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Expert Speak: Of, life, yoga and its various styles

"Yoga is actually yog or yug or the union of the human soul with the divine supreme energy." © Shutterstock

Nisha Varma, an American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist with an experience of more than 30 years, enlightens you on the yogic way of living which ensures a state of equilibrium and good health.

Written by Saswati Sarkar |Updated : December 29, 2018 6:49 PM IST

Yoga, as we all know, is not a collection of asanas or techniques. It is a way of life that encompasses various aspects including food, workouts, breathing techniques, habits and even mindset. Here is what fitness expert Nisha Varma, who specialises in yoga, has to tell you about this age-old Indian tradition.

Q. It is said that yoga is not just an exercise. It's a way of life. What is a yogic way of life?

A. Yoga is actually yog or yug or the union of the human soul with the divine supreme energy. There are several types of yog: Karma Yog, Raj Yog, Ashtanga Yog, Kriya Yog, Bhakti Yog. But here, we speak of yog at a more physical level which is part of Hatha Yog. The yogic way of living is NOT the practice of asanas or breathing exercises only. It implies living in a state of equilibrium and practising a lifestyle which is conducive to good health mentally, physically and spiritually. Right thought, right action and right words all form the basis of good health.

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Q. Does one need to be a vegetarian to practise yoga?

A. Quality and quantity of food are important for a healthy lifestyle whether you practise yog or not. But for a yogi, satvik food is preferred light, freshly-made, and cooked with love. It can be easily digested while providing enough energy and creating a lightness in the body which is conducive to meditation and mental awareness. Heavy food and overeating cause a lethargic state of mind and body which acts as a hindrance to mental and spiritual development. Most yogis ate only one or two meals a day and that too, well before sunset. Today this system is popularly known as Intermittent Fasting.

Q. In what ways is yoga different from other forms of exercise?

A. The moment you talk of yog as an exercise, you are limiting its potential. As I have explained before, yog is a lifestyle to be followed by each individual for a lifetime. It has immeasurable benefits for the mind, body and soul. No other exercise form can claim to do that. Each of the modern day exercise forms can only provide physical benefits for endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. But according to the yog school of thought, these benefits of the body need to be backed by strong spiritual and mental wellbeing. Hence, we cannot compare yoga with any other exercise form. Yog deals with the body holistically inside and out and subtly works on all the organs as well.

Q. There are various styles of yoga, starting from Ashtanga Vinyasa to Power Yoga. What is the most popular one? Why do you think these styles have become so popular?

A. The modern era is marked by impatience and restlessness. Now, everything is measured in terms of physical benefits. That is the reason behind the popping up of different styles of yoga. Moreover, anything new becomes a fad. However, I believe staying close to the original will provide one with all the benefits as spoken of in the yoga sutras written by Patanjali more than 2500 years ago. Having said that, I also appreciate the modern adaptation of the BKS Iyengar school of yoga because it allows the usage of props to facilitate people with low physical ability (senior citizens, people with physical challenges, etc.)

Q. What should one keep in mind while choosing a particular school of yoga?

A. Practise yoga based on your goals and preferences. Some prefer it for purely physical benefits, some for disease management, while others for spiritual purposes. Study the work done by different centres and join one which meets your requirement. Availability, travel time and guru are the factors to look out for.

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