YOGA: The Ancient form of Physical, Mental, and Spiritual discipline.
Introduction to Yoga
Yoga, the path to enlightenment, dates back to about 4000 years. Having its origin in India, it has now become exercise cum meditation for the new millennium. Yoga is becoming popular in all parts of the world. A form of solace for the restless mind, a boon for the sick, a way to remain fit and smart for the common man, Yoga has modifying advantages and is, therefore, becoming a part of education. Specialists use it to unfold deeper layers of consciousness in their move towards perfection.
Background of Yoga
Yoga was very less known in the west before the 1960s. It was perhaps known by a few icons like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other few in the US. It was in the 1980s when great people like Swami Vivekananda spread the knowledge of Yoga, it started becoming popular as a physical system of health exercise among the western population.
Patanjali Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy known as Shat Darshanas. Patanjali Maharishi compiled the essential features and principles of Yoga in the form of Sutras. He says Yoga a conscious process of gaining mastery over the mind. It can compress the process of man’s growth greatly. As Swami Vivekananda puts it, “It is a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few months or even a few hours of one’s bodily existence”. (read more… ‘Ancient manuscripts that talk about Yoga’)
Ancient manuscripts that talk about Yoga:
In India, several classical texts and manuscripts talk about Yoga and its various components. Some of these ancient writings dated even earlier to Patanjali are Bhagavad Gita, Gheranda Samhita, Goraksha Samhita, Goraksha Shatakam, Goraksha Gita, Siva Samhita, Siva Swarodaya, Hatayoga Pradipika, Yoga Yajnavalkya Samhita, Brhadyoga Yajnavalkya Smriti, Yoga Rahasya, Yoga Ratnakara, and many others from the Vedas and the Upanishads.
The Indian scriptures are abounding with different terms for Yoga and many believe that they are different techniques but all of them lead to the same goal. The aim of Yoga is ‘Moksha’. Moksha here means liberation or freedom from sufferings to reach a higher goal.
What is Yoga?
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to join’. Traditionally ‘Yuj’ is joining of the ‘Jeevatma’ with ‘Paramatma’ – meaning individual self with that of the universal self. Yoga is an expansion of the narrow restricted egoistic personality to an all-pervasive, eternal, and blissful state of reality.
Yoga is an all-embracing way of life, a science of self-culture and mental discipline, that ensures the purgation of the ignoble in man and brings forth what is most noble in him. It is pertinent to all irrespective of caste, creed, sex, and religion. It can be beneficial to all – the good and the bad, the sick and the healthy, the believer and the non-believer, the literate and the ignorant, the young and the old. A person may begin at any age and can go on reaping its benefits.
Benefits of Yoga
Scientists today ascertain that the intrinsic organic health of a human being is of prime importance along with the outer development of the body. The practice of Yoga has a substantial foundation in science. Yogic asanas accelerate blood circulation in the body and Pranayama abates carbon dioxide content ensuring sound health. Yoga provides all-round benefits to a human being.
To maintain the purity of blood and elimination of toxins, both outer and inner cleanliness is indispensable. Scientists prescribe sun-bath, steam-bath, shower-bath, air-bath and to this, the Yogis include the nasal cleansing (neti), stomach wash (dhouti), the depuration of the alimentary canal (basti), the purgation of the intestines, the bladder, and the sexual organs (vajroli).
Yoga exercises have a strengthening effect on the nervous system through its non-tiring physiological activities that bring about the poise of body and mind. Unlike the normal workouts that concentrate more on the inflation of the muscles, Yoga takes care of every little part of the anatomy.
Yoga and meditation are a unique gift to mankind. They strengthen your body and mind providing physical power and mental peace. It helps fight diseases to provide one with a longer and healthier form of life.
“Yoga is difficult for the one whose mind is not subdued.” Bhagavad Gita
Yoga is not only one of the fastest growing health practices in the world, but also an essential part of spa menus across the world today. The basic aim of Yoga is to promote health and prevent diseases by experiencing union and a sense of oneness with the sell. The key to Yoga is proper breathing techniques. As we breathe fully, more oxygen intake is supplied to every cell and part of the body. This helps to maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit.
The roots of Yoga can be traced 5000 years back, when the ancient Hindu sages would practice Yoga to achieve enlightment. Though the origins of Yoga are as old as the Indus Valley civilisation, what we practice today was derived from the translation of Sanskrit texts by Patanjali’, the Indian yogi who lived around 300 B.C. In Sanskrit, Yuja’ means to join or weld together. Just as two pieces of metal are welded together to become one, similarly, the philosophy of Yoga is to unite the consciousness (spirit) of the individual with the universal consciousness (spirit) through the regular practice of certain physical and mental exercises. Thus, Yoga is the art of life that balances and harmonises the body, mind and emotions. To maintain this balance, the yogis devised an eight-fold path, also called as Eight-limbed Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga’. Patanjali’s writing became the basis to promote inner strength and happiness. The Eight Limbs are Yama (The five ‘abstention’- non-violence, non-lying, non-covetousness, non-sensuality and non-possessiveness); Niyama (The five observances purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender to god); Asana (different seating positions used for meditation); Pranayama (control of the life force or breath); Pratyahara (withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects); Dharana (Concentration); Dhayana (Meditation); and Samadhi (the ultimate goal which merges consciousness with the object of meditation)
Asana means body posture. Yoga offers a wide choice of asanas to choose from, depending on the overall stamina and health. This could be from mild pranayams to high intensity asanas involving higher physical movement. Traditionally practiced in Hatha Yoga, asanas have deep impact on the entire body and mind as it affects different body systems such as muscular, respiratory, circulation, digestive, excretory and others. While some asanas are in standing position, some are in sitting position while others are in supine position, also called as lying down position. Yoga postures that are widely practiced include Bhujangasana, Sarvasana, Setubandhasana, Sukhasana, Tadasanas, Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana and many others.
Yoga is highly therapeutic. It is powerful anti-ageing tool and can treat allergies, anemia, arthritis, asthmatic problems, back pain, bronchitis, cancer, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, eye problems, face wrinkles, gastro-intestinal high blood pressure, hypertension, immunity-deficiency, impotence, menstrual cramps, migraines and many other conditions. As one practices Yoga, the blood circulation improves which results in a healthy and glowing skin besides infusing sense of balance and internal harmony.
TYPES OF YOGA
Yoga is considered as the essence of a healthy life. Practicing Yoga on a regular basis not only ensures a healthy lifestyle, but also attains the much desired peace of mind. It is the greatest stress-buster and a remedy for curing a number of chronic ailments. Yoga is broadly divided into eight types. Most of them involve the use of poses (Asanas), meditation and breathing exercises (Pranayams). In this section, we have discussed the eight prominent types of Yoga, their technique and their health benefits.
As the name suggests, Bhakti Yoga is practiced expressing love and devotion to the Almighty by singing bhajans, chanting slogans, reading religious books, reciting prayers and doing religious activities that brings one closer to god and thus helps in attaining oneness with the
Considered as one of the most popular branches of Yoga. Hatha Yoga involves physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayams), meditation, mudras and purification procedures known as ‘Shatkriyas’. Regular practice leads to a more disciplined and focused mind.
By practicing Jnana Yoga, the individual stays focused in all situations and attains self-control. This Yoga of true knowledge aims to detach the person performing it from all the temporary aspects of life.
Karma Yoga is the dedication of all actions (karma) and their results to the Almighty. The aim of a Karma Yogic is to provide selfless service to the poor, needy and down-trodden section of the society without expecting anything in return. It purifies one’s heart and helps attain the knowledge of one’s own self.
Kundalini means the vital force at the base of the spine. The yoga aims at awakening and tapping the energy in the lower body, particularly at the base of the spine, and drawing it to move upwards to the head. Apart from the physical postures (asanas), the person performs meditation and chants mantras to awaken each of the seven chakras of the body. The asanas are coordinated with the hold of breath.
In this, the individual chants mantras to attain peace of mind and enhance concentration power. The purpose of chanting mantras is to achieve certain goals or desires. Mantra Yoga helps to eliminate a number of disorders, including psychosomatic ailments and the problems of anxiety, stress and tension. It also boosts the individual’s self-confidence.
Known as integral Yoga, Purna Yoga offers wisdom and techniques for the unison of the body, mind and soul. It involves meditation, pranayams and alignment-based asanas. Purna Yoga is an improvisation of the traditional systems of Yoga.
Raj Yoga is considered to be the best for complete and holistic healing of one’s mind and soul. It helps the individual to alleviate himself from emotional and mental conflicts, thus bringing him in harmony with the co-existing creatures and environment.
This yoga is practiced widely these days as it is like an intense acrobic workout. It is challenging and physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next with synchronised breathing. This intense, vigourous and fast-paced Yoga consists of a progressive series of poses like push-ups, handstands, side bends and toe touches.
While doing the Bikram Yoga, the practice room is heated up to 37 degrees Celsius with a humidity level of 40 per cent, which results in profuse sweating and loosening of tight muscles. Today, even in spas, it has become one of the most practiced Yoga forms due to its capability of cleansing the body of toxins, making one healthier and feeling rejuvenated.
Vinyasa means breath-synchronised movement. This is a vigourous practice that starts typically with a series of movements matching with the breath called Sun Salutations’ to warm up the body. The practice balances cach pose with a counter pose. In the advanced stages of this Yoga, stretching is made more intense.
This yoga emphasises more on holding each pose for a longer time rather than moving from one pose to the next. Props such as blocks, blankets and straps are used to help align the body into different poses in a sequential way. This yoga is also suitable for people with disabilities or injuries as it improves their flexibility and strength.
YOGA IN SPAS
Yoga has become an indispensable part of spas today. Yoga retreats at spas are popular for their benefits. Yoga sessions are a part of most of the spa menus which include detoxifying and de-stressing therapies followed with serving of fresh organic food. Considering the highly therapeutic value of Yoga, spas employ highly qualified Yoga instructors to offer a complete wellness paradise to their guests. Yoga platforms are being added to spa suites so that the guests can learn and practice Yoga as it is a proven method to cope up with stress and strain of daily life.
Meditation is considered to be the highest form of Yoga in which one can experience breath, mind and body becoming one. It is an inward pilgrimage, where one searches, with every breath inhaled, the mysteries of life, including one’s own destiny. Meditation is practiced by sitting on the floor in a cross legged posture with or without locking both the legs, followed by closed eyes. This art of spiritual healing takes several forms: insight, sitting, mindfulness, moving. Regardless of the technique, each is intended to deeply relax the body and the mind. Every time one meditates, anxiety, worries, stress are all reduced while enhancing peace, calmness, tranquility within the inner self. In the corporate world, mediation has become a must to bust stress and increase productivity.
In traditional meditation, one focuses on the area of the face between the eyebrows with or without chanting Mantras’, while in Mindfulness meditation, the meditator focuses attention on processes passing through the mind. It is considered an outgrowth of a Buddhist tradition called Vipassana which focuses on the present moment. Another form of meditation is Concentration meditation in which the individual concentrates his attention on an internal or external object (example sound, word, bodily sensations, etc.) while minimising distractions and bringing the attention of the wandering mind back to the chosen object. Some other forms of meditation involve focus towards objects.
For example, in Mandala meditation, one has to gaze upon mandala, a universal symbol (basically a yantra which is a cosmically inspired geometric design). This practice draws one to greater realisations of esoteric qualities like beauty, truth, peace and joy within. Another popular meditation form is the Kundalini meditation which arouses kundalini to release free-flow of energy to sustain and maintain every cell.
Yet another meditation form is Preksha meditation. The secret of this meditation is to observe the breath without consciously trying to change it. It can also be practiced while sitting, standing or walking depending upon the ease of posture selected for practice. Active meditation can be practiced in any posture. It believes that anything that you do and give your full attention to can be a form of meditation. It is especially good for people with a distracted mind as an active form of meditation will probably be easier for beginners. One of the most common forms of active meditation is walking meditation. You can do a walking meditation anywhere. Keep your attention on the step you are taking. Another interesting form of meditation is writing which involves recording of thoughts without editing, filtering or judging. It is believed that regular meditation produces an increased number of anti-bodies and improves brain function as well.
What is Hatha Yoga
Health, physical fitness, and emotional stability are the objectives that bring yoga and physical education on a common platform for the benefit of humans. The utility of a particular exercise program can be evaluated only in the form of the effects that one obtained in promoting a particular factor of physical fitness. Through constant practice of yoga, one can overcome all difficulties, can eradicate all weaknesses, pain can be transmitted into bliss, sorrow into joys, failure into success, and sickness into perfect health. Determination, patience, and persistence lead one to their goal.
Health and Physical Fitness
Health is a more general and comprehensive term conveying the ‘feeling of well-being’, while physical fitness is a more specific term. Physical fitness is the capacity of an individual to perform a given task at a particular time. Health and physical fitness are not static. They are always changing; they follow the law that can be maintained only by carefully selected physical activities called ‘exercise’. Yoga has both preventive and therapeutic benefits. It has been shown to offer both physical and mental benefits to the body and the mind.
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Physical benefits of Hatha Yoga are:
- improves flexibility and muscle joint mobility
- strengthens, tones, and builds muscles
- corrects posture
- strengthens the spine
- eases back pain
- improves muscular-skeletal conditions such as bad knees, tight shoulders, and neck, swayback and scoliosis
- increases stamina
- creates balance and grace
- stimulates the glands of the endocrine system
- improves digestion and elimination
- increases circulation
- improves heart conditions
- improves breathing disorders
- boosts immune response
- decreases cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- encourages weight loss
Mental benefits of Hatha Yoga include:
- increase in body awareness
- relieves chronic stress patterns in the body
- refreshes the body by relieving muscle strain
- relaxes the mind and body
- centers attention
- sharpens concentration
- frees the spirit
Modern doctors and scientists are discovering additional health benefits of Hatha Yoga. Studies have shown that it can relieve the symptoms of several common and potentially life-threatening illnesses; such as arthritis, arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, diabetes, AIDS, asthma, and obesity. Many believe it even fends off the ravages of old age.
About Ashtang Yoga
There are eight components of Ashtanga Yoga (‘Ashta’ meaning eight and ‘Anga’ means component), namely Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
The path of yoga chosen may be different, but there are only two instruments that are needed. They are the body and mind. The body is Bahiranga: external and mind is Antaranga: internal. These two help the body to become strong, stable, and healthy, and the mind to be free from agitations and remain peaceful.
The first four components mentioned in Ashtanga Yoga are Bahiranga Yoga, and the last four components are Antaranga Yoga.
- Bahiranga Yoga
- Yama: Refers to discipline or control. Patanjali summarizes five important Yamas, namely Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (self-control), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). These demeanors are ethical codes that control actions, behavior, and feelings to ensure the welfare of an individual and community.
- Niyama: Emphasizes on internal discipline, namely Shoucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (purification), Swadhyaya (self-study), and Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to higher force). These internal disciplines decipher into efficiency in managing the activities in one’s own life.
- Asanas: Specific body postures or physical movements. It is the most practical, observable, and popular practice. Many believe that Yoga comprises only Asana but naturally, they are unaware of the other aspects of Yoga.
- Pranayama: Deals with harmonizing the ‘Prana’, the vital energy within the body, through various techniques of breath regulation.
- Antaranga Yoga
- Pratyahara: The process of withdrawing the senses from its outside objects and directing it inward to see within one’s self.
- Dharana: Focusing or linking the mind to an object.
- Dhyana: Popularly known as meditation, refers to the ability of the mind to stay or sustain the object that has been chosen to focus (Dharana). Dhyana is also understood as contemplation, concentration and is often equated to the state of Yoga.
- Samadhi: This final stage of yoga is one of the objectives of Dhyana. In this state, the perceiver, the perceived, and the instrument of perception (mind) merge together.
End note from WG Team
For more information on the Therapies Programs & Specialties about x(15) Pain. What to expect, where to find. WG Team & subject experts are here to assist you. Please visit our extensively detailed Pain & Wellness Programs for more information on the best solution for your health.