More about Yoga
Yoga is one of the six streams of thought in Indian philosophy (the shaddarshanas). Its aim is to bring body, mind and spirit into harmony and equilibrium.
The word Hatha derives from two roots: ha – sun (male) and tha – moon (female). Yoga means union. It is one the best known forms of yoga with its practice focusing on i) asanas and ii) pranayama. Two of the best known poses (asana) of yoga are sitting in lotus (padmasana) and head stand.
The asanas were originally practiced to enable one to sit for long durations in meditation. Which is why the intent of every asana, whether directly or indirectly, is to quieten the mind.
Asanas means to pose and repose the body in different shapes. Some of them are copies of the characteristics of animal, birds, reptiles and insects after which they are named. Others are named after great sages and mythological characters.
The basic movements of asanas are stretching, twisting, and inverting. The muscles and joints are extended, contracted and relaxed. As a result of these actions stamina and strength are restored. They improve posture and help combat the effects of daily stress.
Categorised into different sections each asana has a particular effect on different parts of the body. Asanas are groups as follows:-
Groups of asanas
Standing Poses are the foundation of all other poses and teach principles of correct movement.
Sitting poses alleviate stiffness in the knees, hips and groins.
Twists relieve back pain by keeping the spine supple. Their actions of compressing, stretching and massaging internal organs help to strengthen them. They can be performed in standing, seated and inversions.
Forward Bends fall into two categories – i) bending forwards from an upright position and ii) bending the trunk over the legs from a seated position. They are calming, aid in recovery and promote good sleep.
Balance Postures develop muscle tone and agility and they increase co-ordination and concentration.
Back Bending stimulates the nervous system as they increase flexibility of the spine. Because they also open the chest, they bring courage and help with depression and anxiety.
Inverted Poses revitalize the whole system. Being topsy turvey, improves circulation and also tones the glandular system. Especially from Headstand (Sirsasana) which activates the pituitary gland (the master gland) and Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) which strengthens the nervous system and emotions. Also activating the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Pranayama disciplines the breath.
The majority of adults breathe inefficiently. In addition, stresses of daily life are seen to accentuate this shallow breathing.
Pranayama brings attention to our breath. Each breath has four phases:- inhalation ii) inhalation – retention iii) exhalation iv) exhalation – retention.
Pranayama teaches techniques to improve these four phases by encompassing the extension and expansion of the time, the space and the quality of each phase.
Anyone can practice yoga; the young and the old, male or female and even children will feel and gain the many health benefits.
Without health we cannot do anything in life. Hence, Hatha yoga is a path worthy of your full attention.
Health and Yoga
Hatha yoga often gives instant relief from aches and pains in the body and in the long term even chronic pains are reduced in severity or disappear. Being able to relax completely is another benefit that comes from practicing yoga.
Being healthy is a combination of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fulfilment. According to yoga philosophy, signs of disease emanate mainly from our own negligence, from lack of exercise, wrong diet and ignoring the laws of nature.
Yoga becomes a powerful antidote to the stresses of everyday incidences that sometimes seem insurmountable. The codes of practice on which asanas rest is in the observances of universal ethics and morals known as yamas and personal observances known as niyamas. Through these observances and with focus on techniques of the asanas and breath, good habits are cultivated.
Feeling vital, living a full life, and ageing with life-quality is a continuous challenge for many of us. We are, however, responsible for our own health and well-being and yoga helps us attain this.
History of Yoga
Patanjali wrote the Eight limbs of Yoga which is recognised by all yoga disciplines today. His disciplined methods to achieve enlightenment is often referred to as Raja yoga.
Known as Ashtanga Yoga, these 8 limbs or stages are interrelated and interdependent. The first five limbs are known as the disciplines of yoga. They still the mind and senses in preparation for the last 3 aspects. These are classed as attainments of yoga, which result in spiritual wisdom.
1. Yama is universal commandments of moral laws and are a guide for conduct of life within society.
There are five components, namely non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and freedom from greed.
2. Niyama is personal disciplines for daily life that develop our individual qualities and draw out the best that is within us.
These are purity, contentment, austerity, study and faith or devotion to your perceived God.
Without the disciplines of Yama and Niyama chaos, violence, untruth, stealing, dissipation and covetousness reign. The roots of these evils are the emotions of greed, desire and attachment.
These ethical and moral rules bring change to the direction of our thinking.
3. Asana means control of the body in various postures.
4. Pranayama means control of breathing.
5. Pratyahara means control of the mind and senses. By consciously withdrawing the senses away from outer objects of distraction we begin also to control the mind
6. Dharana is concentration with an unbroken thread of awareness
7. Dhyana is meditation
8. Samadhi is freedom and ultimately is the merging of body, mind and soul with all that is.
Svatmarama … a sage
Svatmarama further developed a system of practice embracing the physical body as a means to achieve enlightenment. His book Hatha Yoga Pradikipa is a practical treatise with 4 chapters. Detailing methodology of how to practice 15 asanas, the connection between breath, mind and life and describing 8 pranayamas. He further explains what mudras are for and describes 10 mudras and expounds how to reach samadhi. This exploration of physical-spiritual connections and body centred practice is what we primarily think of as Hatha Yoga.
A more recent Yoga master is Shri T. Krishnamacharya who promoted yoga in the 1920‘s and 1930‘s. He produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga; B.K.S. Iyengar; T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois.
The Iyengar Methodology
The Iyengar Yoga System is founded on Patanjali’s 8 branches of yoga and is known for its scientific method, accurate practice and dedication. B.K.S. Iyengar has classified and analyzed over 200 asanas finding out their anatomical exactness and their physiological effects.
He also explored and classified the various pranayama techniques. Iyengar yoga is a term penned by B.K.S. Iyengar’s students to differentiate it from other styles. However, B.K.S. Iyengar refers to his methods of teaching as just Yoga.
There are 3 defining aspects of Iyengar Yoga; Technique, Sequencing and Timing.
Techniques teach correct placement and correct body alignment.
Sequencing is the order of practice; this can change according to season, age, reason, injury
Timing is the length of time required to maximize the benefits of each asana. This is different for the different asanas, some are held for 30- 60 seconds, some for 5-10 minutes or longer.
There is no distinction between one yoga and another. They all have the same roots and they all have the same purpose. The methodology of different teachers is what brings the different systems to light.
“Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of man as a whole.” (1)
Yoga as a Philosophy
In Yoga texts there is often references to universal spirit, to mythology, to philosophy and moral principles. You need to remember that this system is well over 2000 years old and in ancient times the world over, the higher achievements, the arts, even wars and powers were part of religion and assumed to be ‘god given’ or ‘for god.’
Although yoga does not affiliate with any religion, it is ultimately a spiritual quest. It teaches how to live healthily and in harmony with self, within society and the world at large.