Yoga (Sanskrit: योग), which literally means 'union' is a group of ancient Indian spiritual practices aimed at integrating mind, body and soul and achieving a state of enlightenment or oneness with the supreme truth. Major texts on yoga include the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Shiva Samhita. The philosophies of yoga are universal and is not confined to any religion, nor does not it require any specific belief system to participate. Outside India, Yoga is mostly associated with the practice of asanas (postures) as a form of exercise. What is normally thought of as yoga in the West is really Hatha Yoga, one of the many paths of yoga. Different approaches and techniques of yoga lead to the same goal of unification and enlightenment or achievement of samadhi.
Due to oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings, it is difficult to trace roots of Yoga. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile leaves (bhoj patra). The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmins and Rishis who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads.
Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras, the first systematic presentation of yoga, were written some time in the second century. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an 'eight limbed path' (astang Yoga) containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi. Patanjali is considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sutras still influence modern yoga.
A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
Asana is defined as 'posture', its literal meaning is 'seat'. Originally, the asanas served as stable postures for prolonged meditation. More than just stretching, asanas open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body. Asanas purify and strengthen the body and control and focus the mind. Asana is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that asana should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed.
- Padmasana (પદ્માસન)
- Shirsasana (શીર્ષાસન)
- Bhujangasana (ભુજંગાસન)
- Shalabhasana (શલભાસન)
- Paschimottanasana (પશ્ચિમોત્તાનાસન)
- Sarvangasana (સર્વાંગાસન)
- Halasana (હલાસન)
- Mayurasana (મયૂરાસન)
- Matsyasana (મત્સ્યાસન)
- Dhanurasana (ધનુરાસન)
- Vajrasana (વજ્રાસન)
- Matsyendrasana (મત્સ્યેન્દ્રાસન)
- Siddhasana (સિદ્ધાસન)
Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and āyāma, to lengthen or extend. In Yogic language, it means control of the life force (prana) but in popular terms it can be described as 'breath control'.
Bandhas are energy locks achieved by contracting or constricting certain internal muscles of the body resulting in reorientation of energy flow. These locks are used in various pranayama and asana practices to tone, cleanse and energize the interior body and organs. There are three bandhas - Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jhalandara Bandha.
Mudras are gesture or position, usually of the hands, that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain. By curling, crossing, stretching and touching the fingers and hands, we influence a certain part of the mind or body.
Kriya are cleansing techniques for body. Neti, Dhuati, Basti, Kapalbhati, Nauli and Trataka are popular shat-kriya (six kriya).
The purpose of this information is not to turn readers into yoga masters, but rather impart basic knowledge of what it mean, how it is performed and what are its benefits. It is highly recommended to seek counsel and direct guidance of an experienced master before performing these yogic exercises.
Readers are forewarned that if performed in improper manner, yogic exercises create serious implications of mind and body. When holding a yoga posture, make sure you can breathe freely. Go to your edge in the posture, holding where you feel a good stretch and/or your body working, but don't feel pain, strain or fatigue. Respect your body's limitations and inner wisdom, if something feels wrong or dangerous, please do not do it. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before starting yoga, Pranayama or other exercise program.