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YOGA

Through yoga one learns to respect his body and take care of it properly. Through yoga one learns to view stress and worry as negative factors, which rob the self of energy that would otherwise be channeled towards personal growth.

By yoga one learns to stretch his body like a rubber band but at the same time with control,direction and purpose. In all, yoga would dramatically improve the way one looks and feels.

Origin and nature of yoga

Yoga comes to us from the heart of Eastern philosophy. Early Indians developed a method to transcend the limitation of the senses and this was called as yoga. Through conscious control of physical and mental activity, the individuals practicing yoga can master their surroundings and rise to a higher spiritual plane.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root "yug", meaning to link or join together. Yoga deals with the whole person. A single word to describe yoga is "Balance". Yoga is designed to balance the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of an individual. As the mind and soul approach equilibrium the human becomes increasingly aware of its identity and relationship with the external world surrounding it. Yoga is an empirical science based on observations and reflections of experience or introspection. Yoga may be defined as the science of self-fulfillment. It allows us to utilize our capabilities to the fullest while permitting us to choose our own goals.

Archaeological evidence shows that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley practiced yoga prior to 2000 B.C. Through word of mouth the tradition was passed on from father to son and from teacher to pupil. A major shift from oral to written tradition began with the arrival of the Aryans in India shortly after 2000 B.C. The Aryans developed the language of Sanskrit and it later became the canonical language of Hindu scriptures. Because the forerunners of yoga are found in the Upanishads written in Sanskrit, Sanskrit became the accepted standard for yogic vocabulary. Around 300 B.C yoga began to take form as an organized group of principles and practices.

The person, most responsible for systematizing yoga was the Indian Philosopher, Patanjali. Around 200 B. C. Patanjali bolstered the move from oral to written tradition. In the classical treatise, YOGA SUTRA Patanjali codified in writing a large body of yogic principles and processes. The yoga sutras are a step-by-step guide to the attainment of physical, mental and spiritual balance. It consists of an ordered series of 194 terse aphorisms or sutras. Each sutra addresses itself to some aspect of self-development. According Patanjali, yoga is "The discipline leading to the highest development of spiritual consciousness".

The eight limbs or stages of yoga are

Self-restraint or yama

Spiritual discipline or Niyama
Posture or asana breath control or pranayama
Sense withdrawal or pratyahara
Concentration or dharana
Meditation or dhyana and
Complete spiritual consciousness or samadhi.

Despite its philosophical underpinnings, yoga is primarily a pragmatic discipline. It shares some elements with Hinduism but it is not a religion. And though it supports many of the suppositions of humanistic psychology, it is not a branch of psychology. Above all the yogi is a practitioner not a philosopher or theologist or psychologist. Yoga enthusiasts practice what they preach. Physical vigor and strength of character can only be achieved through repeated performance of the physical and mental exercises that are the cornerstone of the yogic tradition.



Branches of yoga

The yogic curriculum varies among individuals according their personal needs and goals. If one is interested in the meditative side of yoga, he can adhere to the mental exercises. Or if a healthy, well-toned body is the primary objective then they can go in for the postures and breathing exercises. Several subdivisions within yoga emphasize specific aspects of the whole being.

The great branches of yoga are best discussed in the light of their particular areas of concentration. KARMA, BHAKTI and JNANA yoga highlight the spirit; RAJA yoga explores the mind; and HATHA yoga focuses on the body The word KARMA implies action or duty.

With KARMA yoga, humanitarian action is preeminent. Helping others is the most important duty in life. The central theme is work for work's sake without any ulterior motives.

BHAKTI yoga aims at spiritual realization. It teaches divine love and devotion through emotional control and ethical conduct. For the bhakti yoga, divine love is the means to eternal bliss.

JNANA is the process of reasoning that uncovers the deep-seated truths underlying life. In the spiritual discipline known as jnana yoga the student is taught to discriminate between the real and the unreal.

RAJA yoga shows us how to gain the power of mental concentration. It places emphasis on the final four stages of yoga: abstraction of the senses or pratyahara, fixed attention or dharana, meditation or dhyana and superconscoius experience or samadhi.

HATHA yoga deals with the physical body and its control, health and well-being. It is the yoga of the sun or "HA" and the moon or "THA". It strives for perfect equilibrium among bodily functions, among the flow of solar and lunar energies in the system. Of all the great branches of yoga, hatha yoga is the one most suited to assimilation by the Western mind. The concrete and tangible nature of the body inclines the Westerner to its practice. This does not mean that it totally ignores the mental and spiritual realms. Hatha yoga underlines the other forms of yoga.

Hints for preliminary preparation

    • See the doctor first before beginning to do yoga especially if you re pregnant or if you had an injury recently.
    • Women should avoid topsy-turvy and headstand poses during the period of menstruation.
    • Before starting your practice empty the bladder and the bowels.
    • If possible get expert personal attention and supervision from a guru.
    • Wear comfortable clothes and avoid garments that pinch or restrict circulation.
    • Exercise in your bare feet to preserve your body's natural alignment and balance.
    • Yoga can be practiced in the mornings, afternoons or evenings but make sure that it is two hours after the meals, since it may upset the stomach.
    • Do yoga away from direct sunlight or in well-ventilated room free of any clutters.
    • All poses should be performed with control and not in a hurry.
    • A pose can be held for 10 to 20 seconds during the start but later it can be reduced to around 5 seconds.
    • During the asanas exhale and inhale with your nose with your mouth gently sealed.
    • It is better to close your eyes during the asanas as it gets you in touch with your inner self.
    • Be consistent with your timings and do it at the same time everyday and for the same number of days every week.

ASANAS

The asanas are the physical forces behind the yogic balance of the body, mind and spirit. They are slowly assumed postures or poses held from 10 seconds to several minutes. Asanas differ in two ways from the western gymnastics. Slow and controlled action is demanded when moving into and out of a pose. Rapid movements are against the yogic tradition whereas they are the core of gymnastics. Asanas are stretch and hold activities. Movement ceases for a time once you achieved the desired position, and then begins the gradual and gentle release of the pose. This style is unlike the Western exercises, which repeat the defining movements, say 10 or 20 times. 

Most asanas have Sanskrit names, which often signify a resemblance to a creature of nature. Some denote vegetative life while others are named after insects, reptiles or mammals. When performing the asanas, the body assumes many of these life forms. Through the asanas, the human organism is brought several steps closer to nature, to the unending series of environmental adjustments at every stage of life.

The asanas develop the body from the inside. They delve deep into the inner structure of the organism. They improve the physiological functioning of the vital organs. They increase blood flow and stimulate the elimination of toxic wastes through the lungs, kidney, liver, intestines and skin. They soothe the nerves, relax the mind and keep the spine flexible. They can improve ones athletic performance.