Article by Catherine Bergin
We know it’s a form of exercise, we know people feel better after class and we may even consider ourselves a practicing yogi – but what actually is yoga, where does it come from, and why are so many Irish people jumping on the bandwagon?
Yoga in it’s most traditional form is thousands of years old. Its origins come from Indian holy texts just as Hinduism and Buddhism were born, so it draws many parallels with both of these religions.
Interestingly, the physical practice, known as “asana” – is only one eighth of the practice of yoga!
The other elements include breathwork, meditation, concentration, morals for living and more.
Asana – the physical practice, is a wonderful way to introduce oneself to the vast world of yoga, but unlike other forms of exercise the physical practice is only the beginning and acts as a doorway into a lifestyle of wellbeing, self-exploration and growth.
Yoga – the word – translates from the written language sanskrit as “union”. In reference to the union of body, mind & spirit which we experience when practicing.
The physical practice, is a wonderful way to introduce oneself to the vast world of yoga, but is only a doorway into a lifestyle of wellbeing, self-exploration and growth.
Asana has become the most common way of practicing yoga probably because it is the most accessible format to the western world.
If someone tried to get you to attend a class on the yamas or “rules of living” there might not be so many people turning up. But people love to get fit, love to get flexible, and love to feel better in their bodies.
So, marketing yoga as a physical practice may actually have been a rather strategic way to introduce Eastern philosophy to the West.
Another reason yoga may have taken off with such gusto in Ireland is the mindful aspect to the practice. Yoga is at its core a way to be mindful and meditate while moving.
If we remember that mindfulness is the focus of the mind (on anything) non-judgmentally, then yoga poses are a wonderful way to bring mindfulness into our lives.
By the nature of the practice, it is difficult to think about anything other than the class at hand; there are so many different names in both English and sanskrit for all the postures, the teacher is constantly calling out alignment cues, and for each movement you are either meant to inhale or exhale your breath. In essence – there is a lot going on!
The mind will struggle to wander with so many things to think about, and this focus – this mindful movement – gives our brain a chance to quiet. The more we practice, the more our brain gets used to quieting – gets used to focusing on one task at a time.
The more we practice, the more our brain gets used to quieting… and in turn is able to focus better in other aspects of our lives too.
The brain being a muscle, learns this habit and in turn is able to focus better in other aspects of our lives too. Generally leading to the zen like state you may have noticed in the practicing yogi.
In our modern society we will never likely attain the eighth and final element of yoga, which is enlightenment, unless we are willing to emigrate to the Himalayas and leave all our loved ones and belongings behind…
But perhaps it is that ever-challenging, never-ending pursuit of a blissful sense of being which keeps practitioners going back again and again to the practice.
It will never be over, we will never be finished and this mysterious eastern philosophy of which we only half understand is keeping the interest of the Irish.
*Translates loosely as: May the divine light in me, bow to the divine light in you.
Catherine Bergin is a Dublin-based yoga teacher and practitioner. When not on her mat, she can be found making cool stuff at Google, sampling the latest healthy eateries and enjoying Dublin’s fitness offerings.
You can follow Catherine’s yoga journey on Instagram.@cathberginyoga.