We have heard of Yoga for ages, and nowadays it has become even familiar. But what comes into your mind when you first think of Yoga? Well, the answer is exercise and physical fitness. According to most of us here, Yoga is just a practice, with the help of which we can maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising and keeping ourselves fit. But it is not so. Yoga is much more than just exercise and fitness. It is so vast that a single definition would never be able to explain its importance. So for this purpose, we are here to teach Yoga and benefits of Yoga for overall health. Read on to know in deep about Yoga.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga is an ancient science and a body of knowledge. The Sanskrit word “YUJ” derived the word ‘Yoga.’ The meaning of this word is “to unite or to integrate.” So you can define Yoga as the science of combining a person’s consciousness with that of the whole universe. Now let’s discuss how this balancing and union is possible.
In ancient times, there was a belief that to bring harmony between the man himself and his environment; it is important to unite the mind, body, and soul. And to combine these three, one needed to have control over his emotions, actions, and intelligence and keep them all in balance. So the yogis of ancient times came up with the three primary structures of Yoga, namely; Exercise, Breathing, and Meditation.
We all know that the most important thing in a man’s life is his body which is essential to keep him working and growing. Therefore Yoga asks us to take care of the body and also respect it by the medium of exercise which is the first structure of Yoga. With the help of Yoga exercises, a man can keep up a better health as exercise improves blood circulation, lays pressure the glandular system and also stimulates the abdominal organs.
Next structure is Breathing. We all know the importance of breathing in our lives. Breathing keeps us alive, and it is the source of life. Yoga helps people gain control over their breathing with the aid of which they can prepare their minds for Meditation. Also, control over your breath can help you control your body activities also. It is said that in Mahabharata, Bhishma Pitamah could live for so many years even after being injured because he had an excellent control over his breath and therefore he was also considered one of the best yogis of that time.
Meditation, being the third structure of Yoga helps people to keep a calm and quiet mind. It does not make your mind go blank instead brings your thoughts and activities of your mind into focus. All in all these three structures of Yoga help us in keeping body awareness and relieving our minds from stress. This practice also leads to a better focus on whatever work we do.
HISTORY of Yoga
Yoga has a very long and rich history. It can be categorized into four main heads:
1. Pre-classical yoga
2. Classical yoga
3. Post-classical yoga
4. Modern period yoga
These four are as follows:
1. Pre-classical yoga:
Yoga began in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India some 5000 years ago. It is said that for the first time, Rig Veda used the word Yoga in it. The Vedas were used by the Brahmans and the Vedic priests. Brahmans and Rishis slowly developed the concept of Yoga and wrote the refined documentation of their practices in the Upanishads which are a vast collection of scriptures. The Bhagwad Geeta is considered to be the most common of all the Yogic scriptures. The Upanishads brought forward the concept of sacrificing ego through Karma Yoga (action), self-knowledge and Jnana yoga(wisdom).
2. Classical yoga:
The classical period of Yoga brought forward an organized presentation of Yoga through the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is believed that the Yoga performance of the pre-classical time was contradicting in many cases and also unorganized; therefore the classical time came up with these Sutras. It was written somewhere in the second century and laid emphasis on Raja yoga. Patanjali defined eight-limbed paths or steps of yoga which would lead to the attainment of enlightenment. He is therefore considered the father of Yoga and his methods are still followed strongly in the modern era.
3. Post-classical yoga:
This phase laid the primary emphasis on the physical body rather than any Vedas. The Yoga masters introduced Tantra Yoga which used methods to cleanse our body and mind to break its bond with its physical existence. These body-centered practices lead to the formation of Hatha Yoga.
4. Modern period yoga:
The modern period of Yoga started with the lectures on Yoga and universality of religions of the world given by Swami Vivekanand in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in the year 1893. Then came the promotion of Hatha Yoga in the 1920s and 30s with the work of Swami Shivanand, T Krishnamacharya and many other Yogis who were practicing Hatha Yoga. In 1924 the first Hatha Yoga school was opened in Mysore by T Krishnamacharya, and in 1936 the Divine Life Society was found on the banks of river Ganga by Swami Sivananda. Three students of T Krishnamacharya namely; T.K.V Desikachar, B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois continued to promote Hatha Yoga. Sivananda, with his over 200 books on Yoga and nine ashrams and various Yoga centers, continued to promote Hatha Yoga.
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BRANCHES OF YOGA:
There are mainly six branches of yoga which are as below:
1. HATHA YOGA- The Yoga of Postures:
This branch is the most common of all the branches. The base of Hatha yoga are the physical poses(asanas), breathing techniques(pranayama) and meditation. This yoga helps you in maintaining a healthy body and a peaceful mind.
2. BHAKTI YOGA- The Yoga of Devotion:
Bhakti yoga is practiced by devotion and by accepting everything with love. The people who practice this yoga always see the divine in everything and everyone they meet.
3. RAJA YOGA- The Yoga of Self-control:
In this branch of yoga, love and respect for one’s self are emphasized. It follows the eight limbs of yoga or the yoga sutras and is mainly practiced for learning discipline in life.
4. JNANA YOGA-The Yoga of the Mind:
The primary focus of this branch is the mind and a man’s intelligence. The Jnana Yoga practitioners are open to the beliefs and philosophies of others. And this is because according to them only an open mind can help them gain knowledge and assist them to know their soul better.
5. KARMA YOGA- The Yoga of Service:
This branch of yoga believes that your present action decides your situation in future and hence emphasizes on practicing good deeds to lead a future life free from all the selfishness and negativity.
6. TANTRA YOGA- The Yoga of Rituals:
This yoga branch finds a sacred cause in everything we do. It emphasizes on rituals. Its practitioners must be truthful, pure, dedicated and devoted towards their guru.
BENEFITS OF YOGA:
There are several benefits of yoga, and all of them are difficult to be listed. But to talk in general the following are some of the benefits of practicing yoga
• Yoga helps in improving the flexibility of your body. Through your journey of yoga practice, you will notice the gradual loosening of your body, and you will be able to perform Asanas/Postures which in the first attempt felt impossible.
• Yoga offers you strength along with flexibility which gym exercises may not provide. Practicing yoga regularly, strengthen your muscles and prevent you from many problems like arthritis, back pain or joint pains, etc.
• Yoga helps in maintaining a perfect body posture contributes to preventing all the problems caused by a bad posture.
• It improves the circulation of blood which in turn increases the supply of oxygen to various cells. As a result, the cells become healthy and helps you to maintain a healthy life.
• It helps boost your immunity by increased drainage of the lymph.
• Yoga lets you lead a happier, stress-free life by keeping you relaxed and calm. It also increases your concentration power.
The above mentioned are some common benefits of yoga, but we can also categorize them under three heads:
1. Physical benefits
2. Mental benefits
3. Spiritual benefits
Let’s see the benefits included under all the three heads individually.
1. Physical Benefits of Yoga:
The physical benefits of Yoga help maintain a healthy body, and they can be listed as follows:
• Yoga helps in improving the balance, coordination, and posture of the body. It also helps in increasing body awareness.
• Practicing yoga lengthens and stretches body muscles and soft tissues like tendons, ligaments and the fascia sheath which surrounds the muscles.
• Yoga prevents accumulation of lactic acid and hence prevents stiffness and soreness of muscles and fatigue.
• Yoga helps in toning the muscles and increases the flexibility of the body.
• The lung capacity increases as we go deep and fuller breathing in yoga and this, as a result, improve respiration.
• Improves the blood circulation in the body, maintains the blood pressure levels and manages stress by lowering the adrenaline, cortisol and catecholamines levels.
• Helps in weight loss and prevents you from problems like asthma, cholesterol and controls the pulse rate.
• Detoxifies the whole body, increases immunity, decreases the chances of insomnia and also maintains a balanced metabolism.
• Regular Yoga practice improves lymphatic functioning and massages internal organs.
• Yoga practice reduces Sodium levels in the body and increases red blood cells. It also helps in decreasing Cellular Aging.
• Helps fighting diabetes by lowering the levels of blood glucose.
• Yoga helps resolve menstrual problems and pregnancy issues in ladies.
2. Mental Benefits of Yoga:
Mentally Yoga helps us in the following ways:
• It keeps our mind relaxed and stress-free.
• Provides a better mindfulness and promotes appreciation of the present moment.
• Increases self-confidence, self-awareness, self-discipline and positive feeling in oneself.
• Helps balance mood swings and enhances the sense of contentment.
• Helps you to control your thoughts and feelings in a better way and hence leads to mental clarity.
• It improves creativity and imagination power.
• Yoga helps you spend time with yourself which is one of the essential things needed in a person’s life.
• Yoga increases your willpower, mental strength and improves neuropsychiatric disorders like ADHD and schizophrenia.
• Help fight depression and anxiety and improve learning efficiency.
• Improvement in conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder has been witnessed as a result of practicing yoga regularly.
• Improves your relationship with others and with yourself by keeping your mind and body in balance with each other.
3. Spiritual Benefits of Yoga:
Spiritual Yoga benefits are as below:
• There are some energy centers in our body practicing yoga stimulates those power stations.
• Yoga gives you a sense of fulfillment in whatever you do.
• Helps you be in tune with your inner consciousness and helps you discover the purpose or meaning of life.
• Helps you connect better with nature, divinity or God.
• Practicing yoga also increases your ability to look at the positive experiences in your daily life and hence increases your connection with the world and others.
• Makes you more compassionate towards everything you experience.
Above mentioned are just a few benefits of yoga, but the list can go on and on. Age does restrict Yoga practice. Since birth, all of us connect to Yoga in some or the other way. Yoga is for everyone irrespective of age, gender, and physical conditions. It lets you know your body better and helps you maintain a balance between your mind, soul, and body. So in the end, we can only say that yoga is one of the best habits which you can include in your life to make it much better than what is it at present.
If you are planning to join yoga courses in future to deepen your practice to avail all the benefits of yoga or teach yoga to share your knowledge you can join Yoga teacher training in Goa at Ek Omkar Yoga Center.