Ashtanga yoga poses are practiced in a sequential and fluid manner and in parallel with controlled breathing. Speed is not important when first beginning this style of yoga. The synchronization of the breath with movement is more significant. Why? When proper breathing is combined with movement, the body releases energy that eases tension. As an effect, one feels more relaxed. The energy used by the body is transformed to intense heat and is released through sweating. Toxins and other impurities present in the blood stream are expelled from the body through this process.
Ashtanga yoga consist of three main parts: the opening sequence, one of the six main series, and the finishing sequence. These parts have been patterned such that the preceding movements prepare the mind and body for more difficult, strength developing poses. Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) is the traditional opening sequence which is followed by the standing series.
This is then followed by one of the six fundamental series of the poses: The primary series known in Sanskrit as Yoga Chikitsa (translated as Yoga Therapy); the intermediate series called Nāḍī Shodhana (translated as Nerve Cleansing); and finally the advanced series A, B, C, D known collectively as Sthira Bhagah (translated as Steady Strength).
The Sun Salutation is like the preface of a book. This fundamental series is performed five times at the beginning of the Ashtanga yoga practice. The aim is to condition the mind for the session as well as to warm-up and strengthen the back and hamstrings.
There are two sets of sun salutation sequences. The first sequence has nine asanas (postures or positions) while the second sequence has seventeen asanas. The second sequence is just an extension of the first sequence. The sun salutation is then followed by a series of six standing postures that aim to strengthen the core. Mastering the opening sequence will provide a good base for anyone who would like to be a practitioner.
After the opening sequence, begins one of the six fundamental series of Ashtanga yoga poses. The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. This series is composed of movements that aim to purify and restore physical health. It is practiced only after warm-up to prevent injuries. The overall effect of this series is the progressive strengthening of the body.
In the primary series, the movements are arranged in such a manner that each asana (posture or position) builds on the previous one. Postures in this series are primarily twists and forward folds that prepare the spine for back bending poses performed in the finishing sequence and intermediate series. Practicing the opening sequence is strongly advised before proceeding with the primary series. Doing so will ensure that one is protected from injuries and that the flexibility needed to smoothly transition to the next pose, has been developed.
The intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called Nāḍī Shodhana or Nerve Cleansing. The purpose of executing this sequence is to open and clear the subtle energy channels in the body. Proper execution of the poses in this series requires a higher level of strength and a sufficiently cleansed body. Therefore, mastery of the first series should be obtained to maximize the benefits of nerve cleansing.
The advanced series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called the Sthira Bhagah or Steady Strength. This sequence of postures aims to strengthen the inner spirit of the yogi. Hence, advanced ashtanga yoga practitioners have a more intense focus and are also able to have a steadiness of the body and mind.
The finishing sequence is the final series of Ashtanga. If the sun salutation prepares the body and mind for practice, the finishing sequence prepares the person for rest. This sequence consists of sixteen asanas specifically designed to cool the body. Ashtanga yoga poses in the closing set give practitioners the opportunity to reflect on the practice. Aside from developing strength, patience and humility are qualities that are cultivated as yogis go through the different postures. More difficult poses require patience in order to achieve proper execution safely and fluidly. More importantly, it's the finishing postures that allow us to reflect upon the concept of UNION and how our action contribute to the evolution of the entire world.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world. The oldest form of Sanskrit is Vedic Sanskrit that dates back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Known as “the mother of all languages,” Sanskrit is a classical language of the Indian subcontinent and one of the 22 official languages in India. Sanskrit can also be therapeutic. Pronouncing Sanskrit words involve the hard and soft palate, and the reverberating sounds create inner vibrations that are said to affect the central nervous system and the flow of prana. There are several ways to learn the names of yoga poses in Sanskrit. Here are a few ways to learn:
How to learn Sanskrit
Learn some of the basics before coming to class. There are several words repeated throughout the yoga class that you can easily understand. The word "asana" means yoga pose, so you'll hear the word asana placed after every pose. The beginning of a pose name usually relates to a natural feature, animal or person. For example, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana translates to Upward Facing Dog Pose. Other popular Sanskrit words that are used often are "adho" for downward, "hasta" for hand, "pada" for foot and "supta" for lying down or supine. Learning these Sanskrit words you'll know what poses you’re doing next.
Attend yoga classes where the classes are taught using Sanskrit pose names. It's very rare that a yoga class would be taught completely in Sanskrit, so you'll still have alignment cues in your native language. Ashtanga yoga for example, is a style of yoga that traditionally uses Sanskrit pose names. Talk to a yoga teacher prior to class to ask about whether you can expect to hear Sanskrit in the class.
Enroll in a class to learn Sanskrit or speak with a yoga teacher who can help with correct pronunciation. Each traditional yoga pose has a mythical story attached to it that explains the name of the pose and the spiritual connections. Learning the stories behind the poses helps to give background on the Sanskrit names.
Consciously think of or even say the Sanskrit name aloud when you transition into that pose. For example, every time you are in Mountain Pose, think or say to yourself “Tadasana.”
Take advantage of numerous websites and apps that offer quizzes to test your knowledge of Sanskrit. If you don’t want to use the internet or apps, you could make yourself a set of flashcards to help you memorize the poses.
Kemetic Yoga is an ancient African form of yoga based on the culture of ancient Egypt, then known as Kemet. Kemetic Yoga utilizes movement and mythology from one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, particularly the national story, the Asarian resurrection. Yoga has been practiced since ancient times in different cultures and countries. Yoga didn't originate in Egypt, however, it has been practiced there for an estimated 10,000 years.
The benefits of Kemetic yoga start with breathing. Because so much concentration is focused on breathing, lung capacity and physical endurance improve. When deepening your breathing, you are prompting a relaxation response, which eases stress and calms you, also benefiting your ability to concentrate and putting you into a positive, happy frame of mind. Yoga has also been shown to have positive effects on heart health, asthma, arthritis, back pain and insomnia.
While traditional yoga poses are practiced in Kemetic yoga, the primary focus is on meditation and breath control. Kemetic yoga integrates these two elements with yoga poses, but breaks the poses down so that the body is in continuous movement, flowing seamlessly through several stages of one movement before going on to the next (similar to Vinyasa style). Breathing is coordinated with the movements to intensify energy circulation.
In Kemetic Yoga there are a series of 28 postures and 5 phases to move into the Divine Company of the gods and goddess of ancient Egypt. Each god or goddess is understood as field of energy or cosmic principle in which to align oneself. Traditional yoga poses are typically used in Kemetic yoga and have been found depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork and spiritual texts. In a typical Kemetic Yoga class, your physical and energetic bodies symbolize the Soul's journey on earth. Among the poses used in Kemetic Yoga are Tree pose, Sphinx pose, Bow Pose and Camel pose to name a few. The Pose of Immortality appears on a chair that belonged to King Tut, a significant example of the symbology of not only the pose but Kemetic yoga as a whole practice.
Want to practice this style of yoga? Check out this video for beginners: youtu.be/Z2IJEIaBG8k
Welcome to a five-part series of Why Yoga Matters. Each day you will learn about yoga, its health benefits and how the practice of yoga can enrich your life. In this part, we are going to talk briefly about the history of yoga as well as its physical and emotional benefits.
According to the World English Dictionary the definition of yoga is:
“Any method by which such awareness and tranquility are attained, esp. course of related exercises and postures designed to promote physical and spiritual wellbeing.”
Ultimately, the practice of Yoga is meant to connect body, breath, and mind to create balance and energy. It includes physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health and well-being. While there is still some debate about the actual origins of Yoga, the majority consensus concludes that it began in India three to four thousand years ago. The word yoga originates from Sanskrit which literally means of "yoke" or to join. While yoga is often considered a spiritual practice, it has never actually been viewed as a religion.
Approximately 5 million people in the United States alone practice some type of yoga, whether it be in the form of dance, stretching exercise or even martial arts classes which usually have postures and poses that come originate from yoga.
There are many types of yoga, including; Integral, Bhakti, Ananda, Hatha and many more that we will discuss in Part 2 tomorrow.
Hatha Yoga is the one of the most practiced forms of yoga. It emphasizes physical postures known as asanas. During these exercises, flexing is followed by extension, a rounded back is followed by an arched back, and physical exercise is then followed by some form of meditation.
Benefits of Yoga
The practice of Yoga has numerous benefits including increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Combined with breathing exercises and meditation it works remarkably well to help promote overall physical and mental well-being. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of yoga it has also been proven as an excellent way to reduce stress, ease panic attacks, lower blood pressure, help alleviate back pain, arthritis pain, depression, mental fog and reduce the risk of many other common health problems.
Here is a quick list of yoga benefits:
- It is known to increase flexibility with postures that trigger the different joints of the body that are not normally affected in most regular exercises routines.
- It can improve the function and lubrication of joints, ligaments and tendons, helping to alleviate pain and increase flexibility.
- Yoga is perhaps the only exercise that can be beneficial to your internal organs which hardly ever get externally stimulated during other forms of exercise. This stimulation and massage of the organs can even help prevent disease.
- Yoga increases circulation and offers a complete detoxification of the body. As it gently stretches the muscles, joints as well as well as massaging the various organs of the body it is ensuring optimum blood supply and good health.
This helps in by flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny of your body as well as providing proper nourishment to yourselves, which can promote optimum energy and a sense of well-being. it can also help delay the aging process.
These are just a few of the physical benefits associated with yoga. Yoga combined with meditation harmonizes the body and mind in a way that can only be fully understood by people who practice it. So, what are you waiting for? Why not start taking part in this age-old practice and enjoy the benefits for yourself. There's no better day, than today!
Tomorrow I will be talking about some of the more common types of yoga and their benefits.
Hatha Yoga is mainly practiced for health and vitality. Hatha Yoga was introduced in the 15th century by Yogi Swatmarama. Hatha yoga focuses on the purification of the physical being which leads to the purification of the mind or vital energy. The exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. Today in the West, hatha yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose.
Whatever the historical details, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (an Indian yoga teacher, ayurvedic healer and scholar) has become the undisputed father of modern-day hatha yoga. Krishnamacharya’s first lessons in yoga were from his father and his grandmother and passed on through generations of practice.
Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in any one religion. This exploration of these physical and spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga has been included in the life style of these traditions. Hatha Yoga classes tend, among other things, to emphasize physical mastery.
Hatha also means a force or determined effort, and yoga, of course, translates as yoke or joining together. The very name hatha yoga, a combination of “ha,” meaning sun, and “tha,” meaning moon, denotes the union of opposites. Through the practice of yoga an individual can gain information about physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
Hatha Yoga represents opposing energies: hot and cold, fire and water following the theme of ying and yang, male and female, positive and negative. Hatha yoga attempts to balance the mind and body. The balancing of the mind and body is brought about via physical exercises (also known as asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama) and relaxation or meditation.
Pranayama refers to breath control in yoga. In this yoga is defined as a means of binding or controlling the breath and the mind using the syllable “Om”. In this case yoga has extremes, practices of fasting, breath control, and postures to transcend the body, and not cultivate it. Asana body postures that are contemplative in nature and are designed to align the body and bring about the optimum situation for relaxation.
Traditional yoga is a holistic yogic path and is becoming wildly popular.
The term yoga іѕ generally used in the west to mean hatha-yoga practices of asanas (postures), ѕоmеtіmеѕ including pranayama (breathing exercises) and dhyana (meditation). The word yoga derives frоm the Sanskrit word (yuj) meaning union оr tо join. In thе west, yoga іѕ often taken tо mean а union bеtwееn thе body аnd thе mind; whіlе іt originally signifies thе union bеtwееn thе individual self-Atman wіth thе universal soul Paramatma оr Bramhan, аlthоugh different terminologies mау bе used іn different texts.
Yoga and Indian philosophy
Yoga іѕ one оf thе six schools оf ancient Indian Hindu philosophy. Thе оthеr five Darshanas, аѕ thеу аrе called, аrе Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa аnd Uttara Mimamsa оr Vedanta. Yoga has arisen frоm thе epistemology оf thе Samkhya philosophy, but іѕ more practice oriented. Its primary text іѕ thе Bhagavad Gita. Among оthеr major texts establishing thе basis fоr yoga аrе Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Upanishads and Hatha Yoga Pradapika.
The goal of yoga
Whіle thе history оf yoga strongly connects іt tо Hinduism іtѕ essence саn bе found іn thе spiritual/esoteric practices оf аll religions аnd оf thоѕе whо do nоt consider thеmѕеlvеѕ аѕ being religious. Thе goal оf yoga, enlightenment оr liberation (moksha) frоm thе cycle оf birth-death-rebirth (samsara) comes frоm thе Hindu tradition. Othеr goals have bееn claimed bу оthеr cultures, аѕ fоr example, аn increase іn wisdom, insight аnd compassion.
For the average person, who considers themselves being far from enlightenment, yoga саn offer а way of increasing spiritual awareness, emotional wall-being, mental clarity and of course physical health. Given that our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual ѕеlvеѕ are one integrated whоlе - оurѕеlvеѕ аnd nоt disparate beings, іt ѕhоuld nоt bе а surprise. An integration оf thе different aspects оf being оr а search fоr thе meaning оf thе self іѕ again а western interpretation of the goal.
Thеrе аrе four main branches аѕ specified іn thе Bhagavad Gita аnd аn array оf combinations. Thе four main systems аrе:
1. Karma yoga аѕ thе path оf selfless work оr action іn thе world
2. Jnana оr Buddhi yoga аѕ thе path оf discernment, knowledge аnd intellectual endeavor
3. Bhakti yoga аѕ thе path оf love, devotion оr surrender
4. Raja оr Dhyana yoga аѕ аn eight limbed path оf discipline emphasizing meditation.
Thе eight limbs оf raja yoga (8 limbs) include:
1. Yama thе five abstentions оf violence, untruth, theft, illicit sex аnd possessiveness.
2. Niyama оf thе five observances оf purity, contentment, austerities, study аnd surrender tо God.
3. Asana means 'seat' аnd originally referred оnlу tо seated postures but have come tо include thе whоlе array.
4. Pranayama the control of breath through various breathing exercises
5. Pratyahara а reversal of the sense organs by turning them inwards rather than outwards
6. Dharana concentration or fixing the attention on а single object
7. Dhyana meditation
8. Samadhi super conscious state or trance
Therefore, asana, whісh іѕ what Hatha Yoga primarily concerns іtѕеlf with, іѕ а small fragment of the enormous content of Yoga.
Today, there are several types of yoga depending on the interpretation of the teacher or the lineage of the specific type of yoga such as Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar Yoga as taught by B.K.S. Iyengar, or Ananda yoga: a gentle hatha style that comes from the lineage of Parmahamsa Yogananda (the author of the classic book, Autobiography of a Yogi); just to name a few. The various styles of yoga is a never-ending list. The style of yoga you choose is your personal decision; so long as you make it a part of your life!
Knowledge (Jnana) does not come about from the practice of yoga alone. Perfection in knowledge is in fact only for those who begin by practice of virtue (dharma). Yet, without yoga as a means, knowledge does not come about. The practice of yogic methods is not the means by itself, yet it is only out of that practice of yoga that the perfection in knowledge comes about. “Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth,” said Shankara.
All things rest upon something else-that is, all things are supported by one another. This is because a foundation is needed for anything to exist. Being Himself the Ultimate Support of all things, God alone is free from this necessity. Yoga, then, also requires support. As Trevor Leggett said in his introduction to Shankara’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras: “This is yoga presented for the man of the world, who must first clear, and then steady, his mind against the fury of illusory passions, and free his life from entanglements.” Patanjali very carefully and fully outlines the elements of the support needed by the practitioner, giving invaluable information on how to assure success in yoga.
The first Yoga Sutra says: “Now the exposition of yoga,” implying that there must be something leading up to yoga in the form of necessary developments of consciousness and personality. These prerequisites may be thought of as the Pillars of Yoga, and are known as Yama and Niyama.
Yama and Niyama
Yama and Niyama are often called “the Ten Commandments of Yoga.” Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating Pillar of Yoga. Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five. Here is the complete list of the ten Pillars as stated in the Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:
1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty
3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
6) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
7) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
8) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
9) Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
10) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God
All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being-or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection, to our self-realization and liberation.
These ten restraints (yama) and observances (niyama) are not optional for the aspiring yogi-or for the most advanced yogi, either. Shankara states that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.” Mere desire and aspiration for the goal of yoga is not enough, so he continues: “The qualification is not simply that one wants to practice yoga, for the sacred text says: ‘But he who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, he can never obtain the Self by knowledge.’ (Katha Upanishad 1.2.24) And in the Atharva text: ‘It is in those who have tapas [strong discipline] and brahmacharya [chastity] that truth is established.’ (Prashna Upanishad 1:15)And in the Gita: ‘Firm in their vow of brahmacharya.’ (Bhagavad Gita 6:14) So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.
The practice of yoga assists the aspiring yogi to follow the yamas and niyamas, not be discouraged from practicing yoga in the present, believing you must wait until you are “ready” to begin yoga. One should should practice yama, niyama, and yoga simultaneously. Success will follow.
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.
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