By Dr. Sajimon George BAMS. AAA. ATMS
Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 5,000 years ago.
The word “Yoga” came from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate.” Yoga then is about the union of a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness.
Ancient Yogis had a belief that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit. For these three to be integrated, emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance.
The Yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance and it is done through exercise, breathing and meditation – the three main Yoga structures.
In Yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary instrument in man’s work and growth. Breathing techniques were developed based on the concept that breath is the source of life. In Yoga, students gain breathing control as they slowly increase their breathing. By focusing on their breathing, they prepare their minds for the next step – meditation.
There is a general misconception that in meditation, your mind has to go blank. It doesn’t have to be so. In meditation, students bring the activities of the mind into focus resulting in a ‘quiet’ mind. By designing physical poses and breathing techniques that develop awareness of our body, yoga helps us focus and relieves us from our everyday stress.
Six Branches of Yoga
Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures
Hatha Yoga is perhaps the path of Yoga you are most familiar with since this is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West. This branch of Yoga uses physical poses or Asana, Breathing Techniques or Pranayama, and Meditation to achieve better health, as well as spirituality.
There are many styles within this path – Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu and Jiva Mukti to name a few.
If you want a peaceful mind and a healthy body to go along with it, Hatha Yoga may just be the path for you.
Bhakthi Yoga or Yoga of Devotion
Bhakthi Yoga is the path most followed in India. This is the path of the heart and devotion. Yogis who practice this branch see the “One” or the Divine in everyone and everything. Bhakthi Yoga teaches a person to have devotion to the “One” or to Brahma by developing a person’s love and acceptance for all things.
Raja Yoga or Yoga of Self-Control
Raja means “royal.” This path is considered to be the King of Yoga and this may be due to the fact that most of its practitioners are members of religious and spiritual orders. Raja Yoga is based on the teachings of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga sutras.
A Raja Yogi sees the self as central and as such, respect to oneself and for all creation is vital to this path. They achieve self-respect by first learning to be masters of themselves.
If you wish to learn discipline, then Raja Yoga would perfectly suit that need.
Jnana Yoga or Yoga of the Mind
Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that basically deals with the mind, and as such, it focuses on man’s intelligence. Jnana Yogis consider wisdom and intellect as important and they aim to unify the two to surpass limitations.
Since they wish to gain knowledge, they are open to other philosophies and religion for they believe that an open and rational mind is crucial in knowing the spirit.
Karma Yoga or Yoga of Service
Karma Yoga is the path of service for in this path, it is believed that your present situation is based on your past actions. So by doing selfless service now, you are choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness.
Karma Yogis change their attitude towards the good and in the process, change their souls, which leads to a change in their destiny.
Tantra Yoga or Yoga of Rituals
Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the paths, Tantra Yoga is about using rituals to experience what is sacred. Although sex is a part of it, sex is not the whole of it since this path aims to find what is sacred in everything we do.
Tantra Yogis must possess certain qualities like purity, humility, devotion, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love and truthfulness amongst other things.
Is yoga a religion?
There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality.
In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists and Muslims.
Is yoga exercise?
Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken.
Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.
Benefits of Yoga – Why is Yoga good for you?
In the midst of our modern world characterized by daily stress, fatigue and pollution, more and more people are seeking that elusive sense of relaxation and inward awareness.
Hailing from an ancient tradition originating in India, Yoga has long since provided people with a refuge away from the everyday confusion and entropy and has transported an increasing number of people to a peaceful oasis within.
Though the practice of Yoga is closely associated to ancient texts, beliefs and values, it also yields benefits useful for people’s practical daily lives.
Why practice yoga?
Here are some reasons why more and more people are practicing Yoga:
- Yoga relaxes the body and the mind. Even in the midst of stressful environments, Yoga helps control breathing and clears the mind of cluttered thoughts, leaving only deep physical and mental refreshment
- Yoga can help normalize body weight. For people who are either overweight or underweight, Yoga Exercises can help achieve the desired weight. The principles of balance and moderation in physical activity and diet under Yoga can also lead to a healthier lifestyle
- Yoga improves your resistance to disease. The postures and movements in Yoga massage the internal organs, enhancing blood circulation and functionality, thus, lessening the risk of illness
- Yoga increases your energy level and productivity. In as little as 20 minutes, Yoga can replenish the mind and body with precious energy needed to respond to daily tasks and challenges
- Yoga leads to genuine inner contentment and self-actualization. Meditation – one of the aspects of Yoga – focuses the mind, taking it away from the distractions of the highly-materialistic world and leading it to genuine happiness
- Yoga exercises improve circulation, stimulate the abdominal organs and put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health
- Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to find your inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you’re on your way to a more fulfilling life.
Yoga may seem like the fabled elixir of life – a cure-all solution to man’s daily problems and concerns such as illness. But actually, the benefits that Yogis or Yoga practitioners have been experiencing for thousands of years are only being gradually proven by medical science now.
Yoga Health Benefits versus Exercise Benefits
- Parasympathetic nervous system dominates
- Sub cortical regions of brain dominate
- Slow dynamic and static movements
- Normalization of muscle tone
- Low risk of injuring muscles and ligaments
- Low caloric consumption
- Effort is minimized, relaxed
- Energizing (breathing is natural or controlled)
- Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups
- Non-competitive, process-oriented
- Awareness is internal (focus is on breath and the infinite)
- Limitless possibilities for growth in self-awareness
- Sympathetic Nervous System dominates
- Cortical regions of brain dominate
- Rapid forceful movements
- Increased muscle tension
- Higher risk of injury
- Moderate to high caloric consumption
- Effort is maximized
- Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)
- Imbalance activity of opposing groups
- Competitive, goal-oriented
- Awareness is external (focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)
- Boredom factor
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