Yoga is an ancient discipline that focuses on unifying the mind, body and spirit through a series of movements and meditation exercises. The origins of Yoga lie in the Vedas, the ancient Indian scripture that formed the basis of Hinduism. This collection of spiritual teachings helps guide people in the expression of fulfillment that can be achieved by trying to live in harmony with the divine. The Vedas were succeeded by the Upanishads -- a set of scriptures created around 800 or 900 B.C. -- describing the relationship between a person’s “ultimate reality” and spiritual presence. The 200 scriptures of the Upanishads expounded upon and added to The Vedas. Then, around 500 BC the Bhagavad Gita (or The Lord’s Song) was written. This scripture is the oldest known which is devoted entirely to yoga. It reinforces the idea that one’s actions and ego must be in balance.
Yoga continued to evolve in India culminating in the 2nd century Yoga Sutra, a collection of 195 sutras or “threads” which, among other things, encouraged a new way of thinking about yoga that separated one’s work on the body from one’s work on the spirit. In essence, it suggested that focus on the spirit was much more important and so for some time yogis primarily focused on the spirit and meditation and much less on asanas, or physical development. Yoga is ultimately seen as an effort to maintain balance and growth in both the mind and body.
In general there are 5 types of yoga: Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Yana Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Bhakti yoga is realization of the divine through devotion, love and surrender. Raja yoga is realization and awakening of that same divine essential nature through meditation and concentration. Yana Yoga is realization through study of scripture and texts and understanding. Karma Yoga is awakening to our true self through work and service to others. Hatha Yoga is realization through opening the body with various breathing exercises (pranayamas) as well as physical postures and movements (asanas) which awaken the life force.
Yoga was originally introduced to the West in the early 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, who came to Chicago in the late 1800s and conducted hundreds of lectures on yoga. Yoga continued to gain momentum and in the 1960s with the influx of Indian Yogis to the U.S. Among them, Maharishi Mahesh is credited with popularizing “Transcendental Meditation” in the West, and Swami Sivananda is known for having written more than two hundred books on yoga and its philosophy, which included the most popular of his works, the modified Five Principles of Yoga. The five principles described in the book are:
- Savasana (proper relaxation)
- Asanas (proper exercise)
- Pranayama (proper breathing)
- Proper diet
- Dhyana (positive thinking and meditation)
Today there are yoga centers all over the country and yoga is a household word. Hatha yoga is being practiced by millions of people across America to help them reduce and manage stress, stay fit, and realize more peace in their lives. While the ultimate aim of Yoga is complete self-realization which brings about freedom from suffering, Americans are finding and discovering tools within yoga to help them with many aspects of our often busy, chaotic, and stressful lives.
Students of yoga participate in group or one-on-one classes with certified instructors. The purpose of yoga is varied and is used to improve health, build strength and balance, enhance meditation skills and relieve stress. It has also been credited with helping reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues, scoliosis, headaches, back pain, weight control, cardiovascular disease, and more. There are over 200 types of yoga practiced in the US, including Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Kripalu, and Vinyasa among others. Each has their own approach which, through a combination of breathing, physical exercise and meditation, produces a bright, clear mind and a physically strong and flexible body.
The types of yoga offered can vary by studio and instructor so finding a style and a teacher that works for you and your specific goals in doing Yoga is very important.
In order to become a yoga teacher, a provider must first have a definitive grasp on several forms of yoga and be able to execute standard intermediate poses proficiently. The next step is enrolling in a 200 or 500 hour program at an RYS (Registered Yoga School), a Yoga Alliance approved school. These programs provide intensive formal training and hands-on training in the principles and practice of yoga, as well as a foundation in teaching skills. Upon completion of one of these programs, a teacher is eligible to apply for the RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) or E-RYT (Experienced Yoga Teacher) certification, the register for which is maintained by the Yoga Alliance. The designation of an E-RYT 200 is awarded upon successfully completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training program that is registered with Yoga Alliance, teaching for a minimum of two years and also submitting proof of 1,000 teaching hours to YA.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
The most widely accepted credential in the United States is the RYT and E-RYT registration mark, which is given by the Yoga Alliance. The Yoga Alliance sets and maintains high practicing standards specific to its RYT and E-RYT registries, as well as education standards for RYS institutions. Yoga instructors do not require a license to practice in any state.
The Yoga Alliance is the national professional organization for yoga professionals. The Yoga Alliance aims to improve yoga education, unify teachers, and advance the profession of yoga teachers. To learn more about The Yoga Alliance, visit their website at www.yogaalliance.org.
Yoga is usually held in a group class format. If it is at a fitness club, it is usually included in your membership. Paid group classes are $15-$20 on average. Private yoga sessions can average $60 to $80 per hour.