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What is ‘Yoga’?

The term yoga is derived from the word “yui” meaning to join or yoke. Indicating yoga is a systemic and methodical process to control and develop the mind and body to attain good health, balance of mind and self –realization. The Bhagvad Gita states yoga is not for the one who overeats, neither the one who fasts, nor for those who sleeps too much and not for the one who over-wakes. It is for who is moderate in eating, recreation, actions and systematic in sleeping and working. It is yoga that destroys human misery and eliminates health hazards. Systematic yoga practices not only eliminate several diseases, but also help tackle difficult mental situations like agitation anxiety and depression.

The main aim or yoga is to unite the individual soul, body and mind in order to attain the utmost peace of mind. In yoga shastra, yoga itself has been classified into four categories they are – Bhakti Yoga, KarmaYoga, Jnana Yoga and Hatha Yoga. Apart from these several other references have been made in the Bhagvad Gita which includes Kundilini, Dhyana, Raja, and many more systems of yogic practices.

Bhakti Yoga

It emphasizes on devotion and realization of Yoga of God or supernatural in order to attain satisfaction, happiness and discipline of life. This is achieved by controlling the mind which helps attain concentration which in turn brings about mental satisfaction. Though the system appears to be simple but attaining control of mind which controls the functions of the entire body is difficult.

Karma Yoga

‘Karma’ in Sanskrit refers to ‘action’ that is, a superiority of action knowledge is the essence of Karma yoga. It enables people to act right in order to render good service to the society. Those who have determination of mind would be able to excel in providing best services to society to attain satisfaction peace and happiness.

Jnana Yoga

This is a system of yoga of intelligence, yoga of devotion and knowledge. It is knowledge that helps to know and to attain higher and higher knowledge leading to realization of God. It is knowledge which helps realize oneself, and also helps provide realization of mind and body.

Hatha Yoga

It is a system of attaining perfection of mind and body through systemic physical exercises. The systemic practice of this form of yoga ultimately helps achieve perfect health and control of mind and body. It consists of three important aspects

  • Control of breath
  • Control of mind
  • Yogic exercises
Sage Pathanjali the master of yoga darshana in his teachings has prescribed the ways and means of attaining yogic perfection. The basic sutras state an “Eight fold Path” which helps a seeker to realize self to and to attain perfect state of mind - Self Discipline (Svadhyaya), Observance (Niyama), Body Posture (Asanas), Restraint of Prana (Pranayam, Prathyahara and Dharana), Disassociation, Abstraction, Meditation and Samadhi.

1) Yama and Niyama: They are two faces of the same coin. Yama that is self discipline is the most basic and very important. Truthfulness, Honesty, Bhramacharya are necessary to overcome the basic desire. Yama is social behavior, how you treat others and the world around you. These are moral principles. Sometimes they are called the don’ts or the thou shall not’s. There are five yamas:
  • Nonviolence (ahimsa). Do no harm to any creature in thought or deed.
  • Truth and honesty (satya). Tell no lies.
  • Nonstealing (asteya). Do not steal material objects (a car) or intangibles such as the center of attention or your child’s chance to learn responsibility or independence by doing something on his own.
  • Nonlust (brahmacharya). Avoids meaningless relationships
  • Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha). Free yourself from greed, hoarding, and collecting.
The second aspect is “Niyama” which are regulations and have five elements
  • Soucha (Purity): ‘Purity’ refers to purification of one’s body and mind and heart. The seeker is expected to purify the body his thoughts and motion.
  • Santosha (Contentment): To attain contentment in all situations and one should practice high degree of austerity.
  • Tapas (Austerity): It is an observance of simple disciplined life with sincere devotion to attain moral virtue
  • Swadhyaya (Self Study): Self study refers to gaining knowledge by regular study of soul elevating litreture, sacred text in order to understand and adopt principles
  • Eshwara Pranidhana: It is devotion of the lord to transcend the gap between inner self and divine self
3) Asanas: It symbolizes body discipline and also serves as an old aid for meditation. Among several yogasanas Padmasana, Siddhasana and vajrasana are suitable for meditation where the seeker remains balanced, relaxed and stable to experience the values of meditation. The systemic practice of yogasana provides control over mind and body in order to attain perfection in life.
4) Pranayama: Pranayama (regulation of breathing) is the cessation of the inhalation and exaltation. “Prana” is the life force of existence, the art of breathing more systematically. This technique that helps gain control over body and mind by controlling breathing that is both natural and automatic should be practiced under guidance of an experienced teacher.
5) Prathyadhara: This refers to “Disassociation”- to restoration of senses to attain purity of mind. In this process one should not react immediately to any stimulus from external objects.

6) Dharana: Inner abstraction refers to fitness of mind through abstraction. It is binding the mind in place, uniting the five senses of perception together in order to control mind. It is in this stage that one can set his mind for meditation and by regular practice of controlling ones mind and senses one can attain self realization.
7) Dhyana: Meditation is one of the methods to achieve mental purity.. The purpose of meditation is to achieve utmost happiness. By regular practice one can self control and sadhana (achievements). The divinity of life can get translated into life only through meditation.
8) Samadhi: Samadhi that is illumination has 55 sutras where the powers of the mind are turned outward. It is a process which leads to realization of mind, it is a stage of isolation having complete unawareness of worldly objects. Shavasana that provides complete relaxation resembles the concept of Samadhi.
All above eight cleanse the body and mind to attain perfection. The very purpose of yoga is to give knowledge of values of human life and also give insight of self awareness, self discipline and perfect control
Common Requirements of Yoga:
1. Basic Knowledge:

Before initiation of any asana a basic knowledge of performing the asana is essential else all the effort is futile. The various yogic systems need to be learnt carefully. Guidance of a yoga master is helpful but can also practiced from acquiring knowledge from books, videos, etc.

2. Time and Place

The universal notion is that yoga should be practiced early morning when the weather is pleasant and the mind is fresh which supplements to yoga practice. If unable to pursue in the morning it can be done in the evening too but the important aspect is it be practiced regularly without break. Those suffering from major health disorder, women during menstruation and women after completing 3 months of pregnancy and one month after delivery should not perform yoga. In case of surgical procedure yoga should be avoided for 6 months then resumed after regaining health.

There is no specific stipulation regarding the duration of yoga practice but daily practice of one to one and a half hours is sufficient. The place of practice should be well ventilated with good circulation of air. It should be free of mal odors, dust and fumes and should be clean. It should not be done on plain floor, a mat or blanket should be spread on the floor.

3. Food and Habits

An important concept of that any yoga practitioner should be aware of ideal food system. The consumption of food, method, quantity, style of food preparation and taste differs from person to person. Various studies have indicated that vegetarianism is ideal for attaining good health. Regarding the consumption of food it depends on individual body stature. Irregular consumption, consumption without hunger, taking excessive food especially fatty food are prevalent these days. Before practicing any asanas it is suggested to adopt good eating habits like,
  • Taking atleast one meal a day with less fat .
  • Avoid use of excess salt, chillies and spices
  • Avoid preserved food articles, packed food and items containing artificial colours and flavours
  • Consumption of fresh juice, raw vegetables and dry fruits that provide nourishment
  • Giving three to four intervals between each meal so aid better digestion
  • Consumption of enough water preferably in the mornings and at the time of sleeping. It is also suggested that half a liter of water kept in a copper vessel for atleast 5-6 hours should be consumed in the morning.
  • Totally avoiding from alcohol, coffee and tea in order to get full benefits of yoga
  • Taking food two hours before sleeping
  • While practicing yoga the stomach should be empty. One should not take food immediately after yoga practice, a minimum of half an hour gap is necessary.
  • Water should be taken 15 mins before and after performing yogic exercises.
4. Cleanliness:

Cleanliness and hygiene are a prerequisite for medical and yogic sciences. Here cleanliness refers not only physical but also mental. . The fundamental concept of yoga is to clean the body system completely and also free it from all diseases, agony and depression. Cleanliness includes

  • Massaging and Bathing: Massaging the system with available oils like coconut, castor or til. Before massaging the oil should be heated and cooled and then applied to various parts of the body using various strokes like percussion, friction, stroking and vibration for 30 minutes. It should be in the direction of blood flow to improve venous blood flow and should be done once a week after yogic exercises. It should be done from the right side first and then the left. The oil should be kept for half an hour to an hour before taking bath. The basic purpose of massaging is to provide relaxation, improve circulation to various parts of the body. Bathing is a system to clean the external body of sweat, dust and other bodily secretions. The ideal condition is to use luke warm water and a gap of atleast half an hour is essential after performing yogasanas.
  • Clothing: The clothes used during yogic exercise should be comfortable and clean. They should be free and flexible as the sweat emitted by the body during yoga should be allowed to evaporate or absorbed by clothes hence tight clothes should be avoided.
5. Guidance:

Since inception a lot of studies and research has been conducted on the benefits of yogic science. It has been established that for perfect practice perfect knowledge and guidance is essential

6. Relaxation

Relaxation here refers to both mental and physical relaxation. The main aim and purpose of yoga is to attain physical and mental nourishment though relaxation. Even while performing the yogasanas relaxation is more important than physical exertion.
Advantages of Yoga
Physiological Benefits of Yoga
  • Stable autonomic nervous system equilibrium
  • Pulse rate decreases
  • Respiratory rate decreases
  • Blood Pressure decreases (of special significance for hyporeactors)
  • EMG activity decreases
  • Cardiovascular efficiency increases
  • Respiratory efficiency increases
  • Gastrointestinal function normalizes
  • Endocrine function normalizes
  • Excretory functions improve
  • Musculoskeletal flexibility and joint range of motion increase
  • Breath-holding time increases
  • Joint range of motion increase
  • Grip strength increases
  • Eye-hand coordination improves
  • Dexterity skills improve
  • Reaction time improves
  • Posture improves
  • Strength and resiliency increase
  • Endurance increases
  • Energy level increases
  • Weight normalizes
  • Sleep improves
  • Immunity increases
  • Pain decreases
  • Steadiness improves
  • Depth perception improves
  • Balance improves
  • Integrated functioning of body parts improves
Psychological Benefits of Yoga
  • Somatic and kinesthetic awareness increase
  • Mood improves and subjective well-being increases
  • Self-acceptance and self-actualization increase
  • Social adjustment increases
  • Anxiety and Depression decrease
  • Hostility decreases
  • Concentration improves
  • Memory improves
  • Attention improves
  • Learning efficiency improves
  • Mood improves
  • Self-actualization increase
  • Social skills increases
  • Well-being increases
  • Self-acceptance increase
  • Attention improves
  • Concentration improves
  • Memory improves
  • Learning efficiency improves
  • Symbol coding improves
  • Depth perception improves
  • Flicker fusion frequency improves
Biochemical Benefits of Yoga
  • Glucose decreases
  • Sodium decreases
  • Total cholesterol decreases
  • Triglycerides decrease
  • HDL ( good cholesterol) increases
  • Hemoglobin increases
  • Immunity increases
  • Thyroxin increases
  • Vitamin C increases
  • Total serum protein increases
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