Concepts and practices of Yoga originated in India several thousand years ago. Its founders were great Saints and Sages. The great Yogis gave rational interpretation to their experiences of Yoga and brought about a practical and scientifically sound method within every one’s reach. Yoga today is no longer restricted to hermits, saints, and sages and it has taken its place in our everyday lives and has aroused a worldwide awakening and acceptance in the last few decades. The Science of Yoga and its techniques have now been re-oriented to suit modern sociological needs and lifestyle. Experts of various branches of medicine including modern medical science are realizing the role of these techniques in the prevention of disease, mitigation and cure of disease and promotion of health.
Yoga is one among the six systems of Vedic philosophy. Maharishi Patanjali, rightly called “The father of Yoga” compiled and refined various aspects of Yoga systematically in his “Yoga Sutras” (aphorisms). He advocated the eight fold path of Yoga, popularly known as “Ashtanga Yoga” for all-round development of human personality. They are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. These components advocate certain restraints and observances, physical discipline, breath regulations, restraining the sense organs, contemplation, meditation and Samadhi. These steps are believed to have a potential for improvement of physical health by encouraging better circulation of oxygenated blood in the body, refraining the sense organs and thereby inducing tranquility and serenity of mind. The practice of Yoga prevents psychosomatic disorders/diseases and improves an individual’s resistance and ability to endure stressful situations.
Yoga is a discipline to improve or develop one’s inherent powers in a balanced manner. It offers the means to reach complete self-realization. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word Yoga is ‘Yoke’. Accordingly, Yoga can be defined as a means for uniting the individual spirit with the universal spirit of God. According to Maharishi Patanjali, Yoga is the suppression of modifications of the mind.
TYPES OF YOGA
Japa Yoga: To concentrate one’s mind on divine name or holy syllable, mantra etc. like ‘OM’, ‘Rama’, ‘Allah’, ‘God’, ‘Vahe Guru’ etc. through repeated recitation on remembrance.
Karma Yoga: Teaches us to perform all actions without having any desire for their fruit. In this sadhana, a Yogi considers his duty as divine action, perform it with whole hearted dedication but shuns away from all desires.
Gyana Yoga: Teaches us to discriminate between the self and non-self and to acquire the knowledge of one’s spiritual entity through the study of scriptures, company of Saints and practice of meditation.
Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is a system of intense devotion with emphasis on complete surrender to divine will. The true follower of Bhakti Yoga is free from egoism, humble and unaffected by the dualities of the world.
The following are the Yamas:
- Ahimsa - not to harm others
- Satya - to be truthful
- Asteya - not to steal
- Brahmacharya - celibacy
- Aparigraha - not to possess beyond actual needs
There are five Niyamas:
- Shauch - external and internal purification
- Santosh - contentment
- Tapa - to make right efforts to achieve goals
- Swadhyaya - to study authentic texts and religious scriptures to acquire correct knowledge of self and the supreme divinity
- Ishwar Pranidhan - complete surrender to the divine will
A set of Asanas, Mudras and Pranayamas practiced with faith, perseverance and insight rejuvenates the brain, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidney, bowels, all nerves, muscles, tissues and glands of the body by ensuring oxygenated and balanced blood supply kindles up the appetite, bestows control over seminal fluid, senses and mind and imparts increased vitality, vigour and longevity to the practitioner.
SURYA NAMASKAR (Salutation to Sun)
Surya Namaskar is the most useful and popular mode of Yogic exercises which briefly bestows the benefits of Asanas, Pranayama and Mudras altogether. It consists of a series of 12 postures which are performed early in the morning facing the rising Sun. Surya Namaskar energizes the entire neuro-glandular and neuro-muscular system of the body and its regular practice ensures a balanced supply of oxygenated blood and perfect harmony to all the systems of the body thus invigorating the entire psychosomatic system of human constitution.
These are special patterns of postures that stabilize the mind and body through static stretching. Their aim is to establish proper system in the neuromuscular tonic impulses and improve the general muscle tone. Two basic principles governing the performance of asanas are stability and comfort. This suggests that the nature of asanas is psycho-neurophysical and not only physical. Every asana should be performed effortlessly and maintained for a comfortable time. There should be no jerks and the performance of asana should not lead to undue fatigue.
Asanas may be classified as:
1). Meditative Asanas are sitting postures, which maintain the body in a steady and comfortable condition. By various arrangements of the legs and hands different meditative Asanas are performed. The characteristic feature of the Meditative Asana is, however, keeping the head, neck and trunk erect.
2). Cultural Asana involve static stretching which brings about proper tone of muscles. They contribute to the flexibility of the spine and render the back and spinal muscles stronger. They also stimulate proper working of the vital organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. There are innumerable varieties of cultural Asanas, which are performed in sitting, lying and standing position.
3). Relaxative Asanas are few in numbers. They are performed in the lying position and are meant for giving rest to the body and mind.
PRANAYAMA (Yogic Respiration)
These practices bring control over the respiratory impulses, which form one of the channels of the flow of autonomic nerve impulses. Holding of the breath for prolonged and comfortable time is an essential technique of Pranayama. However, in the initial practice the breath holding phase is completely avoided and emphasis is put on the controlled inspiration and expiration with a time ratio of 1:2 between them. The expiratory phase is so controlled that the following inspiratory phase is not affected in its slow and controlled inspiration. The main purpose of pranayama is to gain control over the autonomic nervous system and through its influence the mental function is also controlled and regulated. It is useful in higher yogic practices like meditation.
PRATYAHARA (Withdrawal of Senses from their Objects)
It is a method for control of the mind. It is a practice for withdrawal of the senses from their respective objects. It is also a process for the prevention of mind wandering and indulgence to unhealthy thoughts, and hence, can be considered as a psychological practice.
It attempts at fixation of mind on a single object or thought or sound at any place or spot external or internal of the body is Dharana. It improves power of concentration, memory and intellect. Its regular practice results in peace, better mind-body co-ordination and balanced growth.
Continuous and un-interrupted flow of mind in the same direction wherever the mind is fixed is Meditation. This is the practice involving control of the mental functions which start from the initial withdrawal of the senses from external objects to the complete oblivion of the external environment. It is a process of absorption in which the individual tries to turn his attention to experience. It is not always safer to start one’s practice in meditation without preparing adequately through Asanas and Pranayama. By regular practice of meditation one acquires the power to concentrate deep resulting in manifold benefits such as increased physical energy, mental efficiency, creativity, calmness, memory, intellect, psychic power and intuitiveness. The basic principle of meditation is to develop internal awareness.
SAMADHI (Enlighten State)
Samadhi literally means “completely in agreement”, also called Samapti. It is a state of super-consciousness where trio-the mediator, meditation and meditated upon become one. It is a state of bliss and oneness with immense being (universal consciousness). Samadhi is the final state of yogic practice. In this phase, there is development of mind for appreciation of yogic philosophy, for knowledge which brings salvation – object of sadhana. With the development of Samadhi, there is realization of soul – (Atma), the soul is also Paramatma as such, ‘AHAM is SOHAM’ – as the Yogi realizes he is not AHAM (physical existence) only but his existence is every being in every individual as soul. According to Patanjal Darshan – Samadhi can be achieved by the practice of Ishwar pranidhan alone i.e., complete surrender to the divine will.
SOME IMPORTANT ASANAS AND THEIR BENEFITS
- Padmasana – For physical, mental and emotional equilibrium
- Kagasana – Energizes the thighs, calves and ankles
- Vajrasna – Regular practice for 5-10 minutes after meal kindles up digestion. It is useful for insomnia
- Mandukasana – Increases the digestion. It cures constipation, dyspepsia and flatulence
- Uttanamandukasana – Useful in the treatment of lumbago cervical pain, bronchitis and diabetes
- Gomukhasana – Beneficial in curing asthma, rheumatic pain in knees and ankles and improves the capacity of lungs
- Ardha-matsyendrasana – Useful in the cure of diabetes and cervical spondylosis
- Simhasana – Prevents the disorders related to neck, eyes nose and ears
- Shavasana – Imparts physical, mental and emotional relaxation
- Supta-Pavanamuktasana – Useful in curing gastric trouble, flatulence and back pain
- Urdhva-Sarvangasana – Beneficial for the health of eyes, face, brain and hairs
- Sarvangasana – Brings suppleness to the spine and prevents the ailment of respiratory system and neck
- Chakrasana – Harmonizes the secretion of all glands, reduces obesity and is effective in the cure of bronchial asthma and diabetes
- Paschimottanasana – Useful for physical, mental and spiritual development
- Katichakrasana – Useful in the prevention and cure of disorders relating to lumbar region, spine and chest
- Urdhva Hastottanasana – Useful for lumbar pain, bronchial asthma and digestive disorders, reduces obesity and helps in increase of height
- Konasana – Useful in increase of height and energizes the digestive and respiratory systems and heart
Various studies conducted revealed that six months of yogic practice leads to enhancement of parasympathetic activities, provides stability of autonomic balance during stress, produces a relative hypermetabolic state, improves thermoregulation efficiency, body flexibility, physical efficiency at sub-maximal level of work, improves adaptability to environmental stress and cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, learning, efficiency and vigilance.
AFFLICTIONS AND DISEASES WHICH ARE AMENABLE THROUGH YOGA THERAPY
Yoga therapy is effective in the management of following disorders/indication:
- Allergic Skin Diseases
- Bronchial Asthma
- Respiratory Tract Infections
- Anxiety Neurosis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Peptic Ulcer
- Back pain
- Cervical Spondylosis