“[T]he soul is the same for all individuals and nations, but our conditioning and culture determines our predisposition and outlook.” – B.K.S Iygenar
Yoga (Sanskrit: योग, Listen) is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline, that aims to transform body and mind. The term denotes a variety of schools, practices and goal in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism) and Jainism, the best-known being Hatha yoga and Raja yoga.
Origin:“Yoga is from the Vedas.“ - T.K.V. Desikachar
Born in India, almost 26,000 years ago, Yoga is believed to have evolved during the period of the ‘Sat Yuga’, also called the Golden age. This period became known as a time of everlasting peace and abundant blessings, filled with seekers of the Eternal Truth. That is why, probably, even today we associate yoga with sages and hermits.
It was not until the discovery of the Indus- valley civilization, the largest civilization, that knowledge about the origin of Yoga surfaced. Excavations give evidence of yoga’s existence during this period; yogi -like figures engraved on soapstone seals have been unearthed. In fact, it was the Aryans, migrating from the north- west, who were instrumental in discovering yoga.
Today, the most commonly referenced text on yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, dating between 200 BCE – 200 CE, which lays out the definition of yoga in the second sutra:
yogas citta vritti nirodhah
Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind
-Yoga Sutras 1.2
While Patanjali codified the many existing teachings on yoga at his time, some of which are seen in Buddhism and Jainism, it cannot be ignored that yoga and references to its practice existed within Hindu scripture long before the Yoga Sutras.
The history of Yoga is divided into 4 categories:
The ancient texts of Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the world. The Sanskrit word Veda means “knowledge” and rig means “praise”. Thus the Rig Vedas are a collection of hymns that are in praise of a higher power. Other three Vedas are Yajur Veda (knowledge of sacrifice), Sama Veda (Knowledge of chants), and Atharvana Veda (knowledge of Atharvana). Vedic Yoga can also be called Archaic Yoga, as people believed in a ritualistic way of life. Rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies existed because they were considered a means of connection to the spirit world. People turned to rishis or Vedic yogis for illumination. Vedic masters were blessed with a vision of the supreme reality and their hymns speak of their marvelous intuitions. When successful, the Vedic yogi was graced with a “vision” or experience of the transcendental reality. A great master of Vedic Yoga was called a “seer”—in Sanskrit rishi.
This covers an extensive period of approximately 2,000 years until the second century. Gnostic texts, called the Upanishads, that spoke in detail about the self and ultimate reality appeared. There are approximately 200 Upanishads. One of the most remarkable yoga scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita, which was composed around 500 B.C.
The central teaching of the Gita is, to do ones’ duty and not expect the fruit of the action.
here, having the mind actively focused upon a single point, with thought and sense activity controlled,
Sitting on a seat, one should practice yoga for purification of the self.
With an aligned body, head, and neck-keeping these steady,without movement;
Focusing the vision toward the tip of one’s nose without looking about in any direction.
- Bhagavad Gita 6.12 – 13
Most importantly, the Bhagavad Gita makes clears that regardless of which path one embarks upon, yoga is an individual journey that requires lifelong dedication, consistent practice, and devotion to God.
Preclassical Yoga also comprises the many schools whose teachings can be found in India’s two great national epics, the Râmâyana and the Mahâbhârata. In 1200 BC the great teacher Rishaba, who was the exponent of the tradition of Jainism, also emphasized on efforts dedicated to the liberation of the spirit. It was during this time, that Yoga found its way into Buddhism too; Lord Buddha was the first Buddhist to study Yoga. Buddhist scriptures lay stress on meditation and physical postures, which are Yogic processes.
In the second century C.E, Patanjali composed the yoga sutras. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian sūtras (aphorisms) that constitute the foundational text of Ashtanga Yoga, also calledRaja Yoga. In medieval times, Ashtanga Yoga was cast as one of the six orthodox āstika schools of Hindu philosophy.The Yoga Sutras were compiled around 400 CE by Patañjali, taking materials about yoga from older traditions. Together with his commentary they form the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. Patanjali believed that each individual is composed of matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). He advocated that yoga would restore the spirit to its absolute reality, a teaching that saw a shift from non dualism to dualism.
Post Classical : This period unravels the transition of yoga to all around the world. Post classical yoga differs from the other categories in its views on yoga on a more present scale. The teachings of yoga here is based on Vedanta. During this period Gurus and Yogis began probing importance of human body’s power and inner strength. This led to an interesting turn and lead to hata yoga. The potential of the human body now became an interesting field of study. Earlier, Yogis never used to pay attention to the (physical) body, as their main focus was on meditation and to re-unite with the soul. During this period human body started recognized as a temple and has more power.
Read more: Classical Yoga – History of Yoga | Medindia
The Stages of Yoga:
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
1. Yama: The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The five yamas are:
2. Niyama: Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
The five niyamas are:
Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities
Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God
3. Asana: Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
4. Pranayama : Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, “life force extension,” yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
These first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
5. Pratyahara: Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
6. Dharana : As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.
7. Dhyana: Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don’t give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the “picture perfect” pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.
8. Samadhi: Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The mediator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.
- Yama in which we lose desire and interest for the material, and choose to deal with people with compassion and truthfulness.
- Niyama teaches us to observe and control ourselves internally, to study ourselves and concentrate upon our purity and cleanliness
- Asana would be the practice of spiritual postures in order to silence our mind.
- Pranayama teaches us the importance of our mere breath. It expands its utility while we are taught to control it, and to regulate our breathing, in order to reach clearing of the mind.
- Pratyahara is about abstraction, restrain while we gain control of our senses. It happens because our minds are so focused during this stage, that our senses follow her, thus being controlled by her.
- Dharana stands for concentration – respectively, maintaining concentration upon a single aspect, a single direction. Because we have already gone through the previous stages, our mind is now capable of fully focusing on one subject, and we are ready to move on to the next stages in order to reach our true potential.
- Dhyana, our seventh stage, is when we reach meditation. We contemplate profoundly upon the Divine, and the whole of us is in a reflective state.
- Samadhi is our final step in our union with the Supreme Spirit. We are in deep trans-contemplation, and we are experiencing the higher form of consciousness.
What is the benefit of doing Yoga?
The list is unlimited as the benefit of doing yoga everyday changes once life for good.
Yoga can change your physical and mental capacity quickly, while preparing the mind and body for long-term health.
Yoga is for everyone
Most yoga studios and local gyms offer yoga classes that are open to all generations and fitness levels. It’s exciting to enter a room full of young teens, athletes, middle-aged moms, older gentlemen and even fitness buffs and body builders. Everyone can feel accepted and included and, unlike other sports or classes that focus on niche clients, yoga tends to have open arms. Chanting OM itself is soothing and bring calmness to once mind. The term Yogi makes you feel happy as it carries peace and happiness.
Yoga encourages overall health and wellness
Yoga is not just about working out, it’s about a healthy lifestyle. The practice of yoga allows students to be still in a world consumed with chaos. Peace and tranquility achieved through focused training appeals to everyone.Yoga’s deep breathing and meditation practices help foster an inner shift from to-do lists, kids and spouse’s needs, financial concerns and relational struggles to something a little bit bigger than the issues you face. Yoga helps relieve stress and unclutter the mind, and helps you get more focused.
Yoga has many faces
One of the benefis of yoga is that you can choose a yoga style that is tailored to your lifestyle, such as hot yoga, power yoga, relaxation yoga, prenatal yoga, etc. If you are a yoga beginner, Hatha yoga, which focuses on basic postures at a comfortable pace, would be great for you. If you want to increase strength through using more of your own body’s resistance, power yoga may be right for you. If you are ready for a deeper practice, Advanced Yoga, or Bikram, also called “hot yoga,” may be just what you are looking for. In Bikram yoga, the room temperature is set to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in greaterelimination of toxins from the body through the increased production of sweat. No matter your fitness level, fat percentage, or health history, yoga has a place for you.
Strength training and flexibility
Yoga’s focus on strength training and flexibility is an incredible benefit to your body. The postures are meant to strengthen your body from the inside-out, so you don’t just look good, you feel good too. Each of the yoga poses is built to reinforce the muscles around the spine, the very center of your body, which is the core from which everything else operates. When the core is working properly, posture is improved, thus alleviating back, shoulder and neck pain. The digestive system gets back on track when the stretching in yoga is coupled with a healthy, organic diet, which can relieve constipation, irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux. Another one of the benefits of yoga is that stretching and holding of postures also causes muscles to lengthen, which gives the body a longer, leaner look.
Yoga helps in building muscle too
A more advanced form of yoga can amplify these effects. Adapted from the basic Ashtanga yoga, power yoga requires increased amounts of energy, focus and strength. Muscles are challenged as the mind and body have to work together simultaneously to hold a position or continue a succession without giving up. Breathing, posing, moving and increasing flexibility happen all together at one time, which solicits a new level of discipline in your mind and body.
Power yoga and the core
Isometric exercises are one of the best ways to build core strength. Isometric, stemming from the words “same” and “length,” simply translates to holding one position without moving. Power yoga uses isometric exercises along with other postures that are designed to make the core and back stronger. Flexibility and balance stem from your core, so it is very important to train this area of the body. In turn, you can increase the strength and health of your entire body. Generally a higher-temperature room is used in this practice to help keep the muscles warm and release additional toxins from the body.
Power yoga’s effect on the total body
- It increases endurance, strength and flexibility.
- Mental endurance and physical stamina are tested through holding postures for extended breaths.
- Arm and shoulder strength is multiplied as you use your own body weight for resistance.
- Latetal and other back muscles begin to support the spine better than before.
- Abdominals and oblique are refined and sharpened through building core muscles.
- Poor and average posture begins to correct itself over time.
- Hip flexors are stretched and rebuilt.
- Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves are tightened and lengthened where they need to be.
No matter what ails your aching body, or if you just want to take your fitness to a higher level, power yoga’s ability to build muscle has an undeniably effect on the total body.
Yoga for Flexibility
Yoga poses work by stretching your muscles. They can help you move better and feel less stiff or tired.
At any level of yoga, you’ll probably start to notice benefits soon. In one study, people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga.
Strike a Pose for Strength
Some styles of yoga, such as ashtanga and power yoga, are very physical. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles of yoga, such as Iyengar or hatha, can provide strength and endurance benefits.
Many of the poses, such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. Poses that strengthen the lower back include upward dog and the chair pose.
When done right, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
Better Posture From Yoga
When you’re stronger and more flexible, your posture improves. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength, since you need your core muscles to support and maintain each pose.
Yoga also helps your body awareness. That helps you notice more quickly if you’re slouching or slumping, so you can adjust your posture.
Yoga usually involves paying attention to your breath, which can help you relax. It may also call for specific breathing techniques.
Less Stress, More Calm
Especially meditation techniques helps people to relax and calm down during stress. You may feel less stressed and more relaxed after doing some yoga.
Good for Your Heart
What are ASANAS?
Asana -originally meant a sitting position. Patanjali defines asana as “to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed”. Now this word is applied to any posture useful for restoring and maintaining a practitioner’s well-being and improving the body’s flexibility and vitality, cultivating the ability to remain in seated meditation for extended periods. Such asanas are known in English as “yoga postures” or “yoga positions”.
100 Yoga Asanas for All