Yoga is a discipline involving breathing techniques and postures called asanas (A-san-as), a Sanskrit word that literally means, "to sit in a particular position." Asanas are the various positions that make up the practice of yoga. Yoga is radically different from more conventional exercises, such as aerobics and weight training, in that the goal is not to develop muscular strength or cardiovascular fitness (although those are common reasons people practice today) but to bring the mind and body into a mutual state of well being, balance, ease and vibrant alertness.
The word yoga means "union." One who follows the path of yoga is called a yogi or yogin. The true practice of yoga becomes a lifestyle. More than an exercise program, the yogi seeks to create balance in life through the asanas, proper diet and rest, meditation, and in cultivation of correct thought and action. The result of this discipline is optimum health and well being, which encompasses things such as wisdom, creativity and peace with the self and the world.
In due course of time, yoga is mainly looked upon as a set of techniques useful for achieving fitness in daily life and prevention and cure of some specific diseases or disorders. But the goal of yoga was different when yoga practices came into existence more than three thousand years ago. Throughout its history, yoga seems to have undergone changes regarding the purpose for which it was practiced. Many different varieties of yoga came to be practived for different purposes.
Bhaktiyoga(Yoga of devotion): Bhaktiyoga(Yoga of devotion) is the oldest variety of yoga in which the person practicing it invokes the Creator of the universe to shower grace and compassion. This grace and compassion is meant to help the devotee overcome all the travails and hardships of living . Practice of Bhaktiyoga includes prayer, worships of living. Practice of Bhaktiyoga includes prayer, worship, observing austerities and abstinence, and practice of virtue. In the middle ages in India, Many saints cultivated the way of devotion as mass-movement. Karamayoga(Yoga of duty or action): Karamayoga(Yoga of duty or action) is described in great detail in the Bhagavad Gita. The main principles of karamayoga include (a) never giving up and never failing in one's duty, and
(b) looking equally upon opposites such as success and failure, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, etc., without being efected or swayed away by them. Jnyanayoga(Yoga of knowledge): Jnyanayoga(Yoga of knowledge) is explained thoroughly in the Yogasutra of Patanjali (second century BC.). It consists of eight-fold yoga. Ynyanayoga includes outer and inner aspects of disciplining and training the body and mind. It has three important techniques: postures, breath-control, and meditation. Hathayoga (Yoga of bodily performances): Hathayoga (Yoga of bodily performances), In recent times, Hathayoga has become very popular. It was popularised by the experts if Tantra, called the Natha-yogis in the periods between twelfth and fifteenth centuries AD. Yoga in IndiaTwo main experts who popularised hathayoga include Matsyendranatha, Gorakhnatha, etc. Hathayoga is described as the yoga of unity of ha and tha. This means the unity of the sun ad the moon in body or the unity of vitak airs - prana and apana.
The purposes of the four varieties of yoga in daily life are not the same. Bhajtuyiga seeks to propitiate the object of worship, i.e. God. As a result of this worship, the practitioner of bhaktiyoga hopes to overcome difficulties in daily life and/ or to remove the hurdles on the goal of all religions. Karmayoga is based on the ideal that by equanimity (samattva) in relation to the opposites (dvandvas), the practitioner of karmayoga can be freed from the shackles of his/her deeds (karma-bandha), and thereby attain liberation (mukti). Patanjali's jnyanayoga or rajayoga involves techniques for purifying the mind by removing impurities through the eight-fold practice.
These include: Abstinence or Yama
Observances or Niyama
Postures or Asana
Breath control or Pranayama
Retrieving the mind from objects of enjoyment or Pratyahara
Concentration or Dharana
Contemplation or Dhyana and
Absorption or Samadhi of the mind.
The above eight-fold path leads to self-realization (atmadarshana). The purpose of hathayoga is achievement of mental stability by silencing the mind through pranayama. Achievement of mental stability arouses the dormant divine power in human being called kundalini. Arousal of the dormant divine power enables hearing the subtle sounds (nada) and absorption of the mind in the state of samadhi. Benefits of yoga Can everyone benefit from yoga ?
Yes. However, this benefit may not be possible if you do not practice the correct technique of yoga or practice it irregularly. As mentioned above, yoga includes a variety of techniques and you need to choose those that are useful to you and most suited for your individual needs. For example, the needs for specific techniques of yoga would differ for a housewife, a child, an athlete, a teacher, a student, or a factory worker. This is because their ways of life are quite different from each other. Because of the wide range of techniques in yoga, it can fulfill needs in almost all people. Basic fitness in daily life is a common need of everyone. Yoga can fulfill this need irrespective of the type of work you do, your role in life or the type of food you eat. Yoga can help everyone play his or her roles more efficiently, more smoothly and more comfortably.
What are the advantages of yoga ?
Yoga has many advantages over other methods of maintaining health, such as gymnastics, athletics, aerobics, games, and various other forms of exercise. It does not need any costly equipment and materials, or playgrounds, swimming pool, gyms, etc. Yoga can be practiced throughout the year. It can also be practiced inside the house or in the open, singly or in groups. The only requirement is a thick carpet spread on the floor and covered with a clean sheet of cloth. Yoga should only be practiced on empty stomach. You can do it at any time during the day. It will benefit you irrespective of whether you are young or old, lean or heavily built, highly educated or unlettered, rich or poor, from higher or lower middle class, busy, over busy, or retired or worker in the factory or in the field. Yoga has something very valuable, and useful to offer to everyone. It is often described as the best form of health insurance for all from the age of seven to seventy seven or more. Two main advantages of Yoga are prevention of disorders and ailments and maintenance of health and fitness in daily life. Other advantage include flexible muscles, supple joints, relaxed and tension-free mind and efficiently working vital organs such as the heart, lungs, endocrine glands, liver, pancreas and good balance between various functions, such as neuromuscular coordination, etc.
Can all the yoga techniques be practiced in all age groups?
Although yoga can be practiced in all age groups, some techniques are more suited and desirable for specific age groups. For example, some asanas that involve forward and backward bending are good for children aged five to ten years. At about ten years of age, the asanas that have an upside down position and deep breathing can be started. Shuddhikriyas should not be practiced everyday. They need to be performed as and when required for removal of impurities from the body. However, Kapalabhati Nauli can be done every day. They are generally most suited for people in age group of twenty to sixty years. Relaxation is necessary for all, irrespective of age. People in all age groups can therefore practice mediation regularly. It is desirable that older people avoid asanas that involve excessive stretching, such as the plough pose or halasana. Strenuous poses such as the scorpion or vrischikasana head-stand or shirshasana should also be avoided older people. When yoga is practiced for therapeutic purpose to overcome or cure ailments, other restrictions are necessary . This is why yoga should not be practiced unless you have learned the correct technique from an expert.