What is yoga?
Over five thousand years ago, Indian sages -- mystics, philosophers and thinkers drew upon life and death to discover a physical, mental, and spiritual Practice that harmonized the body, mind and spirit. This was called #yoga, one of the greatest tools of wellbeing for humanity.
What does “yoga” mean?
The term “yoga” derived from Sanskrit word, means “yoking together” or “union”. It stands for bringing together, connection and communion. In terms of yoga, the union stands for the ever-present unification of the individual spirit or self, called jiva, and the universal spirit or self, called atman. In a larger sense, it denotes the confluence of individual consciousness with the collective or #UniversalConsciousness. In yogic thought, this state of authentic union is known as enlightenment or self-realization. Through the various practices of yoga we are able to comprehend the divine eternal spirit that connects and flows through all of us.
Photo: Terri Oda
Is yoga a Hindu religious practice?
Absolutely not. Although it originated in India and was practiced by Hindu sages and then people in general, it can in no way be misunderstood to be a religious practice. At best, you could call it a practice for holistic well-being, which includes spiritual wellbeing. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines religion as “the belief in a God or a group of Gods”. However, Yoga is certainly not connected to any God – although it was so beneficial that even the Gods practiced it!
Despite the loud hoo-haa, especially in the United States, over banning yoga for being a religious Hindu practice, in reality it’s simply a philosophy aiming at the mystical union of the self with the Supreme Force. And this is done in a state of complete awareness, awakening and tranquility, through certain physical and mental exercises.
So what’s the big deal about yoga and why is it considered better than regular exercise?
There’s a reason why yoga saw such a tsunamic wave and acceptance across the globe, and why it’s considered much more beneficial than most forms of exercise. While regular workouts are great and serve well in promoting physical wellbeing, that’s all they do – focus only on the physical! Yoga, on the other hand, is a discipline that approaches human wellness in a more comprehensive and holistic manner. It balances the mind and body, along with our subtle energy systems such as the chakras (vortexes of energy or chi). This is done through the use of breath control, simple #meditation, and specific bodily postures, that promote relaxation, peace, equilibrium and good health.
Yoga also helps in eliminating a variety of health problems related to almost all our body parts and functions, such as the heart, circulation, digestion, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive organs. As well as psychological issues such as depression.
Yoga & the importance of physical awakening
Physical awakening is the first step in the yoga journey. Yoga merges the movement of breath with our consciousness, while the physical body merges with the movement and stillness of asanas or postures. This creates physical, mental and emotional balance, and well-being. It harmonizes the body, mind and spirit that promotes better healthy and a more vibrant, energized state of being.
Yoga as an inner journey
The nature of yoga is revealed to us through practice. It is a non-verbal process, an inner journey to the true center of the soul, which is the source of all happiness and ultimately the union or non-separateness. This inner journey follows many simultaneous paths. The key ones are the pursuit of personal integrity and moral restraint, physical exercises and breathing techniques, and the development of concentration or “one-pointedness” – that leads us to meditation, and through that, with regular practice its helps us attain the ultimate bliss of self realization.
How does meditation help in yogic practice?
Meditation helps us expand our awareness of ourselves and the ways in which we relate to the universe and its creations. It enables us to live fully in each moment with joy, contentment, serenity and love. It stills the endless mental chatter that saps our energy and creates stress and negativity. Regular practice can transform our relationships and renew our energy. By freeing the mind from the daily noise and clutter, we can find spiritual wisdom in a state of expanded awareness.
How many styles of yoga are there and how do I choose?
Today there are over 800 styles of yoga. These are versions promoted by different gurus and the range of styles vary from the traditional #Ashthanga, #Iyengar and #Kundalini yoga to the more trendy versions like hot, power, yin, aerial and #BikramYoga. Many of the new-age variations are hybrids that take the essence of yoga and combine it with different elements like ramped up cardio, overheated studios, and even martial art forms.
It’s important to research the styles carefully before choosing one. Begin by defining your goals and what you hope to achieve through the practice. Talk to the instructors and get a clear understanding of how that particular style will match your goals and help you. Do not get swayed by trends, gimmicks and advertising drives. Personally, I am a big fan of the traditional styles, but finally it’s your body, your goals and your choices. Choose well and enjoy the absolutely marvelous benefits of yoga.
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