Introduction to Yoga: Ancient Indian Fitness Science

Introduction

With realization of potential to cure a disease and power to have good effects on mental and physical health, now a day’s people have shown a keen interest in learning about yoga and its techniques. There is no limit to the ambitions of mankind and the human brain can process infinite thoughts. With everyday interactions and stresses at times we get prone to various disorders which can be physiological or psychological.

Yoga plays a pivotal role in an individual’s life by creating more awareness of his or her body, mind and the self. Yoga has positive effect on our mental as well as physical health and aims at developing different aspects of our personality-mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The history of Yoga is said to be as old as civilization and roots to ancient India. The word comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” which means to join, attach and blend. Practicing yoga helps in the union of ‘Jivatma’ (our individual soul or individual consciousness) with our supreme soul or divine self ‘Parmatama’ which is believed to reside in every human’s heart.

Types of Yoga

There are various text on yoga but the most prevalent among practice is Raja Yoga also known as royal path of yoga introduced by Maharishi Patanjali who synthesised the excellence of yoga science as thread expanding as cloth. Patanjali Yoga has elaborated the process in a very fine manner for the achievement of harmony and self elevation which consists of eight stages:

  1. Yama (general ethics principles known as five Yamas that are favourable to self and the society)
  2. Niyama (personal code of conduct and there are also five Niyamas for self purification and evolution)
  3. Asana (different postures or yogic poses for perfect balance and control over body)
  4. Pranayama (control of breath and approaching self through it)
  5. Pratyahara (practice of detachment from the external world to gain a better control over senses)
  6. Dharana (skills of deeper concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (obtaining super consciousness)

Therefore it is also called as Ashtanga Yoga i.e. the yoga having eight organs. Like human body parts these eight organs of yoga have also to stay and act in tune together. All the individual stages should be understood correctly and followed properly under the guidance of a “Guru” for attaining the ultimate goal of life through practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

There are various other schools of yoga too such as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Hatha Yoga etc which are practiced throughout the world to provide different provisions that may suit according to different individuals having different aptitudes so as to make things easier for understanding and gaining the goal of yoga science. These categorizations of yoga practices are not at all separate from each other and are designed to suit the specific characteristics, temperament and inclinations of a person by the sages after studying the human behaviour and the nature.

Understanding Yoga Practices

Yoga practices or yoga skills are introduced to keep us all round fit and to make this voyage easy for self, practices are divided in different techniques of Asana, Pranayama, Bandh, Mudra and Shatkarma or cleansing Kriyas which are to be practiced under expert guidance of master. A yoga practitioner should have proper knowledge of these powerful techniques and should avoid practicing them merely by reading from a book. Therefore to understand about way to yoga one should be aware of what these techniques are:

Asana

As a first step to yoga one needs to learn and gain command over Asanas. These Asana are the specific body positions which stimulates the energy flow, helps control over tri doshas i.e. Vata, Kapha and Pitta, purifies different systems within human body and also helps the seeker to develop perfect control over mind and body. In Raja yoga Asanas are the sitting postures practiced to make the body and mind steady, serene and relaxed so that the practitioner can sit comfortably for long hours undisturbed which is fundamental need especially during meditation. But Hatha yoga has extension of Asanas as different yogic postures which provide flexibility, strength to bones and muscles, improves the posture, makes the body energetic and trains to cope up with different situations mental, physical and even related to climatic changes.

Pranayama

Breath is the most vital and prerequisite process of body to make the life possible. Breathing is a complex process of body requiring co-ordination of various organs and starts from nose as we inhale air which is rich in oxygen. When air reaches to the lungs, it gets dissolved into the blood and this oxygenated blood is carried to heart from where it is taken to the various parts of the body. Thus Pranayama are commonly known as breathing techniques that aim at controlling our breath and applying pranic power at any point that also helps in controlling our mind. The word Pranayama is made up of two words i.e. “Prana” which means ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’ and “Ayama” which means ‘extension and expansion’. Therefore Pranayama is the practice which helps in the extension and expansion of vital energy responsible for life. Although practices of Pranayama are closely related to breath but they should not only be considered as merely breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into our lungs. There are different types of pranayama practices from simple to advanced level should be done under the guidance of teacher or guru.

Mudra

The word “Mudra” comes from the Sanskrit language which means a ‘Gesture ’. A Mudra is performed in combination with asana, pranayama, bandh or it may be performed as an independent practice. Mudras are specified into four categories i.e. Mukh, Hast, kaya and Aadhaar mudras. Mudra helps to redirect the flow of energy within body and increases cheer, awareness and concentration. They are specially performed at advanced levels for the awakening of chakras, kundalini and psychic powers.

Bandh

The word “Bandh” comes from the Sanskrit language which means to 'hold ,tighten ' or 'lock '. Bandh are performed in combination with mudra and pranayama practices. The practice of Bandh aims to lock the parnic (vital) energy in particular areas of body so that the flow of energy can be redirected for the purpose of gaining perfect fitness and spiritual awakening. As we create water dams to lock the water at one place so that it can be used for the energy generation. Same is the function of Bandhas in our body. Initially Bandhs can be practiced as to acquire expertise in them separately and latter they can be practiced all together or incorporated with mudra and pranayama practices for more beneficial results.

Shatkarma or shatkriyas

The meaning of “Kiryas” is ‘practical techniques ’ and the word “Shatkarma” consists of two words ‘Shat’ meaning ‘Six ’ & ‘Karma’ meaning ‘action ’. Therefore Shatkarmas or shatkiryas are combination of six practices which aims at the purification of our body and mind and creating balance between them. According to Ayurveda there are three somatic doshas ‘Vata’, ‘Pitta’ and ‘Kapha’ which are distributed in unique proportion in the body. Their equilibrium is the state of health and their deviation in quantity and distribution is the state of disease. Shatkarmas helps in making balance among doshas thus promotes the good health of a yoga practitioner. These practices may be used before doing all other yoga practices in order to purify the body from the toxins and to ensure safe and successful progression along the path of yoga.

Summary of Yoga

Thus Yoga is not only a series of exercise, stretching or concentration practices. Yoga is the philosophy of life that teaches a person that how to achieve a balance between body, mind and soul, which in turn helps to be in good health physically, mentally and spiritually. Yoga is not a just cure for all the diseases but it has therapeutic effects that can benefit anyone, regardless of age, sex, faiths, disposition and physical capabilities, and promotes enhancement and flow of energy to make the person cope up with various day to day stress disorders, diseases and other threats to harmony in human life and prepare him for beyond.

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Swami Bharat Bhushan Ji

Padmashri award honored | Two times Life time Achievement award honored | D. Lit (Doctor of Letters) honored

Mokshayatan International Yogashram, Saharanpur

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