YOGA AND LIFE
By Devadas Vasudevan
Yoga is an authentic contribution of mystics in ancient India towards human development and is one of the Shad Darsanas or Six systems of Philosophies in India. It provides man with the wisdom to understand the complexities of life and death cycle, the change of energy from one to another center. Yoga had been in practise even before the Vedic period. In the Pre-historic era, the teachings of sacred texts and Yoga were based on oral transmissions. Hence the exact year of emergence of Yoga could not be ascertained. However, it is being widely accepted that yoga as old as 7000 BC.
Yoga was part and parcel of life in the Vedic period but later sunk into oblivion after invasion of India by the foreign forces, especially between 16th and 18th century. However by the late 18th century Swami Vivekananda’s teaching and his visit to the West gave yoga resurgence. In the early 19th century Swami Sivananda and T.Krishnamachary promoted yoga as a perfect tool for spiritual and physical development.
Yoga regards human body as the body-energy-mind complex, an integrated structure which makes the whole of a human being. Though certain perspective on yoga varies from East to West, its techniques are widely practised for general fitness, personality development and therapeutic applications. It is accepted as the best method to counter mental and physical stress, and is considered as a must by those who aspire to live a life above the wretched existence in the material world. Yet, yoga remains a vast ocean of benefits that are still to be exploited by many.
Yoga and Core Teaching
The most popular text on which today’s Hatha Yoga based is Hatha Yoga Pradipika originally written by Swami Swatamarama. Yoga practise today comprises of the third and fourth limbs ( Asana and Pranayama) of Raja or Ashtanga Yoga of Maharshi Patanjali which expounds eight methods of cleansing process for self-discipline and self-realisation.
Of the thousands of asanas, 84 are the best, and 32 and or their variations can be practised by an average person to keep health in good condition. Asanas (postures) include dynamic and static movements and include postures of animals (cow, peacock, locust, lion, etc.), plants, (tree, lotus), and tools (plow, bow).
Though much in popularity, today yoga is practised only as an exercise programme for general fitness and flexibility leaving its whole health benefits unexplored and unused.
A few misconceptions about yoga among many are that practising asanas need good amount of flexibility; yoga is for middle aged and or ailing ones; yoga is religious; if stopped for a few days one could expose to health problems and so on. Because of these misunderstanding many avoid even attempting to know what yoga could help. This is a terrible mistake. In fact, yoga is for all ability ranges – from children to senior; and is a way life according to the law of nature.
Generally a beginner may find practising asanas tough mainly due lack of understanding of its whole process. Proper guidance and supervision by an experienced yoga teacher can help in this situation.
Yoga incorporates body movement and synchronized breathing. Body movement has to be done focusing on the proper alignment of skeleton without applying pressure on any body parts in order to avoid injuries to muscle, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Going to posture, staying and coming back from the asanas are equally important. An intermediate practitioner could start staying in the asanas with the mind focused on the pressure points which will gradually release the stiffness in those areas and create more flexibility. Every asana should be practised with intermittent relaxation of 15 to 30 seconds or about one minute depending on the nature of asanas. If inverted asanas are practised about a minute relaxation is required before beginning the standing asanas.
Key to asana practise is total awareness. During the session breathing has to be done carefully according to the natural contraction and expansion of lungs, ribcage space and diaphragm movement resulting from the movement of body and its postures. Many challenging standing asanas like Trikonasana have to be done giving importance to the hip, torso and leg alignments and proper placement of feet. Knowledge of yoga anatomy is very helpful in performing asanas. Diaphragm with the support of external and internal intercostal muscles controls the mechanism of breathing. All asanas have direct effect on the diaphragm and associated muscles. Hence paying attention to the diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing while performing asanas according to the posture give the practitioner complete control over the body whereby the practise becomes very interesting. This will also help the practitioner stay in asanas for extended time.
Asana are to be learnt with focus on the proper alignment. The benefits of asanas come from the right placement of limbs and bending and relaxation with total awareness of body parts and their movements. These techniques will help correct distribution of body weight and stretch of a particular part that are important for maximum benefits. All forward and backward bending should be practised with the help of gravitational force and breathing respectively. Spinal twist and side bending have to be practised with abdominal and chest breathing as required for each asana. Inverted postures like Sarvangasana and Sirshasana to be practised with relaxed legs and stomach facilitating the diaphragm movement and balance. Yoga is to be practised with patience and awareness. Overenthusiasm will result in overstretching and applying unwanted pressure causing injuries that may require months to recover from. Guidance and supervision by experienced yoga teachers are required for proper learning of yoga.
It is important to do Savasana and 15 minutes relaxation at the end of the session. This will relax the whole body and mind. Relaxation should be practised regularly as it will reduce the wandering of the mind, though a beginner could find it difficult. Relaxation, if practised in line with Yoga Nidra could produce tremendous positive effect on body and mind. Savasana and relaxation are best natural medicines for those suffering from medical conditions such as physical and mental stress, hypertension, hypotension, heart diseases, lack of concentration, insomnia, hyperactivity and so on.
It is highly recommended to do Pranayama after the asana session. With the asanas the body becomes flexible and healthy. However, controlling the mind cannot be done by asana alone. The mind has to be tamed from within using the controlled breathing. Pranayama is the best tool to control the wandering nature of mind. Pranayama is the best natural medicine to keep one healthy and is the key to regulate the intake of prana and apana, in other words, oxygen and carbon dioxide. An average person uses the 20-30% of the lungs’ capacity in normal breathing. This is like a heavy truck fitted with a car engine. Pranayam allows one to use maximum capacity of the lungs.
However, proper guidance is very important in learning pranayama as wrong breathing could result not only in injury but also imposing wrong pattern of breathing practise.
A common breathing pattern is either high or thoracic (chest) breathing. This is done without being aware of the breathing itself and creates many health problems such as asthma, stomach problems, etc. Pranayama could correct such improper breathing.
Pranayama should start with diaphragmatic, thoracic and clavicular breathings. Once they are mastered a combined full breathing is beneficial. Once these become easy, one can start doing Kapalabhati or forceful breathe out. Many do Kapalbhati contracting facial muscles and body shaking. This is a terrible mistake. Kapalabhati should be performed with ease. This is possible only when one has a full control over the abdominal and chest breathings. Kapalabhati is one of the cleansing techniques.
The important Pranayama is Nadi Sodhana pranayam (alternate nostril breathing). However, this should be practised when one is able sit with proper alignment of head, neck and torso. There should be no pressure on the lower parts of the body as well.
A nose free of septum deviation is important to do asana, pranayama and meditation. Septum deviation will narrow the nose cavity and impedes the airflow. Those who have septum deviation must correct it through surgical intervention before starting yoga. Regardless of yoga practise, correction of deviated septum is very beneficial. The most common symptom from a crooked septum is difficulty in breathing through the nose, intermittent cold, allergy, frequent nosebleeds, sinus infections, headaches, noisy breathing in children, nasal congestion of one side, fatigue, indigestion, etc. The corrective surgical intervention usually requires an hour.
Following relaxation, meditation can be practised. As required for pranayama, an essential qualification for meditation is the ability to sit in proper asana at least for half an hour without jerk or any discomfort, to start with. However, those who cannot sit due to medical conditions or age factor can practise meditation sitting on a chair.
Meditation, in fact, cannot be taught as it is a state of mind that has to be achieved through systematic and regular practise of yoga. Meditation harmonizes our perceptions, thinking, emotions and behavior. Before meditation one has to check if both the nostrils are open and allowing the free flow of air in and out. Elaborate descriptions of the effect of Nadis (energy channels) of Ida and Pingala cannot be covered in a few words or statements. However, as a crude understanding, without Nadi Sodhana pranayama (alternate nose breathing) no meditative state can be achieved. Nevertheless, one must not get discouraged by any obstacle one has to surpass such as discomfort in sitting in meditative posture or performing pranayama or relaxation. Through regular and determined practise all such hurdles can be overcome.
Every asana has to be performed respecting the body type such as Vata, Pitta and Kapha dominations and their corresponding typical effects on body, according to Ayurveda, the life science. A beginner in yoga has to accept and respect the limitations imposed on the body movements by stiffness, obesity, age, medical conditions, wrong eating habits and lifestyle. Yoga cannot be separated from Ayurveda as they are complementary to each other. Following Ayurvedic life style and diet could give tremendous benefits and will help progress in yoga.
Yoga and its Miracle Effects
Yoga comprises of cleansing techniques that are important for the body and mind. The Asanas using various stretches and balancing postures give flexibility and physical strength. The Shatkarma (cleansing techniques) removes various ailments and help advanced yoga practices. Pranayama (controlled breathing) promotes vitality, relaxation and is the best stress remover. Mudras and bandhas (hand gestures and locks) channelize the energy through the Chakras and Nadis. Mantra (sound vibration) has highly positive effects on all dimensions of a human being. Most widely practised Mantra yoga is AUM. Yoga Nidra or even its beginning stage of mental relaxation helps one experience ‘Pratyahara’ (withdrawal of senses from the worldly life) which creates peace within, an vital element in meditation. Meditation which is a combination of Dharana – uninterrupted single thought – commonly known as concentration, Dhyana – full concentration and Samadhi – experiencing the transcendental consciousness state – is the base of total health.
Yoga has direct beneficial effects on the whole of a person, from in and out. It restores the health of endocrine, neurological and immune systems. The physical body, vitality, mind, emotions, intellectual states and feeling. It has a holistic approach towards human development and harmonizes the relationship between:
P ‘Pancha Koshas’ (five sheaths) : Annamaya Kosha (Physical body), Pranayamaya Kosha (Energy body), Manomaya Kosha (Mental body), Vijnanamaya Kosha (Intellectual or Wisdom body) and Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss body). These five levels constitute the whole of human existence. Each of them overlays and covers the other. Annamaya Kosha or Physical body is the grossest one and Anandamaya Kosha is the inner most or the subtlest one.
· ‘Ida and Pingala’ or Moon and Sun nadis (energy channels). These are subtle energy channels which cannot be seen as veins in a physical body. Ida and Pingala emerge from Mooladhara Chakra and passe along the spinal axis. They cross at each energy vortexe called Chakra. Ida is associated with left nostril and functions as mental force, associated with mental activity, creativity, introverted personality, feminine nature and the right side of the brain. The Pingala nadi, associated with right nostril represents physical activity, solar energy, extroverted personality, masculine nature and left brain. When both nostrils are open allowing free flow of air, the emergence of the third and most vital nadi called Sushumna occurs between the Ida and Pingala nadis, along the spinal column.
· ‘Chakra’ or the energy vortex plays a major role in personality development, both at physical and psychological levels. There are six major Chakras – Mooladhara being the first at the floor of perineum, Swadhishtana at the sacrum, Manipura in the spinal area behind naval, Anahata, in the spinal area behind the heart, Vishudhi in the spinal area behind the throat pit, Ajna in the centre of the brain behind the point between the eyebrows. The seventh one Sahsrara is not a chakra but the culmination of the evolution or balance of all other chakras. Chakras represent different aspects of the personality, the psychic qualities and the physical and vital aspects.
Rishis (seers of truth) and the mystics in the ancient India gifted the human race with yoga, a most precious and practical tool for helping the evolution of the mind which allows one to look within and to be within, which is the only source of happiness and door to know the self and its relationship with the outside world.
One should practise yoga with an aim to contribute to the evolution of mind, the betterment of society and the world. Yogis have done much more to mitigate the sufferings of humanity than anyone else because they see the world as it is and work through perfect wisdom and unconditional love. Yoga brings peace and harmony within which one cannot achieve through any material means; and only a healthy mind and body can contribute to the betterment of self and the world.
HATHA YOGA WITH DEVADAS
The Hatha Yoga classes of Devadas comprises of Sivananda Yoga (Asana, Pranayama, Relaxation, Kriyas which includes Jala Neti, Sutra Neti, etc.); Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Swara Yoga, Aum Chanting (for those who are open to chant Aum); variations of postures and Chandra Namaskara.
Sivananda Yoga, after the teachings of Swami Sivananda, is a non-proprietary form of hatha yoga in which the training focuses on preserving the health and wellness of the practitioner. Sivananda training revolves around frequent relaxation, and emphasizes full yogic breathing. Sivananda Hatha Yoga session typically starts with every practitioner resting in Savasana, and begins with cleansing and breathing techniques, followed by rounds of S?rya Namask?ra, and the standard program of the 12 basic asanas. The traditional program will also have many variations of the postures.
Sivananda Yoga follows the traditional hatha yoga in more easy-to-learn method that aims at naturally achieving the whole health through creating a healthy body and mind that leads to spiritual evolvement.
Swami Vishnudevananda, the direct disciple of Swami Sivananda has summarized the yoga philosophy in 5 principles known as Five Points of Yoga based on his guru’s teachings which make the complex teachings of Hath Yoga popular; easier to follow and practise by ability ranges
FIVE POINTS OF YOGA
Proper Exercise (Yogasanas) – Asanas help develop a strong, healthy body by enhancing flexibility and improving circulation.
Proper Breathing (Pranayama) – Deep, conscious breathing reinstates the natural rhythm of the body and mind; increase concentration, reduces physical and mental stress and many diseases.
Proper Relaxation – Helps keep the body relaxed through out the process of yoga; the mind to concentrate on the postures; get ready to move on to the next posture.
Proper Diet – Yogic diet: Healthy and vegetarian diet is rich with Prana, nutrition and vitamin and is easy to digest. The Vegetarian diet keeps the bowel movement smooth and natural. The Yogic diet has a positive effect on the mind (behavioral pattern) and body, as well as the environment and other living beings.
Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana) – These are the true keys to achieving peace of mind and eliminating negativity in our lives – the key to how to live in most competitive and stressful world without getting affected but with peace of mind.
The word hatha is composed of two syllables: ha and tha. ‘Ha’ stands for the Self; for the sun (Surya); for the physical body and the inhalation of breath (prana). ‘Tha’ represents the nature (prakrti), the moon (chandra); the mental body or mind; and the exhalation of breath (apana). Hatha Yoga, therefore, means union of Self and the Nature, Body and Mind, Prana and Apana. It also means the willpower and perseverance.
The main objective of Hatha yoga is to create balance and harmony between the interacting activities and processes of the vital (pranic) and mental forces. Once this state has been achieved, the force of energy created awakens the sushumna nadi, the central energy channel in the spine, through which the Kundalini Shakti arises to the Sahasraram and the higher consciousness is experienced by the practitioner.
Nevertheless such higher experience is possible when all other associated conditions are fulfilled. However, Hatha Yoga practice can establish a whole health – healthy body and mind.
APPLICATION OF HATHA YOGA
The body and mind are not separable; they are interlinked to such extend that in fact the gross form of the mind is the physical body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. Since birth, the mind and body acquire scores of impurities from emotional shock, thinking pattern to impure eating habit, unhealthy lifestyle and the manmade environmental pollution. Such impurities form psychological and emotional problems at mental level; arthritis, stiffness muscular knots and tensions at physical level.
Regular Hatha yoga practice releases such impurities
One must not think of Hatha yoga in terms of aerobic or other form of exercises which are usually done with quick movements and certain amount of strain all over body. All aerobic and weight lifting exercises accelerate your breathing, burn out energy, and draw your circulation of blood to the surface of the body. This may help building muscles but will be at the cost of losing a chunk of pranic energy which otherwise is absorbed by the glands, nerves, internal organs and ligaments. A complete health is not a mere muscle strength or appearance or endurance to run long distances or jump to extreme heights, power to break chains, or swim for miles but to prevent illness and keep a balanced mind and body.
Hatha yoga is very helpful in terms of preventing illness and controlling without medication medical conditions like high B.P., cholesterol, diabetes; and treating obesity, back & neck pain, insomnia, etc. For more physical and psychological benefits, please click BENEFITS.
Hatha Yoga is taught based on student’s Prakriti (constitution of body), purpose of learning, physical and medical conditions, learning capacity and age.
Obesity / B.P. / Cholesterol / Diabetes / Asthama, etc.
Those who join Hatha Yoga sessions with the purpose of treating Obesity, High B.P., Cholesterol, Diabetes, Asthma, etc. will be advised to follow strict Ayurvedic lifestyle for better result.
Special Hatha Yoga / Pranayama / Lifestyle programmes are available for those who suffer from the above.