Over the past few decades, a very common misconception has taken root in the minds of people. There is a belief that Yoga, is all about fitness and exercise. An added misconception is that Yogasanas (or Asanas) are simply body movements and poses that are complex to perform but make the body supple.
Yes, asana or postures do make the body supple. Just like stretching and other forms of body movements do. But Yoga and yogasanas are so much more than just fitness tricks.
In the West, somewhere around the 19th Century and 20th Century, Yoga was introduced by Indians to the people, so that they too may benefit from it. As expected it was a great success. But there began a commercialization of yoga, in order to make it more appealing to the public. Yoga went from being an art, to a training session.
This is something we need to understand, is extremely dangerous. Yoga isn't something that should be performed with the wrong ideas or intentions. It has consequences of its own.
Yoga is a way of life. It is not a ritual to be performed, it is a habit that one makes a part of life. The ultimate aim of Yoga is to achieve liberation or Moksha. But yoga has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives.
Five basic principles of Yoga
• Asana (postures)
• Pranayama (Breathing control)
• Shavasana (Relaxation)
• Sattvic (Right Diet)
• Dhyana (Meditation)
It is only when these 5 basic principles are followed that one can call himself a practitioner of Yoga. When a person performs yoga, he surrenders himself to the universe and becomes one with the universal energy. It is a very potent source of life and should not be treated lightly.
Let us now look at some more important facets of yoga.
Schools of Yoga
In Hinduism, there are the following types of Yoga, which are to be practiced. Please note, here Yoga doesn't talk about postures. Yoga is in fact a practice. As I mentioned earlier, it is a way of life. These schools of yoga were thus, part of life.
1. Jnana Yoga
Jnana means 'knowledge' in Sanskrit. In the ancient times, when there was a system of 'Gurukul' (students stayed with teachers and gained knowledge), this was the initiation of the student into education and the realm of knowledge. The teachings included information about everything under the sun. This Jnana yoga became the foundation for yogic understanding and knowledge.
2. Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti or devotion, is an essential aspect of yoga. Through this form of yoga, one expressed love and devotion towards God. Here God is the Supreme Being. It does not refer to any symbolic God, simply universal energy. The idea was to move the yogi, towards spiritual awakening.
3. Karma Yoga
Karma means Duty in Sanskrit. In the Hindu religion, the importance of performing ones duty or Karma, was of the highest importance. Disciplined actions and all duties had to be performed with great reverence. It is said to be the most effective way to progress in spiritual life.
4. Laya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga
It is the form of yoga performed by way of regular practice of meditation, pranayama, chanting mantra and yoga asana. It is called the yoga of awakening. One becomes aware of oneself and more conscious of the surrounding. It focuses on compassion to others and healing of the body, mind and soul.
5. Hatha Yoga
It is a system of physical techniques supplementary to a broad conception of yoga. There is a belief that Lord Shiva himself was the creator of Hatha Yoga.
This school of yoga is what deals with physical exercise and asana or postures. Hatha yoga is more known as a physical exercise in the world.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has physical benefits, is something which is common knowledge. But the real power of yoga is seen through its benefits on the mental and other aspects of human life.
Following are some of the major benefits of yoga.
• Perfects your posture
Yoga helps make you stand up straighter and walk taller. The whole slumped shoulder problem goes away. Also, it makes you look far more graceful and toned.
• Control of emotions
Yoga helps the body relax, which in turn helps you control your emotions. Very often, an excess of anger or any negative emotion, gets directed towards the wrong person. This happens when we can't really control our thoughts and emotions. Yoga helps to control our mind and also makes us patient.
• Makes you happier
Practising yoga, even simple breathing exercises or pranayama, helps to pump more endorphins and dopamine into the system. These are some hormones that make you feel happier. The more yoga you practice, the higher your chances of feeling happy and uplifted.
• Helps you focus
Whenever you find yourself incapable of focusing, try practicing yoga and meditation. Meditation makes you concentrate and brings to you an increased observation power.
• Improves Balance
What yogasanas do mainly, is that they direct your body's energy in a particular direction. Practicing yoga and doing the correct postures, helps direct more energy into various directions. This helps improve your balance.
• Relaxes muscles
If you are someone prone to muscle tension or pulling of muscles (hamstring, shoulder, etc.) then yoga can help make your body supple. Your flexibility naturally improves and you can do more activities with ease.
There are many more medical benefits too. However, there are few tested proofs that can be stated. For example, people suffering from asthma and bronchitis, are told to practice pranayama as it helps to control their breathing, which improves lung capacity. These are tested facts.
But there is no evidence to suggest that Yoga can cure terminal diseases or act as a pain reliever. So we must get the facts before following any practice.
Another essential point to bear in mind is that Yoga, should only be performed, after attaining some initial training from a yoga guru or instructor. This is because we may try to do some postures and end up causing serious injuries, if they aren't done appropriately.
Lastly, it is always best to read books and other resources that can clearly define what Yoga really is, before going and enrolling for a class. If you have some knowledge to begin with, you will feel a lot more connected to the activity itself.