Introduction to Yoga
Anyone can practice yoga. You don’t need special equipment or clothes-just a small amount of space and a strong desire for a healthier, more fulfilled life. The yoga postures or asanas exercise every part of the body, stretching and toning the muscles and joints, the spine and the entire skeletal system. And they work not only on the body’s frame but on the internal organs, glands and nerves as well, keeping all systems in radiant health. By releasing physical and mental tension, they also liberate vast resources of energy.
The yogic breathing exercises known as pranayama revitalize the body and help to control the mind, leaving you feeling calm and refreshed, while the practice of positive thinking and meditation gives increased clarity, mental power and concentration. Yoga is a complete science of life that originated in India many thousands of years ago. It is the oldest system of personal development in the world, encompassing body, mind and spirit.
The ancient yogis had a profound understanding of man’s essential nature and of what he needs to live in harmony with himself and his environment. They perceived the physical body as a vehicle, with the mind as the driver, the soul as man’s true identity, and action, emotion and intelligence as the three forces which pull the body-vehicle.
In order for there to be integrated development, these three forces must be in balance. Taking into account the interrelationship between body and mind, the yogi’s formulated a unique method for maintaining this balance – a method that combines all the movements you need for physical health with the breathing and meditation techniques that ensure peace of mind.
The Physiology of Yoga
Just as we expect our cars to depreciate in value with age, so we resign ourselves to the fact that our bodies will function less efficiently with the passing years, never stopping to ask ourselves if this is really necessary, or why it is that animals seem able to go on functioning well throughout most of their lives, while we do not.
In fact, ageing is largely an artificial condition, caused mainly by auto-intoxication or self-poisoning. Through keeping the body parts clean and well lubricated, we can significantly reduce the catabolic process of cell deterioration. In recent years, medical research has begun to pay attention to the effects of yoga.
Studies have shown, for instance, that relaxation in the Corpse Pose effectively relieves high blood pressure and that regular practice of asanas and pranayama can help such diverse ailments as arthritis, arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, asthma, varicose veins and heart conditions.
Laboratory tests have also confirmed yogis ability to consciously control autonomic or involuntary functions, such as temperature, heartbeat and blood pressure.
One study of the effects of Hatha Yoga over six months demonstrated the following effects: significantly increased lung capacity and respiration, reduced body weight and girth, an improved ability to resist stress; and a decrease in cholesterol and blood sugar level, all resulting in a stabilizing and restorative effect on the body’s natural systems.
Today there can no longer be any doubt about yoga’s effectiveness as both a curative and preventive medicine.
Yoga In Your Life
Many people are first drawn to yoga as a way to keep their bodies fit and supple – good to look at and to live in. Others come seeking help or relief for a specific complaint, like tension or a backache.
Some are merely impelled by a sense that they are not getting as much out of life as they could be. Whatever your reason, yoga can be a tool, an instrument for you, giving you both what you came for, and more.
To understand what yoga is all about you need to experience it for yourself. At first glance, it seems to be little more than a series of strange physical postures, which keep the body lean and flexible.
But in time, anyone who continues with regular practice becomes aware of a subtle change in their approach to life-for, though persistently toning and relaxing the body and stilling the mind, you begin to glimpse a state of inner peace which is your true nature.
It is this that constitutes the essence of yoga-this self-realization that we are all seeking, consciously or unconsciously, and towards which we are all gradually evolving.
If you can bring your mind and thoughts under control, there is literally no limit to what you can do, since it is only our own illusions and perceptions that hold us back and prevent us from fulfilling ourselves.
The History of Yoga
The origins of yoga are shrouded in the mists of time for yoga is regarded as a divine science of life, revealed to enlightened sages in meditation. The oldest archaeological evidence of its existence is provided by a number of stone seals showing figures in yogic postures, excavated from the Indus valley and thought to date from around 3000BC.
Yoga is first mentioned in the vast collection of scriptures called the Vedas, portions of which date from at least 2500BC, but it is the Upanishads, which form the later part of the Vedas, that provide the main foundation of yoga teaching, and of the philosophy known as Vedanta.
Central to Vedanta is the idea of one absolute reality or consciousness, known as Brahman, that underlies the entire universe. Around the sixth century, BC appeared two massive epic poems the Ramayana, written by Valmiki, and the Mahabharata, written by Vyasa scriptures.
In the Gita, God or Brahman incarnated as Lord Krishna, instructs the warrior Arjuna in yoga-specifically in how to achieve liberation by fulfilling one’s duties in life. The backbone of Raja Yoga is furnished by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras thought to have been written in the third century BC.
The classical text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which describes the various asanas and breathing exercises which form the basis of the modern practice of yoga.