Q. What is the definition of Yoga?
Developed in India, Yoga is a psycho-physical discipline with roots going back about 5,000 years. Today, most Yoga practices in the West focuses on the physical postures called “asanas,” breathing exercises called “pranayama,” and meditation. However, there’s more to it than that, and the deeper you go the richer and more diverse the tradition becomes. The word “Yoga” means union. Linguistically, it is related to the Old English “yoke.” Traditionally, the goal of Yoga is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman, the true self. These days the focus is often on the more down-to-earth benefits of Yoga, including improved physical fitness, mental clarity, greater self-understanding, stress control and general well-being. Spirituality, however, is a strong underlying theme to most practices. The beauty of Yoga is in its versatility, allowing practitioners to focus on the physical, psychological or spiritual, or a combination of all three.
Q. Is Yoga a science?
Yoga is in all fundamentals is the science of human personality. It is a self-encompassing science that takes all aspects of human personality into consideration like physical, physiological, emotional, behavioral, environmental, social and human interaction with the supernatural. This is a science that develops through various physical and mental exercises. These are directed towards the development of the muscular-skeletal systems, and also strengthening of the nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system respiratory system, endocrinal system and other organic and biochemical functions of the body. The science of yoga also teaches how to relax all the systems. This practice is of preventive nature so that all the systems of the body feel relaxed and do not undergo excessive stress.
Yoga also believes that all negativities prevailing in the human thought process results in many imbalances in all the systems of the human body. These disproportions further result in causing more imbalances in the environment. Since thoughts are considered to be pure energy that does not get dissipated easily, they keep floating around in the universe. If the collective thought process of the world gets distorted it results in causing many calamities both natural and man-made. Yoga is considered to be a deep rooted philosophy with the ultimate goal of correction of the thought process of the entire human race.
The science of yoga ultimately leads to development of the self and its furtherance into the path of the divine. This, as explained earlier paves a path for world peace. So ultimately yoga is a science that can be used for achieving greater goals of world peace and freedom from all the discrepancies and negativities prevailing in society.
Q. How many types of Yoga are there?
There are four paths of Yoga: 1)Jnana, the path of knowledge or wisdom; 2)Bhakti, the path of devotion; 3) Karma, the path of action; and 4) Raja, the path of self-control. Hatha Yoga, which includes postures and breathing, and is the form most popular in the West, is actually part of Raja Yoga, the path of self-control. The path most followed in India is thought to be Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Within Hatha Yoga there are many styles, such as Iyengar, Astanga, Integral, Kripalu and JivaMukti, to name a few. These Yoga’s all share a common lineage back to Patanjali’sYoga Sutras, a text outlining the basic philosophy and practices of Classical Yoga. It was written sometime between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D.
Q. What does Hatha mean?
The word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites.
Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
Q. Is Yoga a religion?
No and…maybe. It depends on how you define “religion” and how the Yoga practitioner approaches his or her practice. The physical and psychological benefits of Yoga are real and don’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, political persuasion or any other way people like (or dislike) to categorize themselves. The benefits also don’t depend on chanting Om. On the spiritual side, most mystical traditions — East or West — draw similar maps of the spiritual path. So in that respect, Yoga is mainstream. Like Shakespeare said, “A rose by any name would smell as sweet.” For these reasons, many people feel they can practice Yoga without conflict with their religious beliefs. However, Yoga is connected to the Hindu tradition and draws on many Hindu beliefs — karma, dharma, reincarnation, Atman, etc.
Q. Has it been “proved” that Yoga is good for you?
Yes. Modern science has been studying Yoga for nearly 50 years, and the evidence shows numerous physical and psychological benefits from Yoga. Interestingly, there seems to be something about Yoga -vs. exercise and controlled breathing – that is beneficial. For example, a recent study with heart patients showed that those who followed a stress reduction program that included many Yoga practices did better than patients who exercised or did nothing. Further, preliminary studies in the United States and India suggest that Yoga maybe helpful for specific conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, anxiety, stress and others.
Q. Why do yoga?
The short answer is that yoga makes you feel better. Practicing the postures, breathing exercises and meditation makes you healthier in body, mind and spirit. Yoga lets you tune in, chill out, shape up — all at the same time.
For many people, that’s enough of an answer. But there’s more if you’re interested.
For starters, yoga is good for what ails you. Specifically, research shows that yoga helps manage or control anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headaches, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, stress and other conditions and diseases. What’s more, yoga:
• Improves muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina
• Reduces stress and tension
• Boosts self-esteem
• Improves concentration and creativity
• Lowers fat
• Improves circulation
• Stimulates the immune system
• Creates sense of wellbeing and calm.
And that’s just the surface stuff. In fact, most of the benefits mentioned above are secondary to yoga’s original purpose.
Pranayama breathing exercises help clear the nadis, or channels, that carry prana the universal life force, allowing prana to flow freely. When the channels are clear and the last block at the base of the spine has been opened, Kundalini rises through the spine, through the central channel called the sushumna-nadi, and joins the crown chakra. According to the tradition, the release of Kundalini leads to enlightenment and union.
Yoga doesn’t discriminate. Even if you don’t believe in the spiritual side of life, you can still do yoga. Whether enlightenment, nadis, prana and Kundalini is literal truth, metaphor or myth is irrelevant. If you do yoga, chances are that you will feel its psycho-physiological effects.
Moreover, the concept of union has a powerful down-to-Earth meaning. Yoga helps us get in touch with our true selves.
Between work, home and all of the demands and stresses in between, it’s easy to lose touch with whom we are, that core essence with which we were born. Rushing around all day it sometimes feels like the “I” inside is simply the result of the things we do all day — or the effects those things have on our minds, bodies and spirits.
Ever say “I am hungry” or “I am stressed”? We identify with our conditions. It’s like “hungry” or “stressed” is a name (Hi. I’m stressed. What’s your name?) As a result, our identities shift with our moods and conditions.
In truth, however, we are not the conditions we experience or things we do. We are not our jobs or the thousands of tasks that make up our jobs. We are not the sensations or emotions we feel. We are not the car we drive or the house we live in. We are not “S/he Who Must Pay Bills.” We are not Mr. and Ms. Stressed.
Strip away the emotions, sensations and conditions and somewhere deep down inside you are still there. Strip it all away and you find out who you really are.
The techniques developed by the yogis to transcend also help us strip away the things that try to miss-define us — the emotions, sensations, desires, achievements and failures of daily life. Through yoga we learn to develop a greater awareness of our physical and psychological states. As a result, we’re in a position to better manage our reactions to the thoughts, feelings and responses we have to the various situations we deal with every day.
With greater awareness comes the sensitivity and skill to find and remove the physical and psychological blocks that often keep us from our true selves. We no longer identify with our conditions. Instead of saying, “I am stressed,” we begin to say, “I feel stress,” or “stress is present.” It’s a subtle but powerful difference.
Or better yet, we say “I feel anxiety and fear, and that’s causing stress and in particular it’s causing tension in my neck and shoulder.” So we breathe deeply to soothe the anxiety. We review the events that led to the onset of those feelings, and in the process they lose their grip on our nervous system. We intentionally relax our shoulder and neck to prevent the stress and tension from building into a permanent condition.
Yoga gives us control of ourselves. It helps cut through the layers of miss-identities that arise in response to our actions, experiences and feelings. It calms the frenzy, clears the clutter in the mind and allows us to get back in touch with ourselves. Most people want to get rid of negative habits even though they are fully aware of their harmful effects, but cannot, because they do not have a strong enough will power. Yoga definitely enhances the will power by training the mind to transform destructive or harmful habits into healthy ones.
Yoga is union with self. Or, as Patanjali, one of the great yoga sages, said:
Yogashcittavrittinirodhah (Yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind).
Tada drashthuhsvarupe’ vasthanam (Then the true self appears.)
However, yoga is not about self-absorption. Yoga is about being in the world. Although most books, videos and websites focus on yoga postures, breathing and meditation, the tradition also emphasizes love, compassion, knowledge and right action as paths toward union.
Whether you pursue yoga as a spiritual path or for its psycho-physiological benefits, yoga is a methodology for developing a deeper experience of yourself and the world.
Q. What is the ultimate goal of yoga?
The ultimate goal of yoga is to be able to break free from all bondages. These bondages exist in every individual’s mind. These are because of the continuation of prejudices and influences introduced in an individual’s mind by his environment. These ultimately lead to the people getting biased in their lives which move them towards so many more distractions. The conflicts appearing in the societies are a result of conflicts that are present in the individual. This is because the individuals make up any society. The disparities arising in the society crop up from the seeds sown in an individual’s mind.
The ultimate aim of yoga is to stabilize the mind and concentrate the thoughts into the universal reality that human beings are extensions of the divine. There is no barrier of the religion and any other man made boundaries for the merger in the ultimate. The soul is universal, immortal, illuminated, infinite and divine and it is one and the same for all the humans. Through yoga this is the final message, which if propagated can lead the entire world on the path of existence that is peaceful, with freedom and rid of conflict. It may be difficult for most people to attain this kind of ultimate goal of yoga but even little progression on the path makes one immensely healthy, content and joyous.
Q. Is it mandatory to follow vegetarianism when the practice of yoga is begun?
This is a tricky question as it cannot be answered in a simple yes or no. Certain fundamentals have to be delved into before a satisfactory answer to this question can be achieved. It is important to also understand that the connotation of yoga and all that it teaches does not indicate towards any religious practices. If yoga preaches vegetarianism it is not because of any religious association. The main theory lies in the fundamental philosophy of ancient yoga. This is the ultimate belief in the existence of soul. All animals have a soul that is eternal and immortal and continues to exist even after the death of the body. So killing an animal for eating is releasing its soul into the world, which is considered to be a derogatory act. It is supposed to increase the content of paap, or negative content in one’s karma. This is sure to call for repentance and would have implications on the incidents that happen in one’s life.
If we look at the situation more rationally there are basically three kinds of food habits that are found among the humans. These are vegetarianism, non-vegetarianism and mixed diets which contain a content of both. From the dietary aspect if we look at it the non-vegetarian diets are richer in animal proteins and minerals. They also have these in a format that is easy to absorb by the human body. But yoga believes that they tend to affect the thought process by inclining it towards tendencies of violence, arrogance and increase in sexual propensities, which may further harm the practice sessions. This is the main reason why vegetarianism is preferred. It is however not necessary to begin with vegetarianism, but it is generally seen that after a while a person automatically gets inclined towards it.
So it is not necessary to insist upon vegetarianism initially as any kind of insistence is an obstruction in the path of the goal. It is better to allow it to happen as and when the mind is sufficiently inclined towards it.
Q.Is it necessary for a practitioner to reduce or stop his intake of alcohol, cigarettes, tea, coffee, drugs?
The answer to this question is that everyone needs to reduce or better still completely stop the usage of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. As far as intake of tea and coffee is concerned it should be reduced significantly, maybe to just two cups a day. This is because whether a person is a learner of yoga or no these things are just not good for the system. For a student of yoga the practices of pranayama, yoga posture and meditation are such that they invoke a burst of energy inside the system and any undue interference from external source could cause great harm.
The case of tea and coffee is still not strong enough. A student of yoga can do with two cups of tea or coffee per day but drugs are completely out as their interference into the system can be extremely harmful. As far as cigarettes are concerned perhaps one cigarette once a week or once a fortnight may still be okay. Taking a small drink occasionally can also be withstood by the body.
But just like it was said earlier about vegetarianism, the body should not be forced for anything. The power of yoga is such that if followed for a certain time it will automatically compel the system to refrain from all the vices. When the mind is under control the inclination to smoke, drink and use other forms of suppressants is just not there. There is just no need to forcefully suppress any urges but if done for some time correctly, yoga can give perfect control to the system.
Q. Why is it so that despite tremendous advancement in medical practices and technology more people are afflicted with more diseases and at younger ages?
Despite all kinds of advancements there has been an increase in diseases because there is significant deterioration in the basic quality of life. There is an increase in many vices which involve the body as well as the mind. There is substantial increase in the stress levels of the life due to many factors as a result of the modern pace of life. The life has become very busy and ironically enough the people take pleasure in being busy. It has become such a norm that if the people are free for some time they feel insignificant so they crave more work to keep themselves occupied. There is no time to feel, get inspired or even enjoy the beauty of the nature dispersed all round us by the creator.
The complaint that the day has only twenty-four hours is completely irrelevant because this is one allowance that the Creator has granted impartially to everyone. No one has been given even a single second more in the day. Everyone has been given just the same time every day. We do see some people can achieve all that they inspire to, coupled with good family life and time for themselves during this limited and same time allotted. There are others on the other hand who keep on rushing and are constantly stressed out.
Q. What is the difference between isotonic exercises, isometric exercises and yogic postures or asanas?
Exercises are of three different types:
• Isotonic or dynamic exercises.
• Isometric exercises.
• Yogic postures or asanas.
Isotonic or Dynamic Exercises: In this type of exercises the muscles shorten in length but the tension in the muscles remains the same. These exercises increase the work load of the cardiovascular system. If they are performed in optimal measures they improve the fitness levels. Some examples of isotonic exercises are walking, cycling, swimming, running, jogging, skipping and bench stepping.
Isometric Exercises: In these exercises the length of the muscles does not change but the tension increases. They build up the muscle mass and are used for the purpose of building the muscles of the body. They do not improve the stamina and endurance levels of the body. They can pose severe strain on the cardiovascular system. They are just not recommended for people suffering with heart related disorders. It is advisable to take medical advice before proceeding to do them. They should preferably be done under the supervision of a trained physical instructor.
Yogic Postures or Asanas: These do not put any kind of strain on the cardiovascular system and improve the stamina and endurance levels as well as enhance the general physical fitness. They are good for the body and also the mind and they help in altering the natural reactions of the body and mind towards the daily situations.
There are some fundamental differences between the regular physical exercises and Yogic postures. These are:
• Yogic postures tone up the body and tune up the mind whereas the physical exercises only affect the body.
• Physical exercises make the body exhausted whereas yogic posture conserve energy and give relaxation and deeply invigorate the body.
• Yogic posture burn up only about three calories per minute, which is very little as compared to physical exercises, that burn up three to twenty calories per minute. This factor makes the yogic posture more powerful because they work without taxing the system.
• Yogic posture can be done by anyone even those who may be suffering with some ailments or are old, whereas physical exercises cannot be done by everyone.
• Yogic postures affect all the systems of the body including the endocrinal system, which is most impossible to stimulate with other forms of physical exercise.
• Unlike other exercises yogic posture make the system fresh and not fatigued.
• Yogic posture are with fluid movements and do not entail chances of injuring the system unlike physical exercises.