About Yoga

An Introduction to Yoga

The word Yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ and is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj which means ‘to join’. This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.

Yoga has been practised in India for over two millennia and there is an immense amount of Indian literature covering all aspects of yoga. Yoga is considered to be a philosophy, a science & an art. There are many branches of the yoga system, Hatha yoga is the most well known especially in the west. Yoga is not connected to any religion & everyone can benefit from its practise.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is a subpath of Raja yoga & is used to gain control over the prana (vital life force) and the mind. The main objective of hatha yoga is to create a balance in the physical body, mind & prana. The body is a vehicle for the soul & needs to be looked after, cleansed and kept in good working order. The techniques used in Hatha yoga help to control the mind & prana. Hatha yoga uses the practises of asanas (physical techniques), pranayama (breath awareness & techniques), shatkarmas (cleansing practises), mudras (gestures) & bandhas (energy locks) to purify & maintain the body & mind, they work on the nadis (energy channels) releasing energy blocks & allowing the prana to flow freely. The practise of hatha yoga brings inner peace & balance and a union of pranic & mental energy.

The true spirit of Hatha Yoga is not something that is learnt in 1 class a week, it is the science of right living & is intended to be incorporated in daily life. It works on all aspects of our being, physical, vital, mental emotional, psychic & spiritual. Generally the physical aspect is the starting point. When the body is unbalanced dis-ease is the result but a systematic & regular practise of yoga can help bring back equilibrium. However this path is not an easy one, effort is needed & there will be changes & generally we resist change, but remember “through chaos comes clarity”

Asanas – Physical techniques

“Prior to everything, asana is spoken of as the first part of Hatha yoga. Having done asana, one attains steadiness of body & mind, freedom from disease & lightness of the limbs.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1:17)

Yoga asanas can be practised by people of all ages, to keep the body healthy and fit, aid the removal of toxins, stimulate organs & improve circulation.

Asanas help keep the body supple and muscles toned, improve the posture and ease tension and stress & develop the ability to sit comfortably in one position long periods for meditation.

Practising asanas opens energy channels & psychic centres & through developing control of the body leads to controlling the mind & energy. Asanas are a tool to higher awareness, moving the body in specific ways with total awareness of movement, breath & mind.

Asanas can be practised dynamically (more energetic) to increase flexibility, speed up circulation & loosen muscles & joints & remove energy blocks.

Where energy goes, prana flows. The static postures have a more powerful effect on the pranic & mental bodies, bringing stillness & calm to the mind, preparing for higher practises of yoga such as meditation.

Pranayama – Breath awareness & techniques

Most people only use a fraction of their lungs to breathe thus not giving their brain & body enough oxygen to function fully. Proper breathing helps to clear the lungs of stale air & eliminate toxins from the body.

Pranayama is generally defined as breath control but more importantly using the breath we can influence the flow of prana in the energy channels (nadis) of the energy body (pranamaya kosha)

Practising pranayama techniques quietens the mind & gives inner peace, revitalises & energises our being & brings harmony & strength to meet the challenges of our lives.

Pranayama should be practised with much care & attention, there is no need to hurry, only through steady & patient practise will you master the breath & increase your prana (life force). It is preferable to breathe through the nose unless advised differently for a specific practise.

Relaxation & Meditation

We very rarely give ourselves time to fully relax, we are not talking about sitting in front of the TV, our minds are still being stimulated. Proper relaxation involves shutting out all stimuli, our body totally supported, conscientiously relaxing our muscles, quietening our mind & focusing on our breathing. Sometimes at the beginning this is quite hard to achieve but as we learn to let go we will see the true benefits of relaxing our body and mind

Yoga Nidra

“Yogic sleep” is a powerful technique practised in Shavasana (lying down). It is the state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. The body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of audio instructions. In yoga nidra the practitioner’s mind remains awake & aware & is led through the practise of sense withdrawal (Pratyahara).

Yoga nidra, lucid sleep, is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. It is said that a 30 minute Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 2 hours deep sleep & has been found to reduce tension and anxiety, reducing physical symptoms, such as headaches and back pain, proven to permanently lower high blood pressure & stress (the cause of most illness today). Yoga nidra is like a ‘super nap’ that recharges in no time. It is a complete rejuvenation package – a must to relieve ourselves of daily stress in today’s busy world.

Meditation

Meditation is a state of being & a means of transforming the mind. It is impossible to teach meditation but there are many techniques that you can learn that encourage & develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity & a calm understanding of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns & habits of your mind. The practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work & patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful & energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.

Meditation isn’t always easy or even peaceful but it has truly amazing benefits & you can start today, and continue for the rest of your life.

There are many benefits of having a regular

Meditation practise, these are a few:

  • Increases positive emotions
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Decreases pain & discomfort in the body
  • Improves your brain function & memory (makes you brainier!!)
  • Decreases anxiety, depression & stress
  • Increases your life satisfaction (enjoy this precious life)

Everyone has time (remember there are 1440 minutes in a day) & can meditate.

The Mantra OM

OM is the quintessential mantra of the yoga tradition, OM (or Aum) is the primordial sound, the first vibration & the sound from which all others emerged. This eternal word is all; what was, what is and what shall be, past, present and future. Chanting OM has a positive powerful effect upon the nervous system and transforms the physical body, setting up new vibrations and awakening dormant physical and mental powers.

Kirtan

Kirtan is chanting or singing, a form of yoga for the voice done in a group sometimes accompanied by instruments. It creates a meditative & uplifted state of mind helping us to open our hearts & chant with joy. We chant songs from different nationalities & invite you to dance & shake or bang an instrument. Musical ability is not required just an open heart & mind. The words and melodies are simple and repeated so that we get into a rhythm and enter a more meditative state conducive to letting go. Exploring the voice through kirtan is one of our most powerful tools we have to transform emotions & lead us to a place of inner peace, wellbeing & bliss.

The Difference between Asanas & Exercise

Asanas are often referred to as a form of exercise, understandably in some ways but the only common theme between them is the movement of the body, although it can depend on the style of yoga and exercise in question. The following chart describes the difference between Hatha yoga & active exercise such as running.

Asanas

Exercise

TechniquesMovement
Positions that cultivate awarenessImposes beneficial stress on the body
Develop good physical health by stretching, massaging & stimulating pranic channels & internal organsStrengthens muscles & increases stamina
Specific effects on glands & hormones to help harmonise the endocrine system promoting a happy & more positive outlookMay have non specific effects on glands
Asanas are practised slowly with awareness (less likelihood of injury)Mostly practised at speed without awareness & likelihood of injury
Respiration & metabolic rates slow downRespiration & metabolic rates speed up
Consumption of oxygen & body temperature dropsOxygen consumption & temperature rises
Heart rate & blood pressure decreaseHeart rate & blood pressure increase
Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous systemStimulates the sympathetic nervous system
Gentle on joints, encouraging health & flexibility to help avoid problems in later lifeCan overwork & stress joints to increase problems later in life
Aids the break down & removal of toxins Tends to build up toxins