Yoga, by definition, is the union of mind, body and inner spirit. The definition comes from the term itself, meaning 'union' or 'merger', which has its roots in Sanskrit. Yoga originated from Lord Shiva and Sage Patanjali is considered to be the father and founder of yoga. The basic principle and philosophy of yogic activities is purification.
The great yogis have discovered impurities in the internal body that greatly affects the state of mind and the physical activities. Purification of human body leads to an increase flow of prana through the whole body which in turn help us attain real wisdom, spiritual liberalization and everlasting bliss.
Yoga is characterized by the physical and spiritual growth of the human body. All our physical and spiritual activities are targeted towards attaining the supreme goal of human life.
Yoga may be one of the most popular fitness regimes across the world, but considering its popularity it is still one of the most misunderstood disciplines. The ideas, philosophies and practices that comprise this vast discipline are believed to have originated an estimated four thousand years ago. The origins of the discipline are traced back to ancient India. Yoga history and its origins are deeply rooted in the religious mysticism and spiritualism of the ancient land. Yoga served as a medium for furthering the spiritual and divine ambitions of its practitioners. Our modern perceptions of yoga are however very distorted and the modern discipline of yoga itself is far removed yet closely connected to its ancient past.
Modern yoga, or yoga as we know it in the west today comprises of three aspects - the physical practice of postures, breathing exercises and meditative practices. There is little connection with religious beliefs or spiritualism in most modern disciplines of yoga, yet this is one of the murkiest areas that clouds the popular imagination when it comes to the subject of yoga. Many in the west still perceive yoga as some sort of tantric or mystical Hindu practice, with elements of magic and sorcery. There is also a general misconception that it is an extremely powerful and dangerous practice with supernatural connotations, which is why its practice should be restricted only to those with strong enough minds or those who have renounced the world. Yet others believe it to be a deeply religious practice of the Indian subcontinent that is incompatible with their religious beliefs. None of these notions hold much truth and hopefully some light will be shed on the truth about yoga as you read on.
Yoga has become the most practical and popular approach to physical fitness in most parts of the world. The main reason for this dramatic surge in the popularity of yoga in the west can be attributed to the popularization of eastern mysticism and spirituality by various cultural movements and celebrities. Yoga rode that wave in its initial introduction to the west, but it has long shed that novelty and grown into a viable alternative for fitness enthusiasts and the health conscious population. The main reasons for the popularity of yoga today may be attributed to the facts that it is one of the most adaptive and malleable of all disciplines enabling almost anyone to take up the practice, as it can be molded to suit the individual's capabilities and needs, unlike most other disciplines where the individual has to adapt to the discipline. Unlike most other fitness disciplines or physical exercise routines yoga is not at all strenuous or competitive, but is in fact extremely relaxing and yet invigorating. Yoga is not nearly as demanding as most other physical fitness routines and with the time constraints that most of our working population suffers from this makes it all the more appealing. Today it is well established that there are significant yoga benefits for children, athletes, men, women, seniors, stress, and weight loss. A fifteen to twenty minute routine of yoga a day would suffice to derive the tremendous benefits of yoga. In addition to these very obvious advantages yoga is not very expensive and at the most would require a onetime investment using relatively cheap equipment like a yoga mat or yoga clothing.
Exercising is always beneficial to our health no matter what the type of exercise or the discipline. Physical activity and exercise help to stimulate and promote blood circulation, improve and promote heart function, burn excess fat, build and strengthen muscles, improve breathing and to relax and rejuvenate the body. There are various types of exercise routines and disciplines to choose from and yoga with its ancient origins offers a wealth of knowledge and is a vast all encompassing discipline that is not even remotely restrictive. Yoga is ideal for anyone wishing to get health conscious as it addresses all areas of health, both physical and mental. Its meditative and breathing practices and the gentle, graceful and free flowing exercise movements not only build physical and mental strength, but also help to promote the highest possible levels of physical and mental relaxation.
So What Exactly Does Yoga Practice Entail? The most widely practiced disciplines of yoga today typically include the three basic elements of traditional yoga:
Yoga Asanas: These are basically yoga poses or postures many that may be familiar to us. Many of us tend to think of this aspect of yoga as being extremely challenging and with the realm of contortionists. While many of the poses may be extremely challenging yoga is such a vast discipline that there are plenty of poses that are suitable to practitioners of varying levels of fitness and flexibility, moreover it is commonplace for yoga postures to be modified to suit the abilities of the practitioner. Yoga poses include various types of sitting, standing, stretching and inverted postures all meant to improve flexibility, balance, strength and posture. Yoga poses target various muscle groups in the body, not just the arm, leg or chest muscles. The practice yoga poses is also extremely calming.
Pranayamas: Pranayamas or breathing exercises are an integral feature of any yoga practice. These breathing techniques are designed to give us greater control over the respiratory function, which for most of us is simply a reflex. The practice of breathing exercises or pranayamas helps to enhance and build lung capacity, improving oxygenation, circulation and energizing your body. Breathing exercises have a tremendous calming and relaxing effect on the body and are also essential to meditation. Breathing exercises are practiced in synchronization with yoga poses.
Meditation Techniques: Meditation is one of the most highly valued features of yoga. Meditation helps to strengthen the mind and gives you greater control over your mind, which would imply control over your mental faculties, emotions, and thoughts. Meditation is the most effective tool to improve your concentration, build your focus and gain clarity of thought. It helps to improve self confidence and helps to completely eliminate any kind of stress.
Before you proceed with a practice make sure that you are dressed appropriately and choose a suitable yoga mat. There are many different types of yoga mats and it would be advisable to research the area before you make a purchase. The yoga postures in a session of yoga for beginners should also be chosen carefully. The next step before you dive in would be to gather some information on the various types of yoga so that you can make an informed decision about which discipline of yoga is best suited to your needs.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga: This is one of the most challenging schools of yoga, with a focus on building stamina, strength, coordination, and flexibility. Ashtanga yoga is best suited for individuals with high fitness levels. The ashtanga yoga poses are practice in swift and flowing sequences that are synchronized with breathing exercises.
Iyengar Yoga: This is a relatively modern school of yoga that focuses on precision, symmetry and alignment. In this school of yoga the physical postures are held for longer periods of time. Iyengar yoga focuses on building endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, and although not as demanding as ashtanga yoga it can still be quite physically demanding.
Sivananda Yoga: This modern school of yoga takes a gentle approach to the discipline of yoga with the emphasis on yoga poses, breath exercises and relaxation. The discipline also stresses the importance of positive thinking and a healthy diet.
There are various other popular disciplines of yoga such as bikram yoga, hatha yoga, power yoga, pilates yoga or hot yoga. In some disciplines the practices such as bikram yoga poses are very specific, but most other disciplines are quite flexible.
Choosing the yoga class and yoga studio is the next important consideration for any beginner or yoga or yoga practitioner. Make sure that you learn from a qualified and experienced yoga instructor as it is important that you get your basics right. Make sure that you are comfortable with the environment in the yoga studio and with the teaching skills and techniques of the trainer as personal comfort and satisfaction is essential for your learning experience to be productive. Although there are plenty of internet based resources and libraries with books and dvds on yoga instruction there is no substitute for a good tutor. Moreover attempting to learn and practice yoga yourself can prove to be dangerous at times as certain poses may be too advanced or complicated to perform without the assistance and guidance of an experienced practitioner.
Once you have mastered the basics of yoga however you can feel free to practice at your own convenience at home. If you feel that you are ready to advance further you can always enroll for a timed or limited duration crash course simply to gather information and for advice from more experienced practitioners.
Yoga can be beneficial to just about anyone as it is an adaptive discipline. The practice of yoga is in fact encouraged for patients suffering from a variety of health conditions including debilitating conditions that restrict mobility like arthritis, tendonitis and so on. Yoga is very often combined with recuperative therapy programs for patients and at times may be included along with pilates. There are various yoga positions that are useful in the management and treatment for various problems like constipation or even to induce labor. There are various types of hatha and power yoga poses and yoga exercises for weight loss and a flat stomach, for back pain, scoliosis and a variety of other ailments. The therapeutic benefits of yoga for arthritis, hypertension, stress disorders and various other modern ailments have been a subject of great interest to researchers and health care experts for years.
Physical aspects of yoga include asanas, kriyas, mudras and pranayams while spiritual aspects include self awareness and mind control.
Yoga also provides the ability to do introspection and help to improve working capacity, thoughts and deeds. It also possesses the supreme power to inculcate social and moral values to make a complete man.
Apart from having multitude of spiritual benefits, yoga is also the panacea for various health disorders. It helps to cure diabetes, digestive disorders, varicose veins, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, asthma and heart conditions.
Through various asanas and mudras, yoga can also help stop teeth loss, arrest tissue decay, improve food assimilation, remove age ravages, prevent old age ailments, rectify poor vision, reshape the spinal cord, reduce excess fat from the body, improve the posture, stimulate important glands and clean out the toxic substances.
Yoga, in short, is a divine path leading to everlasting bliss, mental peace and reunion with the supernatural power. For better understanding of the history, philosophy, benefits and supreme power of yoga, you can explore the pages of this website.
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