Separating your cobra from your upward-facing dog takes time and patience, but the physical and emotional benefits of yoga are well worth the effort, explains Francesca Peak. Illustration by Jonny Wan
The ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice may have been around since 5BCE, but in the past few decades it’s really become the exercise of choice among the well-heeled in the Western world. Not only incredibly relaxing, it’s also rather confusing – separating your cobra from your upward-facing dog takes time and patience, a spiritual workout in itself.
The word ‘yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘yuj’, which means ‘to unite’, and the exercise aims to focus the mind and body on a single selfless practice, encompassing wisdom and self-awareness. It’s been in development for thousands of years, and spread from northern India to the Western world, where it has spawned several variations.
The most common version, hatha yoga, has been overshadowed by more exotic strains in recent years, making it ever more difficult to know what you’re getting yourself into. Ashtanga focuses on maintaining each posture for five or so breaths, and concentrating on your bandhas, the focal points of contraction and relaxation on your body. Kundalini involves includes meditation and chanting, focusing exclusively on the spin and alignment, while Bikram yoga is a sweaty affair that combines detoxifying heat with energizing postures.
We may have reached ‘peak yoga’ a couple of years ago, with the first International Yoga Day on 21 June 2015, when 35,985 people joined forces to break the record for the biggest yoga class. One glance at the number of yoga selfies on Instagram suggests that yoga attendance is at an all-time high and, while yoga pants are a controversial topic, the practice itself certainly isn’t. Rest assured if you’re not part of the yoga set – where have you been? – it’s never too late to get to strike a warrior pose. Just remember to breathe.
A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Baku magazine.