How to start with yoga.

Yoga is centuries-old, possibly dating back as far as circa 2,500 BCE. The ancient practice was used as a form of health and meditation, and slowly grew into popularity in the mid 20th century in the modern world when science and yoga blended. It would be no wonder if you’re confused about how to begin a yoga practice, considering the different definitions, types and schools of yoga that exists nowadays.

Firstly, in its physical sense, when we say ‘yoga’, we actually mean ‘asana practice’ or ‘hatha yoga’. There are five types of yoga, according to Indian tradition, and these are – hatha yoga, bakhti yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga. The modern (and fitness) understanding is that yoga = hatha yoga or asana practice.

Now, yoga has been found to boost aerobic conditioning, works as an antidepressant and can reduce the risk of hypertension and its precursors. In fact, a human enzyme – telomerase – was discovered while doing a study on yoga. In 2009, the University of California found that yoga increases the production of telomerase, which is linked to cellular longevity.

To help you decide into which door you want to place your foot,  here is a breakdown of a few schools of yoga tradition as practised today:

  • Hatha Yoga – traditionally, this form of yoga is any practice which involves physical movement. Today, this form of practice is usually gentle.
  • Ashtanga – this is a meditative movement and flow-based practice, designed on three different sequences (the most advanced broken down into a further three). The practice ties breath to movement and eye gaze and is considered one of the most challenging practices to undertake.
  • Vinyasa – traditionally, “vinyasa” means “to put in a special place” but in contemporary usage, it just means flow. Vinyasa classes are as easy or as challenging as the teacher designs.
  • Sivananda – This is a thorough practice which promotes moderate poses, breathing and relaxation, together with a cheerful attitude.
  • Iyengar – Founded by BKS Iyengar, this practice focuses on preciseness of alignment and the holding of poses. The practice also promotes the use of props, such as blocks, straps, chairs, wall, rope, etc – to improve positioning and avoid injury.
  • Kundalini – Seeking to awaken the energy at the base of the spine, this practice has a focus on breathing, chanting and meditation. Its physical practice has been known to be intense.
  • Power Yoga – Said to be Ashtanga on steroids. As varied as there are yoga teachers who teach these classes.

Modern schools have developed in the last few decades, such as Anusara, Jivamukti and Malaysia’s own Manasa, the yoga school I attended. Manasa School of Yoga focuses on moving energy to the mind and the mind into energy.