Yoga is one of the most famous and globally widespread of India’s traditions. It has existed as a system of exercise, breathing, and meditation for over 5,000 years. The word “Yoga” means “to join or yoke together” – bringing the body and mind together into a harmonious experience. The exercises are designed to apply gentle pressure to the glandular system thereby toning the glands and improving total health. The breathing techniques are based on the principle that the “breath” is the source of life in the body. Meditation calms the mind and body and prepares one to handle stress.
The Upanishads (ancient Hindu texts) define Yoga as a state of gokumu jisho “extreme nothing self nature.” Essentially, one’s consciousness becomes himself. According to Tsuruji Sahota: “When the five senses stop their function and the judging mind stops its function as well, people call it the ultimate state. To control the organs of the body is regarded as Yoga.” The organs are controlled and toned by drawing energy up through the seven major energy centers, or chakras. The ultimate goal is to reach the topmost chakra and achieve self-illumination. When certain postures and disciplines are followed, energies that have accumulated and stagnated are moved through the chakras. The practicing of Yoga releases these stagnant energies that would potentially cause various ailments (see below).
THE SEVEN MAJOR ENERGY CENTERS (CHAKRAS)
CROWN CHAKRA – SELF-ILLUMINATION RELATED TO BRAIN, PITUITARY AND PINEAL GLANDS
THIRD EYE CHAKRA RELATED TO EYES, PITUITARY AND PINEAL GLANDS
THROAT CHAKRA (ETHER) RELATED TO LUNGS, VOICE, EARS, NOSE AND THROAT
HEART CHAKRA (AIR) RELATED TO HEART AND CIRCULATION
SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA (FIRE) RELATED TO DIGESTION
SACRAL CHAKRA (WATER) RELATED TO GENERATIVE AND SEXUAL FUNCTIONS
BASE CHAKRA (EARTH) RELATED TO GENERATIVE AND SEXUAL FUNCTIONS
Each chakra is related to a specific area of the body, such as the head, heart, sacral area. Some add an eighth Thymus Chakra.
Even though Yoga predates Hinduism by several centuries, it is often mistakenly associated with this religion. It must be emphasized that Yoga is not a religion it has no creed or fixed set of beliefs. One does not need to be concerned about conflicts with one’s beliefs.
The scholar, Patanjali, compiled one of the earliest texts related to Yoga. He devised basic Yoga theories and practices in his text called Yoga Sutras as early as the 1st to 5th century B.C. Most forms of Yoga practiced today are based on variations of his system often referred to as Classical Yoga. Even though Americans were first introduced to Yoga during the late 1800’s, it didn’t become popular until the 1960’s, and then as part of the youth culture. In recent years, many are realizing the value Yoga to manage stress, limber a stiff body, improve health and well-being and better understand oneself.
One can better decide if Yoga offers something of personal benefit by considering the eight steps of Classical Yoga:
1. “Restraint” – Refraining from violence, stealing, lying, hoarding and casual sex.
2. “Observance” – Attributes of purity, contentment, tolerance, remembrance and study.
3. “Physical Exercises” – The actual exercising step.
4. “Breathing Techniques” – Special breathing techniques.
5. “Preparation for Meditation” – Refers to “withdrawing the mind from the senses.”
6. “Concentration” – Being able to hold one thing in the mind for a period of time.
7. “Meditation” – Being able to focus on one thing, or nothing, indefinitely.
8. “Absorption” – The realization of the essential nature of self.
Physical exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation are the core of most modern Western Yoga classes. Yoga practice is non-competitive. You proceed at your own pace. Relaxing the muscles and keeping them warm is very important. There is an old Yoga quote that states: “Even iron will bend when it is warm!”
There are actually over a hundred different schools of Yoga. Some of the more popular schools to consider include:
Hatha Yoga – Based on physical movements, postures, and breathing techniques (most
Raja Yoga – Called the “Royal Road,” it incorporates exercise, breathing, meditation
and study (a well rounded school of Yoga).
Jnana Yoga – The path of wisdom (considered the most difficult path of Yoga).
Yoga is a system of techniques that can be practiced by most adults of any age or physical condition. Even those with physical limitations can benefit from yoga. Women menstruating, pregnant, or nursing should not practice Yoga. Ideally, the best way to start the practice Yoga is to find a qualified instructor. A second alternative would be to purchase a good book or tape. If you’re not sure where to start your search for Yoga classes, check out adult education programs, holistic centers, family YMCA programs, health food or nutrition stores or community newspapers. CAUTION: A qualified instructor is essential to learn proper technique and to prevent injury.