a division between the outside world and your formed sacred space for practice.
The vibration creates vasopression which stimulates our pituitary glad and releases endorphins. It helps us slows down our breath and prolongs the exhales.
Do I need to practice a certain religion to do Yoga?
The practice of Yoga is not a religion and does not aim to manipulate your faith or belief system. Everyone who is willing can practice yoga for its benefits.
Is Yoga an exercise?
Yoga is both a physical activity and a mental challenge. However, it does not replace other forms of exercises.
Moreover, as much as Yoga helps in healing of the body, it does not stand as substitute or replacement for the diagnosis of a medical professional. Please always consult your physician if you are allowed/capable to attend a yoga practice.
I'm not very flexible. Can I still do yoga?
Most definitely! The poses done in a yoga practice are not the summit of one's individual practice. We all start somewhere.
In Yoga, the poses are a means to attain our goals. In the journey of each practice, we achieve more and with respect to the individual's physical limits and capabilities.
Some bodies will be able to attain the full posture faster than others, while to some, it might never happen. This is because our bodies are very unique from each other. We must never use the poses to compare ourselves with another.
Flexibility is a bonus in doing yoga, but so is strength. The goal of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind. The achievement of a pose is only part of the journey.
What do I need to do Yoga?
Attending yoga practice at studios will allow you to loan a mat and props for the class, but it will be recommended that you buy your own mat. Props are beneficial too, but can be substituted by available furnitures at home or anywhere you practice.
Having your own mat and props will also encourage you to unroll your mat and start practising what you know wherever you are.
Most of all, you will need an open heart, an open mind, and the willingness to practice.
How often should I practice?
You may start your practice in as little as 5-10 minutes a day. You will still reap benefits from this. Practice as often as you can. However, always be compassionate towards yourself. If you feel tired, shorten your practice and do more gentle poses. On days when you feel you have more strength, you may extend your practice and challenge yourself on holding the poses longer.
Yoga practice is like keeping a bank account for your benefit. It does not matter how much time you put in it, you are still depositing for your health when you practice, no matter how short or long each session is.
Do I need to go to a studio to practice?
As a beginner, I would highly encourage attending yoga classes with the presence of a certified yoga instructor. This is to ensure that your practice would be observed and assisted by a knowledgeable teacher. This allows you to experience deeper each posture and to find the right adjustment suitable for your body type.
Attending classes at a studio is not necessary, but if that's the only place you can access classes with the presence of an instructor, then please go to a studio where you feel comfortable to grow in love for Yoga.