What is Yoga?
Yoga is a journey that we undertake within our physical bodies. The deepest principles of yoga are based on a subtle and profound appreciation of how the human system is constructed.
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning to integrate, bind, join, attach, oneness, wholeness, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on or to use and apply.
Yoga means working towards a level where the activities of the mind and body function together harmoniously.
On a physical level the aim of yoga is to bring the different bodily functions into co-ordination so that they work together at an optimum level to benefit the whole body. That happens by optimising the different systems of the physical body: the skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, digestive, muscular and nervous systems.
From the physical body Yoga (integration or wholeness) moves on to the mental and emotional levels. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions. Yoga is not only good physical exercise it could also be used as an aid establishing a new way of life that embraces both inner and outer realities.
The concept of yoga has a simple, down-to-earth meaning in our day-to-day lives. Between work, home and all of the demands and stresses in between, it’s easy to lose touch with ourselves. Yoga could assist in allowing some space and stillness to get in touch with ourselves.
Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh explained yoga as a “…integration and harmony between thought, word and deed” or “integration between head, heart and hand”. Through the practices of yoga awareness develops of the interrelation between the emotional, mental and physical levels of one’s being and how a disturbance at any of these levels affects the others.
The yoga journey is different for every individual and that is perfect and should be enjoyed and allowed to unfold as one goes along.
The Principles of Yoga
Vital energy, pervades the whole body, following the flow patterns which are responsible for maintaining all individual cellular activity.
The gross form of mind is the body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. Every physical, muscular knot has a corresponding mental blockage and vice versa. The science of Yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality – the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point.
Toxins accumulate and harden in the muscles and joints due to bad combinations of food, alcohol, overeating, extreme emotions and mental anxiety. This results in stiffness in the muscles, lethargy, muscle pain and heaviness.
*Asanas stimulate the muscular system and encourage freedom of movement in the skeletal system. This removes blockages and liberates the toxins.
Asana is the Sanskrit name for Yoga postures and means calm and steady pose. Asanas stimulate the body and mind.
Through a combination of asanas (postures), breathing, meditation and relaxation knots are released on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Balance and harmony are therefore created, resulted in a strong, healthy body and a clear creative mind with balanced emotions.
History of Yoga
The Yoga we know today was developed as a part of the civilisation which existed in India and all parts of the world more than ten thousand years ago. In archaeological excavations made in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, now in modern Pakistan, many statues have been found depicting people performing various asanas and practising meditation.
Yoga arose at the beginning of human civilisation when man first realised his potential and began to evolve techniques to develop it. The yogic science was slowly evolved and developed by ancient sages all over the world.
The different paths of Yoga
There are five paths or systems of Yoga: Hatha, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Raja Yoga.
Yoga, as most people in the West know it, is called Hatha Yoga, which mainly refers to the physical side of Yoga, but also includes the breathing practises as well as the cleansing practises.
In the compound word Hatha ‘ha’ means sun and ‘tha’ means moon. This refers to the balance of male and female, vital (energy) force and mental force, day and night, positive and negative, yin and yang, hot and cold, or any other opposite yet balancing pairs.
When this concept is applied, it could refer to bringing the two sides of the body into a state of balance through the development of equal strength and flexibility on both sides. It could also refer to bringing the two hemispheres of the brain into balanced functioning, so that the logical, mathematical side and the creative, intuitive side are encouraged to function harmoniously and equally efficiently.
Note: The nasal membranes are richly innervated with sensitive autonomic nerve fibres. The whole region of the nasal mucous membrane has been defined as a distinct organ of the autonomic nervous system by some researchers. This means that it responds to various physical and mental situations of arousal, stress and relaxation. The “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” states that the right nostril is linked to the pingala nadi while the left nostril is linked to ida nadi. The aim of Hatha Yoga is to bring these two main Nadis into perfect balance. A nadi is a path along which inner energy flows.
The Different Styles of Hatha Yoga
Within Hatha Yoga there are many styles of Yoga, depending on which part of India they came from and also the guru that taught the Yoga. The differences are usually on emphasis, such as focusing on the strict alignment of the body. There are also differences in terms of the underlying philosophy.
At Move Yoga we do not strictly stick to one style of Yoga. Ina Fourie has started her Yoga journey with Swami Yogasagar from the Bihar School of Yoga in 1998 and after that with Durgana from the Ishta School of Yoga. The textbook that she use during the teachers training course offered at Move Yoga is from the Bihar School of Yoga and very comprehensive, the APMB Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha. The guru’s name is Swami Satyananda Saraswati. He founded the International Yoga Fellowship in 1963 and the Bihar School of Yoga in 1964. Over the next 20 years he toured internationally and authored over 80 books. In 1987 he founded the Sivananda Math, a charitable institution for rural development and the Yoga Research Foundation.
One of the special contributions of the Bihar School of Yoga is the “Pawanmuktasana” series which when translated means that this is a group of asanas that remove any blockages preventing the free flow of energy in the body and mind. Being the first practical series taught in Hatha Yoga, it is essential inlaying a firm foundation for yogic practice. These asanas are very useful if you like to use Yoga as a form of therapy. The Bihar style puts a lot of emphasis on awareness in the poses: physical, mental and emotional awareness. This is also the definition that Rob Nairn (father of meditation in S.A) assigns to meditation: awareness on every level in the present moment. Practising Yoga with awareness is like practising meditation with movement.
All of the Hatha Yoga styles, however, share a common lineage. No style is considered better than another is; it is simply a matter of personal preference.
Yoga, like life, should be experienced and cannot be understood through the intellect alone. Yoga will only become living knowledge through practice and experience.
Hints and Cautions Regarding Yoga practice
The qualities demanded are discipline, tenacity, commitment and perseverance to practise regularly without interruptions. If you made the decision to practice yoga you need to commit yourself to the specific times that you set out for your yoga. Life is busy for all of us but if you do not make a firm decision that this is my yoga time and now everything else must wait – there will always be something to distract you. If you feel that you would not have the time to set aside rather do not start. Why would you want to start something if you do not plan to continue it? The people that reap the benefits from yoga are the people that come to class or do it at home on a regular basis regardless of their “natural flexib ility or inflexibility”.
The word asana means calm and steady pose. Always keep this in mind when practising so if you do not feel calm and steady in a pose – come out of it and try it from a balanced basis.
Practice self-acceptance when you do yoga. Accept whatever limitations, imperfections, inflexibility or illness you feel – that is the starting point. Do yoga in a non-competitive way just for the enjoyment of it. There is no goal in yoga. People get stuck in physical realities like – “oh I can not even touch my toes”.
Asanas should preferably be done on an empty stomach. They may be practised without discomfort one hour after a really light meal. Allow at least four hours to elapse after a heavy meal before starting the practice. Food may be taken half an hour after completing the asanas.
If you attend a general class arrive approximately five minutes early so that you have time to settle in before the class starting time. You would also be considerate to the other people in the class. Latecomers upset the atmosphere and the flow of the class when it has already started. Also, if you miss the warm-up at the beginning of the class, your risk for injury increases dramatically.
Asanas come easier after taking a bath or a shower. After performing the asanas the body feels sticky due to perspiration and it is desirable to bathe or shower some fifteen minutes later. Taking a bath or a shower both before and after practising asanas refreshes the body and mind.
Before starting your practise make sure you have all your aids at hand – your yoga matt, towel, blocks or props if you use them and whatever else you use to make yourself comfortable for relaxation or meditation (for example a cushion, meditation stool and light blanket).
Breathing should be done through the nostrils and not through the mouth. The nostrils are connected to the two major energy channels–and are therefore very important to help to create balance in the energy flow in the body.
Practise bare feet – you want to feel your feet on the earth and that helps to give you a grounding experience. Most of the asanas are aiding in stretching the feet as well. We all know based on reflexology principles how important the feet are to work with.
The postures should become a dialogue between yourself and your body. So listen what your body is telling you; feel where there is stiffness or pain and focus right into it.
Do not be scared to experiment a little while in the asanas, try and make small adjustments to the postures and feel the effect.
Remember that yoga loosens up the toxins from the body therefore it will often create a detoxifying process. Drink more water after the practise to aid in the detoxifying process and help the body to get rid of the toxins.
Reconsider your lifestyle and gradually reduce the amount of toxins you are taking into the body. It is ideal to live as naturally as possible.
The underlying philosophy of yoga is one of non-violence. Make fresh fruits and vegetables a great percentage of your diet. These foods are good in the sense that they are full of energy (also high in fibre and generally low in calories if you would like to loose weight).
Yoga allows one to become in touch with yourself. It is quite normal therefore that any suppressed emotions could surface during and after your practice. This is no need for alarm. It is possible that through allowing yourself to become quiet these emotions had a chance to surface and if anything it is a sign that you are becoming more connected to your emotions.
Talking about things surfacing…During many of the asanas you might feel a build up of wind or sometimes without any warning the wind might just escape! Again this is very normal and it happens quite regularly. This happens because in yoga we work a lot on the digestive system. The yogis view this as a “cleansing practice”. Please don’t take this to seriously.
If you have any specific conditions for example back ache, asthma, depression, anxiety attacks, insomnia etc. etc. Feel free to contact us for an appointment and we could recommend yoga postures that could assist to improve these conditions.
Most importantly enjoy your practise – remember life is a journey not a destination, so why not enjoy your journey!
“Through practicality, self-discipline and joy, we nurture life into wholeness”.