All About Yoga

All You Need to Know About Yoga - In 5 Chapters

Yoga is an all-embracing way of life, a science of self-culture and mental discipline that ensures the purgation of the ignoble in humans and brings forth what is most noble in them. Getty Images

Yoga is one of the most ancient cultural heritage of India. The word yoga in Sanskrit means "to unite", and so yoga can be said to connote a unitive discipline. In this sense it is an exercise in moral and mental cultivation that generates good health (arogya), contributes to longevity (chirayu), and the total intrinsic discipline culminates into positive and perennial happiness and peace. Therefore, yoga is said to be indispensable for the ultimate accomplishment in life. It is a science that affects not only the conscious self but the subconscious as well. It is a practical physiological training (kriya yoga), which if practiced can exalt humans to the 'supra mundane level'.

What Yoga Is Not

There are too many misconceptions clouding the science of Yoga. People perceive it to be some kind of black or white magic, sorcery, physical or mental debauchery through which miraculous feats can be performed. For some, it is an extremely dangerous practice which should be limited to only those who have renounced the world. Few others think it to be a kind of mental and physical acrobatics that is compatible only to a Hindu mind.

What Yoga Really Is

Yoga is an all-embracing way of life, a science of self-culture and mental discipline that ensures the purgation of the ignoble in humans and brings forth what is most noble in them. It is pertinent to all people irrespective of his caste, creed, sex, and religion. It can be beneficial to all -- the good and the bad, the sick and the healthy, the believer and the non-believer, the literate and the ignorant, the young and the old. A person may begin at any age and can go on reaping its benefits.

The Origin of Yoga

Yoga had its genesis in the wandering ascetics who sought the solitude of the forests to practice this ancient science and then imparted their knowledge to the ardent students (mumuksu) who lived in their ashrams. The ancient yoginis were possessive about this art form and did not make any effort to popularize yoga. The yogic postures and the subsequent stages of yoga were handed down only to the deserving students. Hence, this science remained limited to the confines of the forests or remote caves. Very little was known about this Vedic practice until the Yoga Institute of Santa Cruz, Mumbai was founded in 1918, which became India's oldest technical institute on Yoga.

Also Read: Yoga: Fundamentals, History and Development

There are lots of references to Yoga in Hindu scriptures, especially in the Gitathe Upanishads and other Puranas. Here's a selection of quotations from Sanskrit literature, which try to define or qualify Yoga:

The Bhagavad Gita
"Yoga is skill in actions."
"Yoga is balance (samatva)."
"Yoga is known as the disconnection (viyoga) of the connection (samyoga) with suffering."

"Yoga is the control of the whirls of the mind."

"Yoga is ecstasy (samâdhi)."

"Yoga is said to be the oneness of breath, mind, and senses, and the abandonment of all states of existence."

"Yoga is the union of the individual psyche (jîva-âtman) with the transcendental Self (parama-âtman)."

"Yoga is the unification of the web of dualities (dvandva-jâla)."

"Yoga is said to be control."

"Yoga is the separation (viyoga) of the Self from the earthly (prakriti)."

"Yoga is said to be the unity of exhalation and inhalation and of blood and semen, as well as the union of sun and moon and of the individual psyche with the transcendental Self."

"This they consider Yoga: the steady holding of the senses."

If you're serious about Yoga, and want to attain the highest levels of strength, relaxation and flexibility and want to take it to a 'spiritual' level, here are the steps you've got to cross one by one.

1. Yama and Niyama

The first tenet of yoga is daily practice till the ethics become a part of life. One has to believe and pursue a categorized course of training from anuvrata to mahavrata and subject oneself to a series of lessons in positive and negative principles, the observances (niyama) and the restraints (yama).

2. Asana and Pranayama

Postural training or the various physical exercises form a part of Hathayoga, which is essential to first enable one to keep fit, if s/he is not. These body-control instructions should be followed methodically and meticulously. The next part of Hathayoga is the respiratory control. The life-sustaining bio-energy can be regulated to attain a kind of immunity from natural elements only if one is able to acquire a mastery over his breath.

3. Pratyahara

It is a technique of abstraction or dissociation of the mind from sensory fetters by controlling the senses both external (bahiranga) and internal (antaranga) thereby bridging the hiatus between the body and the mind. The process involves relaxation, centralization, visualization and introversion.

4. Dharana and Dhyana 

This method starts with concentration and progresses to a ceaseless flow of meditation or dhyana. The mind is withdrawn within and an effort is made towards an achievement of a pure body and mind, the ultimate goal being Kaivalya or the consciousness absolute.

5. Samadhi

This is the final stage of yoga when a person attains trance-consciousness. He remains motionless and there is a momentary suspension of the life force. Samadhi is a moment of perpetual bliss and eternal peace when one is laid to rest in both body and mind and "can see into the life of things".

5 Habits of a Yogi

According to Swami Vishnudevananda, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking are the five points that can help you reap the benefits of Yoga to the fullest.

Scientists today ascertain that the intrinsic organic health of a human being is of prime importance along with the outer development of the body. This was realized thousands of years ago by the ancient Indian yogis. The practice of yoga has a substantial foundation in science. Yogic  accelerate blood circulation in the body and Pranayama abates carbon dioxide content ensuring sound health. Yoga provides all-round benefits to a human being:

To maintain the purity of blood and elimination of toxins, both outer and inner cleanliness is indispensable. Scientists prescribe sun-bath, steam-bath, shower-bath, air-bath and to this the yogis include the nasal cleansing (neti), stomach wash (dhouti), the depuration of the alimentary canal (basti), the purgation of the intestines, the bladder, and the sexual organs (vajroli).

Yoga exercises have a strengthening effect on the nervous system through its non-tiring physiological activities that bring about poise of body and mind. Unlike the normal workouts that concentrate more on the inflation of the muscles, Yoga takes care of every little part of the anatomy.

Yoga is much more than "a new-found ability to touch your toes." Asanas have an all-pervading effect on the physical and mental functioning of the body:

  • Physical - Through healing, strengthening, stretching and relaxing the skeletal, muscular, digestive, cardio-vascular, glandular and nervous systems.
  • Mental - Through the cultivation of a quiet and a peaceful mind, alertness and concentration.
  • Spiritual - By preparing for meditation.
  1. The time most suitable for Yoga is in the morning before breakfast when the mind is calm and fresh and the movements can be done with ease and vitality.
  2. The most important things you'll need to get started - as they say - are a big heart and a small ego.
  3. A person must seek a place of quietude, which is well ventilated, free from dust, insects, unpleasant smell, draught, and moisture. There should be no distraction whatsoever.
  4. You must empty your bowels and bladder, clean your nostrils and throat of all mucus, consume a glass of lukewarm water and then begin the exercises after 15 minutes.
  5. Always remember that you should begin with the easy postures and then proceed to the difficult ones. One must follow the graded steps of Yoga.
  6. In the beginning, all movements should be practiced lightly and you must cease to go further if fatigue shows.
  7. Yoga must pep up and not impart weariness and despondency.
  8. Periods of relaxation are advisable if a particular exercise proves to be tiring.
  9. Yoga trainers recommend a balanced diet (sattwik). There should be an interval of 4 hours between meals.
  1. The ratio for the composition of meals should be: Grains and cereals 30% of the calorific value; dairy products 20%; vegetables and roots 25; fruits and honey 20%; nuts remaining 5%
  2. Regarding the quantity of food, it should be moderate (mitahara), only that which satisfies one's appetite.
  3. One should avoid overeating, fasting or eating once a day. Stale or non-nutritious food, you know, is harmful.
  4. The clothing should be loose and as scanty as possible, because maximum amount of the skin should be exposed to air.
  5. Form-fitting cotton/Lycra pants and shirts are the best.
  6. The breathing should be long and deep. The mouth should be closed and inhale and exhale only through the nose.
  7. Always take a mat of  or hay for sitting postures.
  8. For lying postures use a woolen carpet, and spread a clean sheet over it.
  9. You can check out some other commercial Yoga accessories, like Yoga belt, foam blocks, Yoga pillows and rubber mats.