This week we closed yet another 6 weeks beginners course and have introduced headstand preparation poses to the group who have made such progress in just 6 weeks and it was marvelous to see how everyone concentrated to try new things out safely and carefully.
Student progress like this is one of the most rewarding things for me to see as a teacher BUT how long is the road and does it ever end? How long does it take to learn the poses and practice them safely?
When I first started practising Yoga I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of poses, their names and my inherent inability to recall them or how they fitted into a sequence.
After 5 years of regular practice and almost 2,000 hours of teaching and training, I feel a lot more comfortable with the variety of yoga poses and their names ( mostly in English ) but I still get caught out when I join a new class and the teacher invites the students to take a pose without demonstrating it which tells me I still have much to learn.
One of the most common questions I get asked is : how many poses are there and when will I remember what they are ?Great questions !
Let's start by looking at what Yoga actually is. The word Yoga means Union, union of body and mind, union of the feminine and masculine energies and ultimately union of the inner-self with the outer-Self which dismantles the illusion that the two are separate.
To attain Union is the ultimate goal of Yoga, so why would we be able to attain union via a series of physical postures? Actually Union can be attained through just one posture, a seated posture or asana that you are able to maintain comfortably for an extended period of time during meditation.
So if we only need to be able to hold just one pose for an extended period of time why do we need so many poses and why start from the body if the ultimate goal is to meditate?
The answers to these questions are pretty simple: it is easier to focus and meditate if we start from the body, the body is accessible to everyone and much more controllable than the mind. If we were to start from the mind we would lose our desire to practice pretty quickly due to the fluctuating nature of the mind.
The poses are a vehicle to relax the body so that ultimately we can sit in stillness and bring about the stillness of mind and access that Union.
Traditional Hatha Yoga teaches 84 postures as taught by Shiva himself (based on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika text), the most important of these poses are sited postures which highlights the goal of asana practice once again.
The origin of modern Hatha can be traced back to Krishnamacharya ( November 18, 1888 – February 28, 1989) , and two of his pupils Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar yoga. Iyengar went on to publish the first Western book on Yoga complete with pictures of the poses in 1966 Light on Yoga which described some 200 asanas. Hundreds more were illustrated by Dharma Mittra later on and he documented 908 postures! Dharma in particular regards all yoga poses as a gesture of devotion, a thank you to God for our existence.
So as you can see there is no simple answer to the question, how many yoga poses are there? The real answer is as many as you need! It is this vast nature of the Yoga asana realm that makes learning Yoga a never-ending journey that we should take slowly enjoying the subtleties of our body and our breath as we practice.
Also remember that asana is only 1 of the 8 limbs or areas that make up the full universe of Yoga and a lifetime is probably still not enough to research and practice them all, so choose what you need right now and hop on your mat!
If you are interested in learning some of the core poses of Hatha yoga in a fun, inclusive and relevant way Cherry Yoga runs regular beginners courses, the next one starts in January and you can book your space here : https://www.cherryyoga.co.uk/events-1/6-weeks-beginners-course-january-start
In 2020 there are also several workshops dedicated to deepening some of these aspects of yoga study, check what's on offer here: https://www.cherryyoga.co.uk/events-and-courses