Basically, Yoga means â€śUnionâ€ť. It is the Sanskrit ancestor of the English word â€śyokeâ€ť. Hence, it comes to mean a method of spiritual union or communion (the true union of our will with the will of God). Yoga is a method â€“ any one of the many â€“ by which an individual may become united with the God, the reality which underlies this apparent ephemeral universe. Achieving such union is a perfect yoga. One who practices yoga is called a yogi (male) or yogini (female).
Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, coordinated and systematized by Patanjali, in his classical work â€śYoga Sutrasâ€ť, which consists of 185 aphorisms.
According to Patanjali, â€śthe mind (chitta) is made up of three components -Manas, Buddhi and Ahamkara. Manas is the recoding faculty, which receives impressions gathered by the senses from the outside world. Buddhi is the discriminative faculty, which classifies these impressions and reacts to them. Ahamkara is the ego-sense, which claims these impressions for its own and stores them up as individual knowledge. For example, manas reports: â€śA large animate object is quickly approaching.â€ť Buddhi decides â€śThatâ€™s a bull. It is angry. It wants to attack someone.â€ť Ahamkara screams: â€śIt wants to attack me, Patanjali. It is "I" who am about to get frightened. It is I who am about to run away.â€ť
In the second aphorism of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yoga as â€śchitta vritti nirodhahâ€ť. This may be translated as the restrain (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications (vritti) or as suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vritti) of consciousness (chitta). The word chitta denotes the mind in its total or collective sense as being composed of mind (manas), intelligence (Buddhi) and ego (Ahamkara)...... (Prabhavananda)
What is commonly referred to as "yoga" can be more accurately described by the Sanskrit word asana, which refers to the practice of physical postures or poses. Asana is only one of the eight "limbs" of yoga, the majority of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity. In the West, however, the words asana and yoga are often used interchangeably.
Yoga provides one of the best means of self-improvement and attaining one's full potential. In the advanced stages of yoga, superconscious states are attained, which result in a feeling of bliss, deep peace and the emergence of psychic powers.
Yoga was developed and perfected over the centuries by philosophers and mystics in India. It is basically a method by which we increase the body's supply of energy and remove any interference to the transmission of energy throughout the body. Yoga has specialized in this subject for thousands of years, and streamlined the methods to attain this aim.
Stages of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga)
Patanjali enumerates the right means as the eight limbs or stages of Yoga for the quest of the soul. They are---- (Iyengar)
Yamaâ€“ The universal moral commandments. (The five "abstentions"):
Niyama- Self-purification by discipline. (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender to God.
Asana- Posture or pose. Literally means "seat", and in Patanjaliâ€™s Sutras, it refers to the seated position used for meditation. Asana brings steadiness, health and lightness of limbs.
Pranayama- Rhythmic control of the breath. Prana, breath, "ayama", to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
Pratyahara- Withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects.
Dharana- Concentration. Fixing the attention on a single object.
Dhyana- Meditation. Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
Samadhi- A state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the individual aspirant (yogi or yogini) becomes one with the object of his meditation â€“ Paramatma or the universal spirit.
Dos and Donâ€™ts of Yoga: The requisites
Practice of Yoga Poses without the backing of Yama and Niyama is mere acrobatics
The qualities demanded from and aspirant are discipline, faith, tenacity and perseverance to practice regularly without interruptions.
Before practice of Yoga Poses, the bladder should be emptied and the bowels evacuated. Topsy-turvy poses help bowel movements. Never practice advanced Yoga Poses before first evacuating the bowels.
Taking a bath before and after practicingYoga Poses refreshes the body and mind.
Yoga Poses should preferably be done on an empty stomach. If this is difficult, a cup of tea or coffee, cocoa or milk may be taken before doing them. Allow at least four hours to elapse after a heavy meal before starting the practice. Food may be taken half an hour after completion of the Yoga Poses.
The best time to practice is either early in the morning or late in the evening. In the morning Yoga Poses do not come easily as the body is stiff. The mind however, is still fresh but its alertness and determination diminish as time goes by. The stiffness of the body is conquered by regular practice and one will be able to do the Yoga Poses well as the time goes by.
Yoga should be practiced in a clean and airy place, and a place which is free from insects and noise.
Do not practice on the bare hardwood or ceramic floor or an uneven place. Practice using a Yoga mat or a folded blanket to provide adequate cushioning.
No undue strain should be felt in facial muscles, ears and eyes or in breathing during the practice.
Closing of the Eyes
In the beginning, keep the eyes open, then you will know what you are doing and where you go wrong. You can keep your eyes closed only when you are perfect in a particular asana for only then will you be able to adjust the bodily movements and feel the correct stretches.
If you are doing the Yoga Poses in front of a mirror, keep it perpendicular to the floor and let it come down to the floor, for otherwise the poses will look slanting due to the angle of the mirror. Use a mirror without a frame, if possible.
During the practice of Yoga Poses, it is the body alone which should be active while the brain should remain passive, watchful and alert. If the Yoga Poses are done using the brain, then you will not be able to see your own mistakes.
Breathing is the key to Yogic practice and stabilization of breath before you begin working helps you to match the various poses to your breathing. As you breathe during various poses, you will notice that the breath helps you to relax or tighten the muscles and gives you greater flexibility. Breathing should be done through the nostrils only and not through the mouth.
Do not restrain the breath while in the process of the asana or while staying in it. Follow the instructions regarding breath given in the respective descriptions of the various Yoga Poses.
Savasana or Corpse pose
After completing the practice of Yoga Poses always lie down in Savasana for at least 10 to 15 minutes, this will remove fatigue and energize the body to cope up with daily life.
No Yoga poses should be practiced during the first month after delivery. Thereafter, they may be practiced mildly, gradually increase the course and after 3 months all Yoga poses can be practiced with comfort.
Iyengar, B. (n.d.). The Illustrated Light on Yoga. Harper Collins.
Prabhavananda, S. (n.d.). Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Chennai: Ramakrishna Matt.
Iyengar, B. (n.d.). The Illustrated Light on Yoga. Harper Collins.
Prabhavananda, S. (n.d.). Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Chennai: Ramakrishna Matt