Yoga is not for body building. Yoga is not gymnasium. Yoga is not a weight loss regimen. Then why do people do yoga? Yoga is something mystic. When followed religiously, it becomes a positive obsession, a necessity of life.
Misconceptions About Yoga
Let’s now first begin with the misapprehensions of yoga.
Yoga as a Mere Workout
Yoga is a holistic discipline meant for balancing body, mind and spirit. Hence, to understand it as mere exercise or workout is not just. Yoga with a physical element is a spiritual system.
It is Necessary to be Flexible Before Starting Yoga
Must say, higher the practice lower will be the effort. The practice of yoga brings flexibility and optimism in us. Hence, flexibility is certainly not a prerequisite.
Yoga is Slow and Does Not Burn Calories
Some people believe that Yoga is not challenging enough as they do not feel tired. Yoga is not to make you tired. But it relives you from tiredness. Intentions are to attain a calm mind.
As Yoga is Slow it Does no Impact on Health
Carefully adopted set of yoga postures help in reducing long standing pain even in old age.
It’s a great help in maintaining normal blood pressure and heart rate, relieving depression and anxiety. Many more health benefits are experienced as practice progresses.
As it is for Hindus, it’s not for Others
Yoga has got nothing to do with religion. Yoga can be practiced irrespective of religion, community, caste, creed, age, gender, profession. It is essential to understand that Ishwara in Patanjali Yoga Sutras is not a religious God and Yoga has no religion.
Antiquity of Yoga
It is very ancient that an estimate for calculating its history precisely is difficult. Some researchers say 5000 years old as they base it with the traces available during the excavation and study made on Indus Valley Civilization. Some others estimate it that it is more than 10,000 years old giving a reference to the teachings available in Bhagavad Gita, where Lord Krishna is regarded as ‘Yogacharya’. The origin of Yoga is traced to Vedas.
Where did the Word Yoga Emerge from?
The term yoga was first cited in the text of ‘Rig Veda’ in ancient India. The Sanskrit word “Yoga” is derived from the root word ‘Yuj’ meaning union or joining together. In actual sense it is the union of Jeevatma and Paramatma. For layman’s understanding it is said that union of the body, mind and the sprituality.
Different Forms of Yoga
There are different types of Yoga; Ashtanga Yoga, hatha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Tantra Yoga and many more other Yogas.
Of late, there is something called Power Yoga, where movements are quick unlike the traditional style and Vinyasa Yoga, where there is no fixed sequential practice and keeps changing the sequence every day.
Among all, Ashtanga Yoga propounded by Sage Patanjali is most popular and being practiced worldwide. The final goal of all forms of Yoga is to have a healthy body and mind in order to transcend the mind and go to the no-mind state, where there is experience of self-realization.
Maharishi Patanjali describes yoga as “Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” which means complete cessation of mental modifications. Chitta is referred to as memory bank, Vritti are the modifications and nirodhah is cessation or stoppage.
The definition itself explains the aim of Yoga. It leads to enlightened discrimination, which in turn leads to liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. The ultimate aim of practicing yoga is to create a balance between the body and the mind which eventually leads to self-enlightenment.
As the name indicates, Ashta-anga, the system of yoga put forth by sage Patanjali has eight limbs and is therefore called Ashtanga Yoga.
Yama (Social / Moral Restraints)
It refers to the observances and restraints that regulate our interaction with others. This includes Ahimsa – non-violence; Satya – truthfulness; Asteya – non-stealing; Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness, Brahmacharya – Celibacy.
Niyama (Personal / Evolutionary Observances)
These are normally prescribed by all religions irrespective of caste, place, time and circumstances. This comprises of Shaucha – cleanliness; Santosha – contentment; Tapas – austerity; Swadhyaya – self-knowledge or self-study; Ishwara Pranidana – surrender to God.
Ishwara is referred to as the teacher of all ancient teachers because Ishwara is unconditioned by time. Pranidhana is surrendering oneself is only surrendering of one’s ego, which is the most important hurdle in the path of yoga. Hence, question of the religion of the practitioner is not important. Every individual is equally entitled to practice yoga to attain peace.
Yama and niyama are meant to provide an adequate moral foundation and show their basic character.
Asana (Steady Posture)
It is said that a posture which is stable and comfortable is an Asana. It is this part which is familiar with the practices which are denoted by the word Asana, which many people mistake it to be Yoga. But Asana or the posture is only a part of it. Asana performance should be graceful and mind should be concentrated. Effect of Asanas according to sage Patanjali is mental in nature and free of conflicts.
Pranayama (Control of life Force through Breath Control)
The reason why Pranayama plays an important role in the technique of Yoga lies in the close relation existing between Prana and mind. Prana which exists on all the planes of manifestation is the connecting link between matter and energy on the one hand and consciousness and mind on the other. The second result of Pranayama practice is that it prepares the mind for the practice of Antaranga Yoga.
Pratyahara (Sensory Withdrawal from their Objects)
The successful practice of Pratyahara gives complete control over the senses that we no longer remain their slaves but becomes their master, just as switching on and off the electric light.
The first five limbs of Yoga eliminate, step by step, the external causes of mental distraction. Yama and Niyama eliminate the disturbances which are caused by uncontrolled emotions and desires. Asana and Pranayama eliminate the disturbances arising from the physical body. Pratyahara, by detaching the sense organs from the mind, cuts off the external world and the impressions which it produces on the mind. The mind is thus completely isolated from the external world and the Sadhaka is thus in a position to deal with it without any interference from outside.
Dharana (Single-Minded Concentration)
Keeping the mind continuously engaged in the consideration of the object and to bring it back immediately as soon as the connection is broken. The objective which the practitioner should place before himself is to reduce progressively the frequency of such interruptions and to eliminate them completely ultimately. But it is not only the elimination of the interruptions which has to be aimed at but complete focusing of the mind on the object is Dharana.
Dhyana (Meditative State)
In Dhyana, It is fixed in the sense that the area within which the mind moves is defined and remains the same. It is variable because within that limited area or sphere there is movement. However, there will be absence of interruptions from distractions in unbroken condition.
Samadhi (State of Complete Oneness)
It will be seen that the frequency of distractions goes on decreasing in Dharana and frequency and degree of mental self-awareness goes on decreasing in Dhyana. In Samadhi there is complete freedom both from distractions and self-awareness and the object alone remains in the field of consciousness.
First five are regarded as Bahiranga Yoga (external) and next three limbs are considered as Antaranga Yoga (internal). Yama and Niyama are the firm foundation of Yoga.
By the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the impurities of the mind are destroyed and then the light of knowledge begins to grow until the attainment of intuitive.
Following are few of the postures that can be practiced by the beginners.
5 Standing Postures:
- Tadasana – Mountain posture
- Ardha-Kati Chakrasana – Lateral arc pose
- Vrikshasana – Tree posture
- Veerabhadrasana – Warrior posture
- Trikonasana – Triangular posture.
5 Sitting Postures:
- Sukhasana – Cross-legged seated posture
- Vajrasana – Diamond posture
- Baddha Konasana – Cobbler’s pose/butterfly pose
- Gomukhasana – Cow face posture
- Paschimothanasana – Seated forward bending posture.
5 Laying down postures
- Setubandhasana – Bridge posture
- Supta Merudandasana – Spinal twist pose
- Anantasana – Side reclining leg lift pose
- Bhujangasana – Cobra posture
- Shalabhasana – Locust posture.
Author performing Yogasanas in front of the samadhi of Yogi Matsyendranath at Kadri Temple premises, Mangaluru, India
Rules to be followed while practicing Yogasana
There are certain rules to be followed by the performers of Yogasana.
What to do?
- Maintaining cleanliness is a prerequisite. Clean and quite atmosphere and hygienic body are must.
- Yogic practices should be on an empty stomach after emptying the bowel and bladder. Ideally, three to four hours after a heavy meal, two hours after a light meal, forty-five minutes after a snack.
- A cotton cloth spread upon a Yoga mat on an even surface in a well-ventilated place, free of clutter and dust is perfect for the practice. For every practitioner, 6*3 feet space is needed to sit and lay down while performing Asanas.
- It is recommended that Yoga mat should be made of cotton or of a bad conductor (electronically non-conductive material) of heat.
What not to do?
- Yogic practices should not be on a plain ground without a mat or cloth.
- Do not hold the breath, unless specifically instructed else it may give you unnecessary strain, muscle tension and may lead to muscle catch also.
- While you are in the way of perfecting a posture, do not give jerks. Doing only as much as we can would be sufficient when practiced on a daily basis.
- Do not let go in the mid-way if any of the postures are not correct. Practice makes everything possible.
- Comparing yourself with others is a wasteful exercise. Instead focusing on oneself helps us perform better.
If a person is injured, then based on the intensity, decision whether to take rest or to perform those practices which do not involve the injured area must be taken judicially.
If a person has undergone any surgery, in that case, a period of six months is essential before resuming to Yogasana practices and after obtaining doctors’ advice is suggested.
Every practice should end with proper relaxation. It is called as Shavasana, meaning a corpse posture. Laying down just as a dead body without any movement and speech for at least 10 minutes after practice of all Yogasanas is highly recommended. However, falling asleep is not the way. Conscious attention is to be given to the muscles and nervous system, relaxing it completely. It gives comfort to both body and mind simultaneously.
Yoga is currently accepted by the world as scientific practice for betterment of life without the intervention of medicines. Knowing the various elements of yoga, its basic rules, benefits of doing it and elimination of misconceptions helps the practitioners to develop proper attitude among the public. However, it has to be remembered that for treatment of critical ailments, Yoga is not an alternative to the scientific medical treatments. Understanding the above basics, one can adopt yoga in his life and live better with proper guidance from trained Yoga practitioners.
C. Ashwini Kini
Certified Yoga Teacher