Yoga can be transformative, and though the advanced yoga postures are in fact difficult to the beginner, the changes that yoga can bring into one’s life belie the apparent simplicity of just stretching muscles. After all, we stretch muscles at the gym during a warm up. So, what is the difference between yoga and regular workouts? Yoga integrates the breath with movement and consciousness with physical stretches as a way of strengthening the internal muscles of the body; particularly the pelvic floor.
In yoga, through the breath, and focusing on it within our body, we come to a greater understanding of both our body and ourselves. We begin a more conscious relationship with our individuality. We meet that unique expression of ourselves expressing physically in that moment. We can begin a process of changing that which is blocking the vital flow of our energy.
That is why it doesn’t matter what state we are in when we begin practicing yoga. We might not be flexible, or perhaps we are in pain, or distracted. It is a journey of discovery, not of trying to fit ourselves into an external idea, even if that idea is represented in that moment by the yoga posture we are trying to do. T.K.V. Desikachar (son of the great yoga master Sri Krishnamacharya ) wrote that the body can “only gradually accept an asana”. We should not strain ourselves, or judge ourselves, if we cannot fit into that posture. That posture is a possible outcome, yes, but what we do in our practice of yoga is to take the journey.
T.K.V. Desikachar makes another important point: “We should remain flexible so that we are still able to react to changes in our expectations and old ideas. The more distanced we are from the fruits of our labors, the better we can do this… Paying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us – this is the meaning of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering. ”
The asanas are a way of preparing us to more fully meet the challenges of life in a way that does not throw us off balance, but increases our capacity to adapt to those changes that are inherent in life. They allow us to be more sensitive and aware to what is really going on inside and in life itself. This growing self-knowledge then provides us with a complete picture in which our responses to whatever situations confront us more accurately reflects what is truly present. There is a deeper engagement that goes beyond the wandering of the mind, the self-doubt, the domination of our preconceptions and expectations, or our need for something to be a certain way.
When we are distracted or preoccupied with doubt, worry, fear, and even hope that is attached to an outcome (need), the vital energy of our whole being is leaking, diffused. Through yoga practice, we can clear the debris, to redirect our subtle energy within, to sit within the body, our being, again. This is an energetic aspect of self-mastery. Integral to this is the knowledge of oneself as whole, and simultaneously a part of the wholeness that is within everything.
References: The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar
While Padmasana (Lotus Pose) may seem simple, it is considered an intermediate to advanced pose and may not be comfortable for beginners. Lotus Pose is sitting cross-legged with the spine vertically straight, making it ideal for meditation and concentration.
Padmasana in Sanskrit, comes from the words padma (meaning lotus) and sana (meaning seat or throne). The lotus, a sacred aquatic plant, is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and one of Buddhism’s most recognized motifs. Traditional Hindu texts says that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini (a dormant energy residing at the base of the spine that can be awakened through meditation and yoga).
Getting into Lotus Pose
Avoid practicing this pose if you have recent or chronic injury to the knees, ankles, or hips. Lotus Pose requires a great deal of flexibility and self-awareness to be performed correctly. If you do not yet have the flexibility to practice this pose, practice Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana) or Easy Pose (Sukhasana) until you become more flexible.
Remember to always practice yoga within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical conditions or concerns, talk with your doctor prior to any yoga practice.
If you’ve ever practiced any type of Vinyasa yoga such as Ashtanga, then chances are you’ve heard the word ujjayi breathing. What is ujjayi breathing and why is there such emphasis placed on moving with the breath in yoga practice? Ujjayi (translated from Sanskrit as victorious), is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body. Since the breath is our life energy (prana), the in- and out-breath is what nourishes and cleanses the body and mind. The quality of the breath tells us something about our physical and emotional state – whether we are relaxed, tense, stressed or balanced.
How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing
1. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale out your mouth. When you breathe out of your mouth, imagine you are trying to fog up a mirror. Use the whisper muscles in the back of your throat to make a deep “haaa” sound.
2. Continue Step 1 but now when you exhale, close your mouth half way through the exhale. The first half of the exhale will leave through your mouth and the second half of the exhale will leave through your nose. As the exhale transitions to your nose, try to keep the whisper muscles in your throat activated. Imagine you’re fogging up a mirror with the breath from your nose.
3. Keep your mouth closed the entire time as you continue to breathe in and out through your nose with the throat muscles constricted. Usually, it is easier to make the “Darth Vader” sound on the exhale, but overtime you will be able to make the sound with equal volume on the inhale. When first learning Ujjayi, don’t worry if your breath sounds forced or even silent. With practice, your Ujjayi breath will start to sound like the waves in the ocean.
“If you are running at a certain pace, there is a tendency to open your mouth because breathing through your nostrils may not be sufficient. But you never ever breathe through your mouth during asanas. This is not an aerobic exercise – asanas are about building internal strength of the organs and the whole system”. ~ Sadhguru
Once Ujjayi breathing is learned in a seated position (such as easy pose), the next step is to retain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana practice. During your practice, try to keep the same length and evenness of the breath in and out (through the nose) as much as possible. Once you find your Ujjayi breath in a pose you feel comfortable with, try to maintain that same quality of breathing throughout your yoga practice. While controlling the breath we can control the mind and this is a very important part of yoga practice. Overall peace in the body can come only when the mind is calm and stable.
Caution: When practicing Ujjayi breathing, be careful not to tighten your throat. Do not attempt this breathing exercise if you have a respiratory condition, like asthma or emphysema. Stop if you become faint or dizzy. Remember to always work within your own range and abilities. If you have any medical conditions, talk with your doctor first before beginning any yoga practice.
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.
Kapalabhati is a very important asana and it should be part of your daily practice. This pose is also known as the Fire Breathing Pose, due to intake and outlet of air, with force. The exercise purifies your lungs and nasal passage. It is one of the powerful breathing exercises which help the entire body. It is one of a kind of the breathing exercises in Pranayama. Kapalabhati helps to make the motions of diaphragm very easy and controlled. This helps it to discard the muscle cramps present in bronchial tubes. Lot of force is used to do this asana. While exhaling the process is very strong and while inhaling it is done very calmly. It is a very energizing technique to re-boot all your muscles. It is a cleansing technique which emphasizes on cleaning your air passages and blockages in your chest.
Here are the 5 benefits of practicing the breath of fire:
Cleanses the body of toxins
Kapalabhati clears the body from the constant intake of toxins, thus detoxifying it. This technique helps to replace any toxic air with fresh air. The breathing mainly takes place from the abdomen, as opposed to the chest, and this specifically is what helps to remove the toxic air. Kapala means "the skull" and bhati means "brings lightness." Breathing in this way lightens your skull by extracting problems like sinusitis. This is an invigorating and energizing practice as it fills your stuffy skull with fresh air.
The practice also improves bowel movements which rids the body of the many diseases.
Excellent for respiratory problems
It is also one of the best exercises for asthma patients and people suffering from respiratory problems. This stimulating breath can do wonders for every single tissue in your body. The breathing technique will invigorate your spine.
Increase blood circulation
It is also useful for maintaining blood pressure. The abdominal organs also become strengthened from the pressure applied to these organs while breathing and exhaling. It increases the blood circulation due to fresh supply of blood. It is also useful for removing impurities from the blood.
Tones the abdominal area
The abdominal area is toned with the help of this breathing technique. It helps clear the entire nervous system which proves to be very useful in making the body fit.
Helps with decision making
A sense of calmness is also achieved due to the lightness of the skull. Kapalabhati helps one to think better and make decisions quickly while also keeping the mind alert. This is a wonderful breathing technique to help the mind and soul, as it helps to awaken the spiritual power which heals many problems facing many of us today.
Caution: It is important to exercise all precautions before following any of the asanas from this article. To avoid any problems while doing the asanas, it is advised that you consult with your doctor and an experienced yoga instructor who can best illustrate this breathing technique.
By practicing yoga regularly it may help in the treatment of high blood pressure, and may also help to lower blood pressure. Yoga asanas stable your blood pressure when it’s abnormally high. Asanas have favorable effects on the nervous system. By practicing certain yoga asanas you can not only lower your blood pressure, but also reduce the effects of hypertension on the other organs of the body.
There are a few categories of asanas which are recommended to lower blood pressure: forward bends, sitting poses, and some inversion poses.
Forward bends have the best effects on high blood pressure, so they can help you the most to lower your blood pressure. These exercises have a calming effect on the brain, the blood circulation to the brain is normalized, and they help you reduce the stress from the sense organs, things that lower blood pressure. So, the brain, the sympathetic nervous system and the sense organs are relaxed, the cardiac output and the pulse rate decelerate at the same time, and blood pressure stabilizes, so it lowers blood pressure when it’s high. Other asanas which have beneficial effects on the nervous system and help you lower blood pressure are Uttanasana (standing forward fold) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) , which have to be practiced with the head resting on props, so the blood circulates more freely into the aortic arch. These help you lower blood pressure.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Virasan (Hero Pose) are some of the sitting asanas which can be practiced to get a lower blood pressure by the hypertensives, which in most cases are hard breathing. These poses eliminate the tension from the ribs and the intercostal muscles, so they help you to breathe with no difficulty, and lower blood pressure.
Other poses which may help to lower blood pressure are supine poses, like Supta Baddhakonasana which helps by relaxing the abdominal region, bringing overall calm to the body and nervous system.
Inversions asanas such as, Viparita Karanti (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose) and Halasana (Plow Pose) revitalize the nerves, assure the control over the lungs and diaphragm, so if you practice these exercises constantly, you will get a lower blood pressure. Also useful are Shavasana and pranayama, which provide control over the automatic nervous system. As the senses and the mind are calmed, the blood pressure stabilizes, and in case of hypertension; leads to a lower blood pressure.
*The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always check with your physician prior to starting any yoga regimen.
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!
When on the mat, the serious yoga practitioner is the embodiment of focus, discipline, and unwavering concentration. He or she is devoted to the perfection of the asana (poses) and he or she challenges mind and body to achieve a “higher state of being”. Sure, this sounds legitimate and rather impressive, but what does it really mean? What is the ultimate goal of yoga?
This is a complicated question. Arguably, each practitioner has a goal (or goals) individual to him or her. However, yoga has been practiced in various forms for hundreds of years all over the world. There must be a grand design, an ultimate goal… There is. It is called: moksha.
Moksha is the liberation from worldly suffering and samsara (the cycle of birth and death through reincarnation). This release from sequential lives on earth leads to an enlightened relationship with a creator. Different schools of yoga have differing beliefs about this enlightened relationship.For example, according to Hindu monist schools (such as Shaivism and Jainism), at the point of moksha, there is a realization of identity with the Supreme Brahman. For bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, the realization of identity is made with Vishnu.
However, in all styles of yoga, the goal of the practitioner is the attainment of perfect tranquility and spiritual insight while meditating on Brahman (the Hindu concept of divinity). It is this state that will lead to moksha and eternal peace.For serious practitioners of yoga, moksha is worth more than just sweat on the mat and a few classes every week. It requires an austere, self-disciplined life based around the Five Principles of Yoga (proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation). The rules and guidelines of this self-disciplined life are called yama and niyama.
Yama (social ethics) and niyama (personal practices) are the first steps to building a conscious relationship with the world and with yourself. They are considered the first part of the Eightfold Yoga Path of Patanjali (individual development of the body, mind, and soul). The disciplined life is guided by the understanding that many of life’s problems are self-imposed limitations. Poor habits, frivolous living, and unfounded beliefs all contribute to a confusing, murky world. Yama and niyama help practitioners prioritize their inner and outer worlds so that balance and proportion are restored to all aspects of life.
Some yoga masters have described the ultimate goal of yoga as being “consciously conscious”—meaning that the sense of “personal self” and the sense of unlimited spirit and consciousness are united. They consider the union between the practitioners’ various parts into a whole as the most important aspect of yoga. It is reflected in the asana where all the ‘parts’ of the practitioner’s body are in sync with one another. They are all situated in the most effective way for maximum circulation and meditation. Every part has a place in the whole.
Moksha is a noble ambition that has been shared by billions of people throughout history and the yama and niyama still guide the lives of thousands of yoga practitioners today. Although this is historically considered yoga’s ultimate goal, yoga is a highly personal endeavor with many rewards. So, perhaps the question needs rephrasing: What is YOUR ultimate goal of yoga?
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.
Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Pranayama or Breathing Exercise which promotes proper breathing. From a Yogic point of view, proper breathing is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control Prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama and Yoga asanas goes hand in hand. The union of these two Yogic Principles is considered as the highest form of purification and self-discipline, covering both mind and body.
Yoga breathing, or Pranayama, is the science of breath control. It consists of series of exercises especially intended to meet the body's needs and keep it in vibrant health. Pranayama comes from the following words:
Prana - "life force" or "life energy
Yama - "discipline" or "control"
Ayama - "expansion", "non-restraint", or "extension"
When we focus on the breath, we are listening to and contemplating the true nature of consciousness as it is spoken through the breath. Breathing is therefore more than a simple physical action each breath has an underlying significance and a particular “coded message”. If you can realize the true reality of the breath, you can realize the atma or soul. It is the mechanics of respiration that opens up the space for pranic energy and for the spread of consciousness.
In our respiration process, we breathe in or inhale oxygen into our body, going through our body systems in a form of energy to charge our different body parts. Then we exhale carbon dioxide and take away all toxic wastes from our body. Through the practice of Pranayama, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is attained. Absorbing prana through breath control links our body, mind, and spirit.
Because of the daily work, family, or financial pressures, we tend to ignore our breathing. Thus, it tends to be fast and shallow. The use of only a fraction of your lungs results to lack of oxygen and may lead to different complications. Heart diseases, sleep disorders, and fatigue are some of the effects of oxygen starvation. Therefore, the negative energy of being restless and troublesome leads to lesser prana inside the body. By practicing deep and systematic breathing through Pranayama, we can re-energize our body.
Regular practice of yogic breathing has been shown to increase yogic breathing. This raises the vitality of the body and efficiency of the bodily functions. Breathing with the awareness of the heart is a way of entering the silence of the heart, a moment of inner calmness and joy, and steadiness of mind. You will become established in your own natural inner silence.
Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe. We became used to breathing from our chest, using only a fraction of the lungs, not knowing that this unhealthy and unnatural way of inhaling may lead to several complications. With yoga breathing, we increase the capacity of our lungs, bringing more oxygen supply to the body to function well. We learn how to breathe slowly and deeply - the right way.
Pranayama reduces the toxins and body wastes from within our body. It prevents one from acquiring diseases.
Pranayama helps in one's digestion. With the proper way of breathing, one's metabolism and health condition will start to improve.
Pranayama develops our concentration and focus. It fights away stress and relaxes the body. Controlling one's breathing also results to serenity and peace of mind.
Pranayama offers a better self-control. Through concentration, one can better handle temper and reactions. Mind can function clearly, avoiding arguments and wrong decisions. Moreover, self-control also involves control over one's physical body.
Pranayama leads to spiritual journey through a relaxed body and mind.
*It is worth noting that Pranayama should not be forced and done without proper preparation. It is part of a process in yoga. Breath control is a spiritual practice of cleansing the mind and body which should be done appropriately and with proper guidance and preparation.
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