Welcome to this beginner’s guide to yoga, information that will demonstrate what yoga practice is all about. In this short series, you’ll learn about:
- The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Yoga (Part 1)
- How Yoga Contributes to Weight Loss (Part 2)
- The True Meaning of Yoga (Part 3)
- Yoga and Nutrition (Part 4)
Whether we realize it or not, and no matter what religious beliefs we each hold, when we begin the yoga journey, we are embarking on a deeply spiritual inner journey that will bring about a subtle transformation of our attitudes towards ourselves and to others. In transforming our attitudes, so we transform our health. Yoga is a discipline that recognizes the interconnection between the inner world of the individual and the outer world that we live in. It recognizes that the body is an expression of who we are, what we believe and how we process our thoughts and feelings.
The discipline of yoga arose from the higher understanding of the ancient Rishis (spiritually-realized men and women of India) that the secrets of every individual soul is embedded in the DNA of our bodies. They knew that sometimes these secrets were hidden even from ourselves, passed down, perhaps, through family heritage or even past lives (depending on how one looks at it). The Rishis realized that our illnesses, disease and our various degrees of mental and physical health are a direct result of our relationship with the world, and of our relationship to God (whatever we believe, or don’t believe God to be).
The Rishis recognized that the ‘distinction’ between the human form and the universe ‘beyond’ only really exists in our imagination. In reality, there is NO distinction whatsoever. We belong to the universe (that is, we are not technically IN it). We are a part of it. It exists within us and we exist within it. We breathe in the world, and it breathes us in. It feeds us, and we feed it. And so it goes on – we serve each other in ways that we recognize, and in ways that we cannot even imagine. When we truly begin to observe life at its deepest level (and we only begin to do this as we practice yoga diligently) we see the truth in the Rishis deeper observations.
The Source of Illness and the Purpose of the Asanas
The Rishis understood that the source of our fears and diseases lies in our sense of separation, that sense that distinguishes between ‘I’ and ‘You’ or ‘I’ and ‘The World’. We feel alone and alienated and harbour deep fears for our human survival. These fears play out in many different ways within our relationships with each other – at home, in the social and community spheres, and at work. But when we stop expressing our fears and refrain from working with them, or when they become an institutional norm, so we bury this energy deep within the human structures of DNA and the physical body. Energy, it must be remembered, never dies. Trapped within the cellular structures of the human body, it begins to wreak havoc.
The yoga asanas were designed by the ancient Rishis with the ultimate goal of returning the yoga practitioner to a state of supreme grace; that is, to a state of union with the universe. The word ‘yoga’ literally means ‘union’ and in this context, ‘union with the universe’ refers to
- the union of the body with the mind,
- the union of the mind with its environment (people, surroundings and outer universe), and
- the union of the self with God (generally recognized as a supreme form of Self).
In yoga practice, practitioners generally move through these stages of realization, though union does not necessarily occur a linear way.
Each asana has the definitive purpose of unlocking pockets of energy that lie trapped within the body. The functioning of ALL the different parts of the body is impacted by this trapped energy. Sometimes it is easy to spot in people; they might have stiff limbs and find it hard to move about in a flexible way. Most certainly, the state of our muscles and organs will always reflect what we believe at the deepest levels of the mind. Other times, the energy will present itself as physical disease in a specific part of body, or as a mental illness in the emotional body. The location of disease, physical or mental, will always point to the beliefs a person holds about themselves, the world and the concept of God.
Yoga asanas, practiced over time, through their particular stretches and holds, help to release this energy. As this release takes place, practitioners eventually come to understand themselves, others and the world in a different way. Their concept of God takes on a new dimension that is unique only to them, and a sense of peace and stillness settles into the soul. On a physical level, the body returns to a state of health; it becomes toned and flexible and functions at optimum levels for your age.
Go to Part 4 to explore the area of Yoga and Nutrition