Our ancestors knew fully well that not only the human body be kept in a healthy state, but the mind should also be sound. That was why they developed a faultless system of techniques which takes care of all the tissues of the body and their functions in a superb manner. Body health depends on two factors supply of adequate nourishment to it and quick removal of waste materials which are produced in the tissues as a result of biochemical activity.
This can be achieved only when every tissue functions properly. Each tissue gets the nutrients for its function form the blood flowing in the capillaries. Tissue cannot get proper nourishment if it remains inactive and waste materials are also not removed. The inactivity of tissue causes poor circulation of blood in it, and if such a situation continues for long, very little or no blood may flow through the tissue. Such a tissue loses its efficiency in due course of time.
If a tissue is subject to exercise or movement, by causing the muscles concerned to contract and stretch, the capillaries are pressed, and the tissue gets increased supply of blood, oxygen, and the nutrients. In rigorous exercises like running, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling., a particular muscle or a set of muscles are repeatedly contracted. This causes the muscles to develop in beautiful shapes due o an increase in the size of the muscles and addition or number of fibers to them. The more fibers, the more is the physical strength of a person.
I am thus that various skeletal muscles of the arms, chest, back, thighs, etc. are developed through rigorous exercises. Such exercises involve rapid contraction of muscles, called “phasic” or “isotonic” contraction. Contraction of muscle causes the bone to move around a joint as a fulcrum. Most of the yoga techniques don not, however, involve phasic contraction of the muscles. They cause static contraction, in which a muscle is maintained under a stretch or tension without causing repeated movements.
The yogic system involves the exercise of the skeletal as well as the deep-seated smooth muscles, which is not found in other forms of exercises. The muscles of the abdominal wall, pelvis, trunk, back, and chest, In fact abdominal viscera, neck, as well as muscles of the limbs are subjected to stretch in the various exercises. It is why the yoga techniques are of great significance for corrective and restorative purposes. A special characteristic of the yoga system is that it brings about changes in internal pressure on the various organs and glands. These exercises promote blood-circulation in various parts causing a sort of gentle massage to the organs.
Yoga techniques is often taken to be only a scope for development of the body. Most of the people link it with postures (asanas). The techniques actually are concerned with changing one’s personality as a whole, by bringing about a revolution in one’s attitude, tendencies, emotions as well as the physiological processes underlying these. Physical postures are only the begiIn fact, physiological and psychological changes can be brought in personality through control of breath ad mind.
The yoga techniques for bodily health include three types of procedures, namely, the asanas, mudras, and cleansing acts.
The asanas were perhaps developed for the purpose of sitting comfortably for long durations in a state of peace and relaxation. This is clear from the mention of asanas in Upanishads, the Gita , the Yoga-sutra of Patanjali, and some other ancient treatises.
Later on, however, the physical aspects of the asanas were elaborated by the Hatha Yogis, and we find many simple as well as intricate postures mentioned in their literature. The names of the various poses are derived mainly from the resemblance of the posture with the appearance of various animals, birds, and sometimes other symbols like a tree, a lotus, a circle, and so on. It is said in the Gheranda Samhita, an authoritative text of Hatha Yoga, that there are as many asanas as there are species of living beings, and that 84 out of them are more in vogue.
The term “mudra” perhaps carries the same meaning as asanas. But sometimes a difference is also made between the two. For example, the Hathayoga Pradipika say that the practice of the asanas brings mental and physical steadiness and make for perfect health and suppleness of body, while the practice of mudra is undertaken to arouse dormant kundalini.
Purifying the mind
It is at this point that yoga comes to our rescue. It is well known that one has to purify his mind and thereby his intellect before he can reach the state of self-realization. Here it will not be out place to quote yoga sutra that an honest practice of eight parts of yoga removes impurities of mind and done proceeds to have Atma Darshan. Once the mind is pure, attachment, running after mundane objects , anger, jealousy, etc. are gone, and one can attain Mukti. Although very, very few people one in thousands can achieve the state of Mukti , still the importance of yoga cannot be dismissed altogether.
A yogi who had also attained the goal of yoga jivanmukti – Jnaneswara also terms in his Anubhavamrita, yogic techniques as useless as the moon in the day time when compared with moksha. J. Krishnamurti in his commentaries on living (he is supposed to have reached the goal of yoga) ventures to notify that both those individuals who practice yoga and those who are pursuing to acquire worldly comforts do not differ much from each other.
They are both greedy, and nature ambitions. According to him the desire to free oneself from the cycle of birth and death is also a form of desire like other desires for worldly enjoyments.
Another version from Maitreyi Upanishad teaches us that the pleasure one gets through the pursuit of mukti is not real for the simple reason that it is not an experience of the state of emancipation.
But the techniques do help those who have not yet seen the light of mokskya. There is much weight in the argument that Mukti is not a state. Which can be acquired by following the instructions of others? It is without a doubt that a liberated person cannot make others liberated through his sermons. One can learn the process to proceed, but he/she has to himself/herself attain a state of awareness to understand oneself and the world. This naturally, needs a special effort to train mind the ability to look at anything as it is.
We may go through scriptures and come to know of the various processes t go ahead and hear sermons from sages and saints, thus learning intellectually about the state of Mukti, but the bridge between our steps and the state of Mukti remains.
Yoga helps an individual to control his inner self and live in peace with himself and the surroundings. Although science has made tremendous progress and managed the immediate environment, but has it given peace to mind? In fact, it’s one- sided development may one day prove disastrous. On the other hand, the problem of violence, aggression, and war can find a solution only if peace within oneself exists and that is the way of yoga. It is a science of personality and anybody who has learnt to live in peace with the environment is a yogi – a perfect individual thus says our saints.
But is it necessary to go through the yoga techniques t free oneself from the bondage of birth and death?
Some very renowned personage have put a question mark on the futility of going through various yogic exercise and attaining knowledge to reach a state of freedom from bondage. The great Adi Shankaracharya who snatched back the ancient Hindu religion from the clutches of Jainism and Buddhism has declared in his Viveka chudamani that the study of scriptures and the following the practices given therein has no use unless one reaches the state of Mukti. And once one attains that state, one has nothing to do with scriptures. To quote him:” A first – hand knowledge of the moon can be had not by seeing the moon by one’s own eyes. So is the case with mukti; it has to be experienced by trying to know what others have said about it.”
Yoga is the most ancient system of development of the body and the mind. It was practiced thousands of years ago in this country and is being carried out even today.
Some say Lord Shiva was its innovator. Our ancestors practiced it with remarkable success to maintain good physic and to keep mind tranquil.
Yoga has been an integral part of our Vedantic philosophy. Vedas, Upanishads and Ramayana talk about it. Lord Krishna also explained to Arjuna the secret of yoga in the Gita.
The science of yoga was was coming down to us from one generation to another by the word of mouth. Among the earliest sages who contributed in laying the foundation of yoga system was Kapil who lived in 700 B.C . He authored Samkhya philosophy. He was of the opinion that the answer to human problem lay in acquiring ‘Samyak Gyan’ – proper knowledge. Men face sorrow, according to kapil , because they lack proper knowledge about the spirit9self) and prakriti(nature). Once they ac uire that knowledge, they overcome pain, maintain mental equilibrium and attain peace with in.Teh question ‘who am I’ was always pondered over in India. But kapil’s philosophy was confined only to telling that men should acquire knowledge. He groped in the dark beyond that. He did not show the way to reach the ultimate good- how to realize the self.It was left to sage Patanjali(300 B.C.) show a method for obtaining the goal laid down by kapil. While Kapil laid stress on acquiring ‘gyan’, the Patanjali system deals with both the body and mind.The purusha has to do both the things simultaneously; he must acquire samyak gyan and also practice yoga to achieve an excellent body and a sound mind free from tumult. That way he will have a harmonious relationship between the mind and the body.
Yoga is a psychophysical system of exercises based upon the knowledge of the relation between the body and the mind. According to Sage Patanjali both the body and soul(spirit) play vital role in the transformation of the finite into the infinite. It is in fact a key reveal the mysteries of universal consciousness. It shows the way how men can conquer suffering, disease and death. It teaches how to stretch life span and enjoy a better living. We can also realize the self through asana, rhythmic breathing, concentration and meditation.
The method discovered and the experiences gained by ancient yogis, are eternal. They stand equally significant even today as they were thousands of years ago.
Yoga is not merely a science dealing with various body postures; it is, apart being a source of sound health, gives eternal peace of mind. A regular practice not only adds years to life but leads to a meaningful life.
The medical science, which has developed in leaps and bounds, has also reached the conclusion that without taking into account the mind, it is not possible to cure the body. Thus yoga unites body, mind and spirit.
Why was there the necessity to do yogic exercise? Our ancient sages had realized that life on earth was full of pain and sorrow. The body was a prey to all sorts of diseases and the mind was turbulent and wavering- unsteady. The old age was a curse. So they engaged themselves in finding a way out to get rid off them. And thus they found a way out. What was more desirable than yoga to obtain peace and sound health?
Yoga has been variously defined in our various scriptures. The Kathapanishad says yoga is a ‘stat of steadiness and full control over sense as well as mind and the intellect.’ As is well known it is tough to fix the mind at one place. It is always wandering around. The man is attracted towards worldly objects and desires to enjoy them. But a yogi’s mind is steady; he is not attracted by mundane objects.
Shevetaashvatara Upanishad tells us that a ‘yogi does not suffer from old age, disease and death. His body is healthy, mind free from old age, illness, and death. His body is healthy, mind free from greed and is peaceful. The mind and body both become pure.’
In Yogavasesta, yoga is described as an instrument ‘for reaching the other, shore of the stream of sorrow’.
In the Gita, the Lord(Krishna) himself says the state of yoga is a state of equipoise where a yogi is not affected by a pair of opposites. For him day and night, joy and sorrow, hot or cold, criticism or praise, etc. are all alike. He does not bear any desire. He has reached the state of happiness per excellence. He has realized that absolute truth after which nothing remains to be achieved. Although he continues to act, his actions are directed for the good of others; He does not look for rewards for his virtuous deeds. Thus he frees himself from bondage.
Sage Patanjali in his ‘Yoga Sutra’ has said ‘yoga is a state where one if free from thought and modifications of the mind are complete?’
According to “ Yoga Sutra’, one attains the state of oneness with the Supreme Lord only after mastering eight parts of yoga. And to reach that state one must have at least two conditions; One, practice; two, absence of any desire. Through constant practice, one has to make his mind steady by adopting various methods depending upon one’s temperament. There are different types of yoga to do so, each leading to the ultimate goal of acquiring ‘mokshya’ – freeing oneself from the cycle o birth and death.
The eight steps of yoga or limbs(Astanga Yoga), according to Patanjali, are Yama,niyama, asanas, pranayama, pratyahar, dharna, dhyan ana Samadhi. Yoga means to control and discipline; niyma means rules, method, and principles; asana relates to making physical postures; pranayama is kriyas with air, prayahar is avoiding undesirable, dharna is concentration, dhyana is meditation and Samadhi are contemplation.
Patanjali did not go into details about the eight types of yoga. Therefore more study of yogas. Therefore more study or research was necessary. The result of further studies was that they were grouped into different categories according to nature.
Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Hatha yoga.
Bhakti yoga: Very common among the people, this method of yoga is very easy to follow as it does not require any technical and comp-licated process nor any unique intelligence. It creates a feeling of security in man. He develops an unflinching faith that there is a superior power, i.e., God, which is all powerful and merciful and will come to his rescue in time of need, protecting him from harm. He on his part has to have an abiding faith that is attaining him is the ultimate goal of human life. He has to surrender himself, his desires and go on fulfilling his duty without expecting any results from Him. He has to go through scriptures, follow instruction therin, do good deeds and consider every being as a fragment of the Supreme Lord.
Karma Yoga: Karma is a Sanskrite word meaning action. There is no one from Brahma down to an insect that does not perform an action. One cannot live without action. Lord himself has said in the Gita that all beings who are controlled by Prakrti have to act. Even after attainment of the goal of yoga(mukti) on does not renounce acts. Gita tells us that those who perform actions with some motive and expect fruits from them get into bondage because of the attitude or intention involved in it. But a karma yogi is indifferent as he bears no desire. He is concerned only with doing his duty without any reservation and without expecting any return for his acts. But this yoga is tough to cultivate. The human mind is always wavering; it does not stay at one place. A man by nature
is attracted towards worldly pleasures; he wants to enjoy them. He always wants to have more and more of pleasure, wealth, objects or enjoyment, fame, and name.
A karma yogi has no such attitude. He utilizes his energy in doing good deeds. He has acquired peace within and without. He does not run after pleasures; it is the desires which run after him.
Gyan yoga or Raja yoga: This yoga is followed by intelligent devotees. All other methods also ultimately lead to this yoga. But it is a complicated process and can be achieved by persistent practice of mental discipline. It seemed when Patanjali spoke of yoga to be made of eight parts in his ‘yoga sutra,’ he was referring to this method. He says fove of the method are external and three internal.Yama and Niyama mean one should avoid indulging in speaking lies, stealing, amassing wealth beyond one’s requirement and cultivate the habit of keeping the body and mind clean and remain contented with his position.Asana and Pranayama come under Hatha yoga.Pratyar is described as an aversion to mundane desires and non-enjoyment of sense-objects. The other parts are related to the process of concentration.I f these eight pieces are faithfully and sincerely practices for a reasonable length of time, impurities of body and mind meltdown and one attains knowledge which ultimately liberates him from bondage. This yoga also called ‘dhyan yoga’ or ‘Ashtana yoga’-lays emphasis on concentration of mind. The Gita desribes it in its sixth chapter in detail.
Hatha Yoga: The world’s most ancient art to keep fit physically and mentally, being practiced in India (asana, pranayama , mudra,etc.) to seek health , happiness and wisdom to attain self-realization, is made up of two words-HA and Tha, the former meaning Surya or the sun and the latter Chandra or moon. Yoga is the union of the two, according to some leading yogis. It is a system of psychophysical excerxises.Asanas is carried out to make spine elastic and strengthen the nervous system. They not only give strength to mind but provide an insight into the hidden powers of the spirit, strengthen will-power and ultimately raise a person to the state of self-realization.
Hatha yoga unites the sun and the moon. Sun is prana the life force. It carries out the function of blood circulation and respiration.
The moon –apana- performs the function of removing impurities from the body. The two forces let the life pushed forward. The prana(vital force) regulates the movements of stars, planets and the sun and the moon; it courses trhough wind, manifests in froms of energy like electricity, magnetism, light, heat, radio waves, and is seated in the heart of beings.
The moon is situated in a region above the hard palate and perhaps exudes a fluid which percolates down and si swallowed by the sun- located near the navel. It is due to the swallowing up of this elixir by the sun that old age and death come, Hatha yoga brings about the union of the two asanas.
Hatha yoga is a means to establish universal peace and harmony as well. As is well-known peace in the world depends on upon the unity of individuals, and unless anger, hatred, greed, desire for worldly pleasures are done away with through the observance of yoga, there will be no desire to establish peace in the world,
Swatmarama says in his Hathayoga Pradipika;” hatha yoga is a stepping stone to Raja yoga (Gyan yoga).’
What yoga stands for and who is a real yogi?
Most of the people do not understand their meaning. Many individuals acquire some powers or siddhis and try to impress people with demonstrations like stopping moving cars, walking on fire or water, etc. Yoga Sutra is very explicit that such misuse of power through display is a distraction in the path of samadhi.
A yogi biologically is like any other person. He feels hunger, thirst, sleepy and needs rest like others to keep the body going. But the difference lies on the psychological plane. He is not allured by the worldly objects. He goes on working for the good of humanity. He uses his sense-organs but is not swayed away by sensations.
We would do well here t quote jnaneshwara, a master of yoga, from his Anubhavamrita:
“The yogi may respond to life experiences, but he is unaffected or undisturbed within. He yogi reacts passively to whatever confronts him in life. His passivity and peace are not disturbed by whatever he does and while his sense organs are used, his Samadhi remains undisturbed with in.
Adi shankaracharya, who had, we are told, reached the state of jivanmukti, describes a yogi thus:’ He is sinless, unsmitten by desires, peaceful like a fire that has consumed its fuel, and being himself in a state beyond death and sorrow, helps others mercifully and compassionately.’
“For a yogi,” says Yoga vasishta. “Who has found the treasure of eternal happiness and whose intellect has stopped running after the objects of enjoyment; even the greatest empire on the earth is nothing more valuable than a dry leaf that is to be shed. Such a person, even with a single coin in his possession, still gets the pleasure that can hardly ever be obtained by an emperor”.
The yogi of al yogis-lord Krishna –has himself described in the Gita who a yogi is. He says a yogi’s mind is not engaged in craving, and he is peaceful with himself and the world. He is not affected by external factors, is like an ocean which is undisturbed when rivers pour water in it. A yogi treats every being as alike, is the feeling of attachment and takes all opposites hot and cold, joy and sorrow, etc. in his stride.
But can such a state be attained by anybody?
Yoga is an essential part of life on earth to cure oneself of physical and mental ailments. The cause of diseases, it is by now well known, are the faulty ways of living, bad habits, the absence of proper knowledge of things, improper food, etc. The malfunctioning of the body causes an imbalance in the body, and so one gets sick.
To keep a disease free body and mind, human beings on earth have been adjusting themselves from time to time to the prevailing environment. They have to see that the environment in which they live remains congenial. Atmospheric pressure, temperature, presence of gases like oxygen and nutrients are essential for sustaining life on earth. Physiological –internal –environment like body temperature, fluids in the body, functioning of various organs, development of body are equally necessary. Psychological factors like likes and dislikes, different beliefs and fear also affect human beings on earth.
But, contrary to our wishes, it is not necessary that environment is always helpful or favorable. Often it becomes so hostile that human beings suffer pain and misery. That is why our ancestors thought over the problems of fellow beings, did researchers and out came sciences , philosophies, and political and religious activities. All these were aimed at reducing tension and human misery.
All those who have the desire to practice yoga techniques have to consider certain factors before proceeding. If those factors are ignored, the results may be harmful to the practitioner. For example, if a person has been suffering from some bodily disorder, it will not be prudent to undertake yogic exercises. That might produce a harmful effect.
Therefore, the foremost consideration is that the person must be having regular health. At the same time he has to be aware of the date of conducting exercises, the place, dress during the exercises, duration of practice, diet the intake of water, etc.
Physical condition: As has already been mentioned above, yoga technique should not be undertaken if the body condition is not normal. Yogic exercises have hair effect n delicate organs of the body like heart, brain, lungs, etc. they might get harmed if the physic is carrying some disease. Therefore, this factor should be borne in mind before practicing yoga. NO doubt yogic exercises are very beneficial, but one should be advised to consult an expert before undertaking them. Here again, on should be cautious that the teacher has a scientific attitude and has not taken the job to mint money only.
Place: the place where yogic exercises are carried out should be an open place where no one disturbs the proceedings. The surrounding should not be noisy. If performed indoors, the area should be well ventilated and free from noise. Exercises like breathing and concentration are practiced individually. Any conversation, mental activity, listening to music, etc. should be done away with to avoid the distraction of mind and to conserve energy. Yoga should be practiced on the floor. In the Gita the Lord recommends that a grass carpet is spread on the ground; it should be covered with a deer hide over which a clean linen cloth is spread. The seat should be comfortable for sitting for long durations while meditating.
Age is no bar to practice yoga so is sex or religion or faith or physic whether stiff, tense or overweight. Even children below the age of twelve can adopt simple poses but after consulting experts. Relaxing exercise can be undertaken by all.
A word of caution; young and old should avoid undertaking activities which result in too much stress on the body parts. Women, in particular, should not practice some exercise during menstruation and pregnancy, although some of them could be carried out. In fact, there are some exercises which correct disorders during menstruation and pregnancy.
Time suitable for activities. : Morning time between 4.am to 6.am before breakfast is the most appropriate time for undertaking yoga exercises. In the evening it can be between 6.p.m and 8 p.m. But exercise should be conducted when the stomach is empty. An interval of three to four hours should be given after eating. A gap of half an hour after drinking water, tea or juice is also a must. If morning or evening times are not suitable to an individual, one can choose his or her time, But the time should be the same every day. Exercise can be undertaken only once in 24 hours. One more point of note: One should not eat immediately after practice is over. Light food can be taken after half an hour and complete meal after one hour.