THERE was a time in Cork City that Bishop Lucey condemned yoga from the pulpit, claiming it was the devil's work. We have come a long way since then - or have we?
Thousands of devotees practise yoga every day, some in search of fitness, some in search of flexibility and a few in search of nirvana. Yoga means union between you and life. It doesn't mean twisting yourself into all sorts of contorted positions causing injuries. So having taught yoga for 20 years, what I see at the moment is not yoga but a glorified version of PE. To call it yoga is a little misleading.
Each yoga exercise is meant to stimulate the endocrine system or glands in the body which correspond to kunbalini centres or chakras, which are in turn associated with the planets. There is also a very important sequence that each movement is corresponding to and I have yet to hear a teacher explain this.
Originally, a teacher was identified by the colour of their aura which tells you if they are for real or not, but many courses are being taught and diplomas being handed out on the performance of exercises alone.
Yoga was first taught in Egypt and then in India. It was a way of achieving enlightenment and self-realisation. Fitness and flexibility were a by-product with the main emphasis on meditation. Also people from these far away places had very slight body frames, not a European stocky build, which is less likely to be flexible. It may not have been designed for you to touch your toes or stand on your head.
Yoga can benefit everyone once you understand what your limitations are and to stop pushing yourself too far. Even if a teacher keeps pushing a little further at every class, know when to say no.
For example, surveys of injuries related to yoga reported by the Society of Sports Therapists saw an increase of 136pc in injuries that are partly down to poor teaching and bad technique.
Like any exercise, it has to be performed correctly. In a large class, with people dropping into classes irregularly, this is impossible as it takes patience and good, slow instruction to perform the movements correctly.
Also, there is an ever increasing array of types of yoga to choose from, including Hanging Yoga, Bikram, Yogafit etc.
With Hanging, you perform the exercises by hanging in a harness where you do some movements. With Bikram Yoga you perform the exercise in a sweat-filled room of 42 degrees, moving quickly from posture to posture, and Yogafit is even faster.
You may get fitter all right but don't lose the essence of what it's really all about. Energy is being moved around the body, it's brushing off centres and it has to have a flow from one centre to the next in sequence.
In heat, exercise encourages over stretching, which can cause muscle damage with bodies not designed to be so intensely stretched. With Ashanga Yoga, it originally was designed for children with high mobility and high energetic bodies but when reaching 25 years of age they moved to Hatha yoga.
So, if you have the typical European frame just be careful. We cannot all touch our toes.
Check out Yoga Ireland and find out which type of yoga would suit you. At least know what you are getting into. Often it can come down to personal recommendation. Always attend the beginners' class and see if it is for you.
The best advice is if it hurts or causes discomfort during your session, you shouldn't be doing it. You should feel better at the end of a yoga class than you did at the beginning.
Always remember that in its original form it was a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. The aim was to become more conscious and aware and be able to deal with everyday stress.
Studies by the University of Miami have shown that yoga helps to reduce depression, improve immune system, improve osteoporosis and osteo-arthritis and lower blood pressure.