The origins of Yoga are found in the ancient Vedas, which are scriptures that are sacred to all Hindus. There are a number of teachings of yoga and they can range from a specialized secular framework to a highly religious structure. Even though yoga and Hinduism share common roots, people who practice yoga do not have to be Hindus and Hindus do not have to practice Yoga. The underlying philosophy of yoga is the influence of mind over body. There's been a popular misconception that yoga only means the physical postures. In fact, yoga is a whole lifestyle that includes yoga postures as one of it's many components. Yoga postures have physical benefits, including curing disease, but the main benefit is mental-they balance the emotions and calm the mind. That's because of their effect on the glands, because it is the hormones produced by the glands that determine the way we feel.
Some of the postures that are used in yoga are based on how efficiently animals move and relax. Postures are designed to develop flexibility and controlled relaxation. Movements should be done slowly and the postures should be held for a minute or more to build up awareness of the body and it's tensions and patterns of behavior.
The essence of yoga is inner, concentrated awareness and no extreme exertion should be displayed during yoga exercise.
There are six "paths" of yoga namely:
This is the study and practical application of the Yoga Sutras, which is a text that has been translated and interpreted by a large number of yoga teachers. It was compiled between the 3rd and 5th century by a man named Patanjali. It consists of 4 chapters and they serve as a guide for exploration of the nature of the mind. The first chapter describes the goal of yoga- direct experience of true essence.
This form of yoga consists of accepting pain as a purification, studying spiritual texts, and surrendering completely to Divine Will. Paramahansa Yogananda chose the name Kriva Yoga to describe the set of practices he developed for his followers. Each of these concepts takes lifetimes of applying them.
Pathabi Jois uses the name Ashtanga Yoga for his teaching approach. The 8 sequential building blocks mean "eight limbs" and they are the cornerstones of raja yoga. They begin at ethical precepts, move from physical practices to more inner-directed practices leading to meditation and finally number eight absorptions.
This technique is comprised of postures and breath control. It balances movement and stillness, activity and rest. It balances forward bends with backward bends, standing poses with inverted poses and inhalation with exhalation. It is designed for relaxing and releasing deep body tension. It brings balance to the nervous system, and stimulates the internal organ functions. Breathing evenly without strain, is one of the most important aspects of this technique as well as stretching and holding with poses.
Pranayama means control of the prana, which is the life force, a subtle energy believed to be composed of waves and particles It is called Chi energy in the Orient. The breath as the vehicle of prana bridges the physical and the invisible realms. It is for this reason that it is of profound importance during hatha yoga. Breathing practices are also used by themselves or prior to meditation as they help to control the mind. Yoga breathing practices increase tidal volume and vital capacity and have been found useful for asthmatics.
Jnana Yoga is the path that actively uses the mind to get beyond the mind. Traces of jnana yoga have been recognized in psycohosynthesis and humanistic psychology. The jnana yogi directs the intellect toward the big question Who am I? What is Life? What is reality? What is permanent and unchanging? Jnana means wisdom and by focusing the mind on the nature of the mind, the nature of nature, and the nature of reality one can achieve highest knowledge. The yoga sutras recommend the use of viveka or discriminative discernment to remove ignorance and to provide understanding of the truth of universal oneness. Viveka means distinguishing what is real, permanent, and everlasting from what is tempory, transitory and changing.
According to Swami Satchidananda japa yoga is communion with God through the repetition of God's name. He says that a mantra is a golden cord between the chanter and the cosmic force, which links a part of the mind to God until, finally, the mind is absorbed and communion with God is experienced.
Who can benefit?
Yoga is believed to help anyone as long as they are patient and persevere with their study of yoga. When joining yoga you must have a realistic view of your physical capabilities. At present yoga practices are being brought into mainstream medicine as a complimentary healing method for a variety of conditions and diseases, including asthma, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Aids, addictions and ageing. Patients with coronary artery disease practice yoga as a stress management technique. People who have problems in movement and posture often benefit from twisting and bending of yoga exercises. The joints of the arms and legs are also kept healthy due to these exercises.
How does it work?
A yoga therapist will assess your health problems together with your constitution, stress levels, lifestyle and other general health factors. He will then select yoga techniques that you are more suited to your condition and he will teach them to you individually or in a small, specialized class. Classes usually last for about one to one and a half hours. He will also devise a yoga session that must be done at home daily and he will revise this regimen as your skills develop and your condition responds. Your regimen should include a balanced set of practices that calm and vitalize you both mentally and physically and they should also work on the specific ailment. The techniques are often very simple and a skilled therapist will be able to devise a personalized program that you can do without difficulty, no matter what your condition.
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