When you practice yoga, it is not necessary to have a full understanding of yoga history in order to fully benefit from your practice. A brief understanding of the history behind yoga, however, may increase your spiritual practice and inspire you to find out more about the tradition behind the discipline.
The first writings about yoga were written in Sanskrit in early religious manuscripts in India called the Vedas. The word ‘yoga’ has many meanings. The root of the word is ‘yug’ which means ‘to hitch up’, referring to fastening horse bridles to a carriage. But yoga also means ‘to actively put to use’ or ‘yoke’ or ‘join’. Today, it is agreed upon that yoga is a method of joining or a discipline. Men who practice yoga are called yogi or yogin and women who practice yoga are called yogini.
Yoga was first passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. It wasn’t until about 2000 years ago when an Indian named Patanjali wrote ‘The Yoga Sutra’ that the philosophy of yoga was committed to paper. Yoga is not just about stretching and breathing and holding poses. Yoga is a philosophy on how to live life and deal with the challenges that human beings face daily. The Yoga Sutra defined this philosophy in 195 statements.
Sutra can be defined as ‘thread’ or ‘aphorism’, which means ‘a short declaration of truth’. It also means ‘the concentration of a large quantity of information into a simple definition’. It is a way of looking at truths that apply to everyone despite culture in the clearest way possible.
Hatha yoga, or the yoga that you do when you take a yoga class or perform yogic poses, was started as a physical form of meditation. The physical act of yoga calms your body and allows your mind to become calm. It also gives you the physical strength to sustain long periods of meditation.
When you perform the physical practice of yoga, you are only engaging in half of the discipline as it has been practiced for thousands of years. Yoga is an incredible form of exercise and calming for the body, but it can also be used as a spiritual practice and a way to calm the mind and will as well.
Warrior 1 is a common yoga pose that is practiced in many styles of yoga and is often followed by other Warrior variations, such as Warriors 2. It is also a great posture for preparing the body for back-bends and is also seen in the traditional Sun Salutation B sequence. This pose was named after the mythic warrior Vibabhadra, it is meant to promote a feeling of strength and power.
Warrior poses are very physically demanding quite symbolic of the warrior energy. Although they require some strength; they also require the chest and heart area remain open. Strength and softness. Warrior 1 is a great posture for stretching many areas of both the lower and upper body.
Beginners usually find it hard to ground the back heel and lengthen the lower back in this pose. A solution to this could be to lift the back heel on a height like sand bag.
Use a chair or fitness ball under the hips to take some of the weight off of the front leg. Or hold onto the back of the chair (turned sideways) or a wall for support.
Warrior I Pose precautions:
Avoid this pose if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Those with shoulder problems/injuries should keep their raised arms either parallel or a little wider than parallel to each other.
Those with neck problems should keep their head in a position that is neutral and not look up at the hands.
Yoga is an ancient science that aims to create a balance between the body, mind and spirit, thereby curing physical mental and spiritual disorders that are caused by this imbalance. In common language, yoga means union; it’s a union of the individual consciousness with the super-consciousness. To be exact, yoga aims at reminding the individual of this union that already exists and has merely been forgotten. To put it simply, yoga is experiencing and knowing what already exists, not inventing anything new.
At the physical level, yoga can create a balance and harmony among the various organs and systems of the body, allowing the healing powers inherent in the body to work and cure physical ailments. At the mental level, yoga is the harmony between mind, heart and hands or between thought, speech and action. At the spiritual level, yoga aims to destroy the individual ego that stands between the individual and the cosmos, thus attaining to the ultimate truth.
Yoga is a set of systematically devised physical exercises that lay emphasis on balance and posture. Combined with breathing exercises they have the capacity to cure almost any ailment of the body and mind. The underlying concept of yoga is to create the situation in which the human body can function at its optimum capacity.
Yoga Asanas or poses are simple and effective body movements that massage the muscles lubricate the joints and tone the whole body. Yoga poses help to keep the body healthy and the mind peaceful. Asanas exercise the nerves, glands, ligaments, and muscles. These exercises increase flexibility and balance in the body.
Yoga poses refer to the sequence of exercises which is extremely important to get the best results. They are scientifically graded to move from the simple to the complex, to cure the body first and then move on to mental and spiritual goals.
Though it is best to begin yoga practice under the guidance of a trained yoga teacher, you can now learn to do these exercises at home with the help of books, videos and online yoga classes. Once you have learned the basic exercises you can make it a part of your daily routine. It’s best to have a time and place for practicing yoga so that you can be regular and reap rich benefits from it. After some time you will see a change in yourself. Your body will become more flexible, stronger and healthy; you will have a positive attitude and your worldview on life will become beautiful. You will feel blessed!
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) is a standing pose that stretches the obliques and strengthens the legs and the core. When you think of stretching and flexibility, most people picture sitting on the floor and reaching for your feet or contorting your body in different and challenging ways. Poses like Extended Side Angle are very effective in opening the hips and stretching the torso. Using your body weight against gravity is an excellent way to open tight muscles and release connective tissue. In the traditional Extended Side Angle pose you reach your hand all the way to the floor. This is an excellent stretch, however not possible for everyone due to an inflexible spine or tight hips. Resting your elbow on your knee (as pictured) eases up some on the stretch and allows you to rest as much or as little weight on your knee as you wish. Once you are able to complete this stretch with elbow on knee you can begin to reach your hand to the ground for a deeper stretch.
How to: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step your feet apart, about 3-4 feet. Lift your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to the floor. Focus on reaching out through your fingers, palms down. Turn your left foot in slightly and turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Anchor the outside of your left foot into the mat and bend your right knee. Bring your left arm up toward the ceiling and turn your palm toward your head. Look to your left. Exhale and bend to your right, trying to put the right side of your torso on your right thigh. Place your right fingertips or hand on the floor or a block just outside of your right foot. If that stretch is too deep, place your right elbow on your right knee with the palm up. Hold the pose for 5 long breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing headaches, insomnia, or high or low blood pressure. If you have a neck injury or current neck pain, do not turn your head upward in the pose. Instead, keep your gaze straight ahead with both sides of your neck evenly extended. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
If you’re overweight or need to lose some weight, it can be difficult to take that first step into any new fitness program. There’s the general assumption that you have to be in shape to exercise. Yet you can’t get in shape unless you exercise. It can be a frustrating circle. With yoga there are no barriers. It is infinitely adaptable and can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels.
Find a Good Yoga Instructor
It’s always important to find a good yoga instructor. They can guide you to achieve the best poses without causing injury. However, if you’re overweight it’s even more important to find a skilled instructor. You want to find someone who is supportive and willing to work with you to modify the poses to fit your current body and fitness level. There are many yoga instructors who are overweight themselves and serve as an inspiration. Some of these instructors offer specialty classes to their overweight students. You don’t need to find a special class, necessarily, but do look for a skilled and supportive instructor. Ask around to see what teachers in your area receive high reviews. You may also want to take a few one-on-one sessions so that you can get a feel for the instructor’s style. Or call a few yoga studios in your area to find out what is offered.
There are literally dozens of different types of yoga styles to choose from. Some like Hot or Vinyasa style yoga, may not be a good place to start. It’s always best to begin with a gentle yoga class and/or a beginner class if available. Hatha, Kripalu, or Viniyoga are all great styles to begin with. Don’t worry, if you have an aspiration to try Hot or Vinyasa yoga, you’ll get there. For now, learn the basics and develop your fitness.
Be willing to modify the poses to fit your body, your fitness level, and your needs. For example, some poses may require you to use blocks or to widen your stance to accommodate your body. Relax and do what you can. As your practice improves, your modifications will change. Your body will change too. You’ll notice that your alignment improves, your strength increases, and your endurance and flexibility will improve as well.
If you want to lose weight, get in shape, and are interested in yoga then give it a try. Don’t be discouraged by instructors or classmates who can bend their bodies into pretzels – you’ll get there if you want to. For now, enjoy the many amazing physical and mental health benefits of yoga.
**The information in this article should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Before beginning any exercise program including yoga, always check with your physician first to ensure there are no underlying issues that could negatively impact your regimen.
Eagle pose (Garudasana) is one of the 84 original poses (asanas) listed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The pose is named after Garuda, “the mythic king of the birds” whose spirit helps him to overcome obstacles and discover his true potential. Significantly, this pose works to strengthen the body and improve concentration and awareness.
Begin by putting all your weight on your left leg. Bend your knees as though you are about to sit in a chair. Keep your spine extended long. Lift your right leg and place it across your left leg. It should start to look like you are sitting in a chair with your legs crossed.
If it is possible, your right thigh should be above your left knee. In time and with practice you will be able to hook your right ankle behind the left lower calf. If that is not possible, place the top of the right foot on the left calf or press it against the inner left calf. Take time to squeeze the inner thighs together. This will bring you into a more solid center.
Keep your hips squared to the front of the mat, and try to bend the left knee even deeper.
Bring your arms out to the side, cross your left elbow over the right in front and center of your body. Keep wrapping and twisting your arms until the palms come together. This full expression of the pose may take time and practice for your shoulders to open enough to perform it.
Relax your shoulders out of your ears, and keep the shoulders squared to the front of the mat just like your hips. Gently raise your elbows to shoulder height, and slowly press your hands toward the front of the mat until you feel a nice opening between your shoulders and deep in the joint. From the waist down feel your body sink. From the waist up lift and lengthen. Maintain the pose for several deep breaths, and slowly unwind the body and repeat on the other side.
Tips for Beginners
Modify this pose until you can reach the full posture.
1. If the balance is too much or you can’t hook your toes behind you, keep your toes on the ground or along the outside of your shin.
2. If you feel any pain in your shoulders, bring your palms and forearms together in front of you or stack your elbows and connect the top of your hands instead of your palms.
If you suffer from any knee problems, don’t try to hook the toe behind you. Instead, bend your knees slightly, or place one leg on top of the other without pain, do so while keeping your toe on the ground.
If you suffer from shoulder problems, follow the modifications listed above.
Mudra is a Sanskrit word which means ‘to lock’ or ‘to seal’. The word ‘mudra’ signifies hand gestures, or even symbols. Mudras are an integral part of a yoga practice in that they enable you to control the flow of prana, or the life force, thereby making you more energetic and full of vitality. In addition to this, mudras help you lock energy inside your body so that you can utilize it, rather than letting it dissipate. There are 25 major mudras in Yoga. Mudras are not just hand gestures, but can also be done with the eyes, body postures or take the form of cleansing rituals. The gestures themselves are symbolic of various states of consciousness. However, certain gestures can lead to the state of consciousness that they represent. So, practicing a mudra can alter your state of consciousness.
It is believed that by bringing together the fingers of the hand you call upon the energy of the elements that those fingers represent, and these energies can heal your body, mind and soul.
Our hands and feet contain more nerves and endocrine glands than any other part of our bodies. Mudras can be enhanced with breathing exercises, meditation, mantras, color, affirmations and music. The thumb is associated with the fire element, the lung meridian and the planet Mars and represents willpower and logic. The index finger is associated with the air element, the stomach meridian and the planet Jupiter. It represents the mind and the power of thought. The middle finger is associated with the ether element, the circulation and gallbladder meridians and the planet Saturn. It represents our spiritual path. The ring finger is associated with the earth element, the liver meridian and the sun (or Apollo, the sun god). It represents vitality and health. The little finger is associated with the water element, the heart meridian and the planet Mercury. It represents communication, sexuality and personal relationships.
Always make sure that you don’t apply too much pressure and always keep your hands relaxed when practicing the mudras.
Mudras can be done while you’re seated, standing or even lying down. Your body and mind should feel relaxed and centered.
There is no specific time to practice mudras. Whatever time you choose, you need to be able to relax and withdraw into yourself. This can be before or after eating, as soon as you wake up, or right before you go to sleep.
Always plan your mudras depending on what you need. Practice one or two mudras consistently for a few weeks. Monitor the effects of these mudras on your body. You will see that as things change in your body, you will see a corresponding change in your life as well.
Here are 4 of the many mudras:
Chin Mudra: This gesture symbolizes the connected nature of human consciousness. The circle formed by the index finger and thumb represents the true goal of yoga – the merging of the individual soul with the universal soul, or the soul of God. The nail of the index finger is placed into the first joint of the thumb. The last three fingers always face down towards the earth in this mudra. It is a gesture of receiving. When the finger touches the thumb a circuit is produced which allows the energy that would normally dissipate into the environment to travel back into the body, and up to the brain.
Hridaya Mudra: From a seated meditation posture with the head and spine straight, place the tips of the index fingers at the root of the thumbs and join the tips of the middle and ring fingers to the tips of the thumbs. The little finger remains straight. Place the hands on the knees with the palms facing upward. Close the eyes and relax the whole body, keeping the body motionless. This mudra diverts the flow of energy from the hands to the heart area, improving the heart’s vitality. The middle and ring fingers relate directly to the energy channels connected with the heart, while the thumb closes the energy circuit and acts as an energizer, diverting the flow of energy from the hands to these energy channels. The heart gesture mudra helps to release pent-up emotion and unburdens the heart.
Aadi Mudra: (primal or first gesture) this mudra is made by curling the fingers around the thumb making a very light fist. It has a soothing influence on the mind and is said to positively influence breathing. Aadi mudra can be very useful in savasana at the end of asana practice to quiet the nervous system.
Lotus Mudra: This mudra opens the heart chakra and is a symbol of purity. The message of the lotus mudra is to stay connected to your roots, open yourself to the light and realize that the greatest sense of steadiness in life is an open heart. Lotus Mudra drains out misunderstanding, helps to release tension, and is also practiced to enhance the fire element in the body. It is a great reminder of the beauty and grace that is within you and those around you.
Tight hamstrings is common for most people, however, a regular yoga practice will open the hamstrings quite quickly. People tend to have tend to have continued tight hamstrings if they don’t have time for a regular yoga practice, find forward fold challenging, have a history of back problems or are very active and need to stretch out the hamstrings after a vigorous activity.
How to Stretch Out Your Hamstrings
If you can’t grab your foot or leg easily you can use a yoga strap, as seen in the picture. Make sure the leg you are stretching is straight. You should feel the stretch across the length of the muscle either in the back of the thigh or the calf; not in the joint, back of the knee or in the buttocks. Keep your leg completely straight and engage the front of your thigh, this will help to relax the hamstring through what is called reciprocal inhibition.
Guidelines for Practicing this Pose
■If it hurts back off and modify.
■Take deep even breaths through your nose and allow yourself to relax into the position
■Do not push too hard, gently and consistently allow the hamstring to open
■Practice this regularly, at least 3 times a week
■If you are a runner or cycler do this afterwards
■Hold for at least 30 seconds, for 10 deep breaths
■You can do this stretch up to 3 times
■If you have one leg tighter than the other, start with that leg and do an extra one on that side.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) means a salute to the sun. It is designed to warm up your whole body and integrate the body, mind and breath. The Sun Salutation is a warm up or toning exercise and is considered the best of all Yoga exercises as it stretches, compresses, arches and reinforces all the major muscles of the body, as well as the digestive and respiratory organs. It also helps develop flexibility, strength, balance, concentration and focus.
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