Recently I received a great email of questions from a student after a Yoga Fundamentals Masterclass I hosted at Another Space in January. Here's some of our dialogue that may be helpful as you start out on your yoga journey! Please feel free to email me with any questions that come up in your practice, and if i can shed any light I will try!
I'M STRUGGLING TO GET TO GRIPS WITH THE FORMS AND THEIR NAMES !?:
This is completely natural- essentially this is like learning another language thats physical and verbal- theres a lot going on!
You'll find that there are the sanskrit names for the postures and the the english versions- i.e Virabhadrasana two / Warrior two and most often in class teachers use a mix of both to guide the flow as well as instructing the movement. We do this to try make the class as easy to follow as possible while still providing an authentic yoga experience that honours the roots of the practice.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages on earth - predating—greek and Latin, arising from the Proto Indo European language spoken 7000-8000 years ago. The word "sanskrit" itself translates to perfected, polished, or refined. And that translation is appropriate, given the healing power the language is thought to have and within this the names have a certain resonance to them and a sound frequencies certain benefits. Yoga stems form Tantra which is about living is a deep connection to nature. The sanskrit also relates to the environment of the the time when yoga was developing- nature, animals, sages, demi-gods and desirable attributes form the names of the postures and give us a clue as to how and why they are performed. For example in Bhujangasana ( cobra pose) we are close to the ground and lift the heart and head like a snake rearing up. A snake is long, strong and flexible and so the actions and aim of the cobra posture is to not just mirror this but embody it.
A good reference online is https://www.yogajournal.com/poses - which will give the names, how to, benefits, contraindications of the postures.
WHAT IS THE MENTALITY BEHIND YOGA?
In terms of your mental space while practicing- you cant force it to be anything other than what it is and I cant tell you how to be. The best place to start is exactly where you are- curious and open to learning- and have an attitude that supports that - which means being non- judgemental of yourself and happy with being involved in the process ( and its a long one!) . There are no shortcuts in the yoga practice as with life. Why? Because yoga is actually for the mind and quieting the 'mind stuff'. This is reflected in a well know a well known text - The Sutras of Patanjali- which is a work not on the physical aspect of yoga but on the readying and steadying the mind for meditation. A well known quote or sutra (1.2) is 'yogash chitta vritti nirodah' which translates as 'yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind'. This sutra gets right to the heart of why we practice yoga which is to see things as they truly are: to be non affected by the sensations and reactions of the body/mind and be in a quieter space of pure consciousness or awareness. Fluctuations are the mind being pulled from place to place and then forming an identification with those distractions- we can lose our sense of self in that and wonder who and why we really are. As we practice yoga in the class setting or eventually in self-practice we are in a process of removing these identifications and to start with we use the physical body ( that is one pathway) so we can start to feel into the subtle sensations and attune to whats going on within. Then we can have a better understanding of how to interact positively with what is happening both internally and externally.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS FOR EACH POSE:
The idea of a goal in yoga is a bit of an oxymoron for me! Yes we are practicing with purpose towards liberation of the mind from the ego but the idea of a goal may take us out of the present moment- which is distraction and identification with something external. The best goal would be to be really open to feeling what arises in the body and mind as you explore the postures- be really involved in the process with the mind of a student. A posture will look and feel so different on everybody so your goal is to find 'sthira sukham asanam ' a 'steady and stable posture'- somewhere you can breathe comfortably and still feel into every part of you with the right amount of effort and ease. This is a dynamic balance that will change day to day, moment to moment so awareness and listening to your body is the key to discovering the personal benefit, relationship and maybe goal of each pose. On the physical level again the Yoga Journal website will tell you the benefits but really the joy is in discovering for yourself through a sustained practice.
Success is relative. If you feel you are getting enjoyment, peace, health out of your yoga sessions so far then that is a great success- all we can hope for is to be content and that luckily is mostly in our power! Yoga is a wonderful tool for this and you are right connecting to the breath is vital so keep on breathing!
A great book which is the first I ever bought is "asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha' by the Bihar school of yoga which is traditional yoga school with some great publicaiton. I use this book all the time :)