The Contributions of Traditional Yoga
The Concept of Yoga
Volumes have been written about the concept of Yoga and its benefits to our entire being. We get to see yoga centers mushrooming in every corner of our cities some of them run by valid and well versed yoga teachers some not so. We had an incident in my own town where a yoga class claiming to cure every ailment under the sun through yogic aasanas vanished overnight after some fifty odd people enrolled and paid a hefty sum towards registration for the promised yoga camp and training.
However, Yoga can be practiced by anyone provided you learn some basics and also follow the other disciplines that go with it because Yoga is a complete thorough education of the body and mind. According to available records Yoga is more than 5000 years old and I have come across ancient hindu scriptures including The Mahabharat which also has some reference to forms of physical exercise that sounds very similar to yoga. One can also see references made in Bhagavad Gita where Krishna talks about Karma Yoga which means the discipline or the importance of action. So we can say that yoga must have evolved with time and practice and has gone on to become much more powerful as a discipline with age.
Yoga is not a religion
Many people mistake yoga for religion which it is not. It can be called as a philosophy of life that has roots in the Hindu way of life. Hinduism is in fact more a way of life than any strict religious belief. There was an instance recently when a patient with severe headache, Asthma and backache was advised by the doctor to take up yoga along with the medication. When he consulted his family and religious leaders, he was advised against it by his religious leaders because they thought he would be going against his own religious beliefs. This is a very biased opinion since there is nothing religious about yoga. The only affinity it has to religion is that it has its origin in ancient India where people were predominantly Hindus.
Another explanation that comes to my mind - It is probably because during ancient times all the higher achievements of man in any field like for example art,power or knowledge were all part of religion and were assumed to belong to god and that's why a religious tone is given to yoga as well.
Yoga in Sanskrit means the union of body and mind having been derived from the word Yuj , which means to bind, attach or in a broader sense can also mean to direct and concentrate and to apply.Some of the ancient Hindu texts have made reference to yoga as a science that allowed to learner to lead a harmonious life through the control of body and mind. Yoga is a study or a discipline that has scientific background and is timeless and universal. It is essential that you train your body along with your mind to reach a higher consciousness. One can say that yoga has become popular mainly because of its wide range of therapeutic effects on both the body and mind. When practiced for a long period of time you can see that yoga produces powerful results in human beings. One can definitely hope to have an invigorated body, increased stamina, improved muscle tone and a feeling of total harmony and well being.
If we were to define yoga, one could say that it is a timeless pragmatic science that has evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, mental, moral and spiritual well-being of an individual as a whole. Yoga also helps man to control and balance out the three negative aspects namely Kaama(lust), krodha(anger) and moha(greed)
How did Yoga evolve
Yoga, as I mentioned earlier has a history of more than 5000 years and has its roots in Hinduism. In fact many scholars and researchers believe that Yoga gained prominence during the period of Indus Valley civilization in Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Hinduism developed in India in the same historical period that yoga did and it is but natural that the two rich and profound philosophies had great influence on each other, so much so, that until the beginning of the twentieth century all yogis were devout Hindu priests and this is probably why many people associate yoga with Hindu religion.
In fact, according some scholars yoga was present even during the vedic times and finds a mention in the Rig veda which is the oldest of the Hindu scriptures ever found until now. Later after nearly 800 years when the Upanishads were being written there seem to have been a lot more known about yoga since it is mentioned more frequently and as a path that liberates you from suffering. There were two different branches of yoga mentioned then – Karma yoga ( which is all about action and ritual ) and Jnana yoga ( which concerns with gaining knowledge). Bhagavadgita which came a little later went further - in his discourse Lord Krishna while mentioning the previous two branches also went on to add one more branch to Yoga namely bhakti yoga ( which meant the path of devotion ). So taking this wisdom into the discipline of yoga one had to keep in mind the aspect of Karma, Jnana and Bhakti - action, knowledge and devotion to attain the required results while doing and benefiting from yoga.
By the early part of twentieth century many of these swamis or Hindu priests traveled to the west and began sharing the rudiments of yoga to the westerners. Yoga also saw many influences and certain changes as it evolved over a period of time. It was only towards the second century that Yoga became more systematic under Patanjali an Indian philosopher who lived during that period of time. He authored a systematic presentation of yoga called Yoga Sutra, which included all the available information on yoga and became a text book for all the later yoga followers. However, there were also many criticisms that were raised against Patanjali's theory and teachings, especially his interpretation of prakriti (nature, the female form) and purush (male form). According to him Purush was omnipresent and all powerful and prakriti though dynamic,visible and creative was totally subservient to purush which even in those times many philosophers were not ready to accept. However, taking the best of his teachings and combining it with the modern age influences a new concept of yoga evolved and became popular.
Yoga as compared with other exercise routines
While most exercise routines like aerobics, kick boxing , weight training etc; deal mainly with physical fitness and exercising the body, yoga deals with other aspects like the correct posture, emphasis on breathing and a complete well being both physical and mental.
Each organ gets emphasised and energy is made to flow into each one of them when you hold a certain posture for 5-10 seconds, and also gives your mind a chance to focus on ways to improve the physical body. All the various joints get pulled or stretched and blood vessels made to work vigorously, so that they distribute equally to all parts of the body.
There are no vigorous workouts in yoga instead it is made up of a series of stretches, pulling of muscles, controlled breathing, total relaxation and at the end of it all a increased circulation and concentration that is absolutely essential for optimal performance.
Continued practice of yoga brings excellent results, so what is essential is consistency. The main and the only difference between a beginner or an intermediate and an advanced practitioner of yoga is the length of the time they are able to hold the asanas. So, it is a matter of setting goals and working towards it.
How yoga helps in improving our lifestyle
Most people would agree that once body and mind are in balance there is bound to be harmony, and this is possible through a moderate and healthy life style. There is no need to abstain but it is essential to draw a line, to control one's habits and urges.
There is a belief that those who practice yoga need to become vegetarians which is not true. You do not have to either stop eating non vegetarian food, stop smoking nor stop consuming alcohol. What actually happens is, that as you get more and more involved in your yoga practice and it becomes part of your daily routine, you will gradually begin to change on your own accord by eating,smoking and drinking less.You may in time give them all up altogether.
Your body will befit and will gain its optimum (The point at which the condition, degree, or amount of something is the most favorable ) weight and your temperament will be even and balanced. This will automatically make your outlook on life positive.You will no longer experience any serious mood swings nor any bouts of depression.
As your concentration improves, you become more focused and organized thereby able to handle several tasks at the same time, since that is the reality today. We all need to multi-task and do it as efficiently as we can.Yoga philosophy also offers people a scientific way of transcending their problems and suffering.
One should also note that it does not conflict with any religion or faith and can be practiced by anyone who is sincere and willing to discipline their life. A little effort will bring huge returns like wisdom, strength,peace and self confidence. Ans as your awareness of your body increases , you will also learn to listen to your higher self or inner self. Yoga is the first step to enlightenment and before you can discipline your mind, you have to discipline your body.
Health benefits of yoga
1, Most people do not realise that their posture is very important for continued good health.In fact bad posture is the main cause of chronic back pain or muscle pulls, and can also contribute to painful ailments such as slipped discs and sciatica. We notice that invariably people with bad posture ;ack energy and vitality. Their chests are slumped and they do not breathe as they should and they are using only a small portion of their lungs.
2,Yoga is designed to stretch the spine constantly and build the muscles in the lower back,enabling you to achieve perfect posture. You may think that you are standing or sitting correctly, but you may not understand your own body alignment. Any small change like weight gain or weight loss and in women pregnancy can throw you off balance.So whether you are standing or sitting make sure that you are using the right posture which is one of the basics of yoga.
3, Similarly, breathing correctly is an integral part of yoga. All the movements you perform , if they are to be beneficial to you, require the right technique of breathing. As we inhale through the nose and exhale from the diaphragm, our lung capacity increases and more oxygen gets released into the blood stream, which in turn rejuvenates and revitalizes the cells resulting in increased energy levels and a strong and healthy body. In yoga you use breathing techniques known as Pranayama that will balance the energies and focus the mind.Deep breathing techniques act like a tranquilizer calming the nervous system. The deeper you breathe, the stronger the impact and more able you are to combat stress. Pranayama not only teaches will power and self control but also improves concentration and encourages spiritual development.
4, Yoga has no harsh punishing movements like other forms of exercise and the body movements are replaced by slow,gentle excercises that revitalize our body . Basically yoga removes blockades and improves circulation so that our body runs like a well tuned car. As we practice more and develop more expertise , we are able to get higher energy levels.
5, Stretching according to most health experts is the best way to achieve top to toe fitness. In yoga postures our muscles are stretched length-ways and to the maximum. This improves the tone and eliminates the fat around each cell, thereby helping in reducing cellulite and improve the shape of our body. It also helps in improving blood circulation and makes our body supple and flexible.
6, Hatha Yoga harmonises body and mind. A sense of balance comes from a focused mind and the very act of holding together a pose for a certain length of time will make sure that the mind and body is harmonizing naturally. The result is a wonderful sense of calmness and peace with oneself.
7, Everyone of us experience stress in varying degrees in every day life. Situations constantly arise that throw you completely off balance. Coping with personal relationships,children, a demanding job and other worrying factors in life can drain you out. Yoga teaches you to de-stress and how to draw energies into yourself to create a sense of peace and develop deep powers of concentration.
Finally, to conclude Yoga provides the perfect solution to lead a healthy life because it teaches us how to restore balance and harmony in our life.
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