Hatha yoga is an ancient hindu system of working with the human nervous system. Because it releases tension and endows one with renewed energy, far too many 20th century people, yoga teachers included, have come to look upon the venerable Indian physical science as solely an exercise for health and vitality of mind and body. It is that, but it is also much more. Hatha yoga practices are more spiritual than physical, more subtle than gross, more a means of understanding than an exotic way to relieve stress or limber up the body.
The sages who developed hatha yoga designed it as a way to gain conscious control of our life energies, a way to go within, to harmonize the external so the innermost Self could be encountered. To them, it was about states of consciousness, about living a divine life, and it was a preparation for meditation.
As you perform the asanas, concentrate on feeling the energies within the nerve currents. Sensitize yourself to knowing when the body has been in each position long enough to tune the nerve currents involved. Then shift smoothly into the next asana. It’s like a dance, a deliberate, fluid dance. During all postures, inhale using the diaphragm, not the chest muscles. Do not stretch unduly or force the body. Relax into the poses. Don’t worry if you can’t perform them all perfectly. In time, you will find the body becoming more flexible and supple. Free the mind of thoughts and tensions. You will be more aware, more alive, more serene.
While there are many more complex hatha yoga routines, these twenty-four asanas provide a balanced system for daily use. For the simple purpose of quieting the mind in preparation for meditation, this is all you will ever need. For best results, hatha yoga should be taught personally by a qualified teacher. These instructions and drawings are meant only as a rudimentary aid. For more elaborate regimens, inquire at a recognized school specializing in hatha yoga.
The scene of hatha yoga has a spiritual purpose – to balance physical and physic energies in preparation for meditation. It is not only meant to make us young, beautiful or creative, but to aid us in quieting the mind, body and emotions that we may awaken enlightened consciousness & know the Self within.
There are actually several branches of yoga, including bhakti, the yoga of devotion, and jnana, the yoga of knowledge. The most widely practiced branch in the US, the one typically offered at gyms and exercise studios, is hatha yoga, which is physical yoga. But there also are different styles of hatha yoga, from the exercise-intense power yoga to the gentle chair poses used in svaroopa yoga.
Many of the instructors offer integral yoga, which involves stretching and bending into various positions called asanas, as well as breathing exercises and deep relaxation. By practicing and learning asanas, students can gain flexibility, strength, stamina and improved circulation.
Integral yoga is not religious, but it does offer an introspective, spiritual component that you won’t find in most exercise programs.
A typical adult class lasts 1 hour. First, the students center themselves through breathing, then come together as a group with a collective om. They do a quick series of cardiovascular movements, an hour of stretching and 20 minutes of relaxation while lying on their backs.
The relaxation period gives students a chance to turn inward. Some people are making lists in their head. Some people are asleep. Some people are just in a really great space, where they’re conscious of what’s going on in the room, and yet at the same time, completely and unequivocally out.
Yoga began in India 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and means, to join or integrate, or simply union. Yoga started, as far as we know, as part of India’s philosophical system, but not everyone practiced yoga, and it has never been a religion.
About 5 million people in the United States do some yoga. Dance and stretching exercise classes usually have parts and pieces that come directly from yoga. If you ever go to a physical therapist, he or she may give you therapeutic exercises that are yoga postures.
There are several types of yoga. The yoga you may have seen on TV or taught at your local Y or an adult education class is called hatha yoga, or physical yoga. Sometimes it’s known as the yoga for health. You may also find yoga being taught in a hospital or medical setting. Many health professionals today feel yoga can be part of a treatment plan.
Hatha yoga has three parts: a series of exercises or movements called asana (poses or postures in English), breathing techniques of all kinds, and relaxation.
It increases muscular strength. It reduces tension and stress. It has a low potential for injury, and it doesn’t even look like exercise.
Why, then, don’t more people practice yoga.
People think of yoga as being passive and mystical – an otherworldly activity that doesn’t relate to their lives. People are experiencing a vacuum because of all the outward directed activity, and they are going to have to go back to the experience of self.
Although the Indian discipline of yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, in this country there are few followers. Almost half the American adult population swims and close to a quarter runs or jogs, yet only 2 percent practices yoga.
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to yoke or connect. Through yoga’s various techniques, one is said to arrive at mental and physical equilibrium, better health and inner peace. It has been described as providing, in effect, a ”work-in” rather than a workout.
There are at least eight main branches of yoga and several offshoots of each, but essentially there are only two concerned with exercise: hatha yoga and kundalini yoga.
Hatha is the most popular type of yoga in the Western world. It is a slow-paced discipline that emphasizes controlled breathing and assuming various physical poses. It is said to aid the nervous system, the glands and the vital organs.
Kundalini, which was introduced to this country in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan, is more active, combining various modes of breathing, movement and meditation. It is based on the idea that body energy that is coiled below the base of the spine can be tapped so that it travels upward through different energy centers or chakras until it reaches the head. At this point one arrives at one’s highest potential.
Classically, there are 84 basic yoga positions, or asanas, which are coordinated with special breathing techniques. The asanas range from simple bends and twists to pretzel-like contortions reserved for the most advanced practitioners. The various poses elongate the muscles and build flexibility. Along with the proper breathing, they help rid the body of tension. Static holds isolate and strengthen particular muscles.
Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound, and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind.
Many computer users around the world face the problem of back pain. Having your back against the wall usually means you’re in trouble. But for certain yoga positions, having your back firmly against a wall will aid health.
In Hatha Yoga, the practitioner forms what Swami Gitananda calls body geometry–triangles, straight lines, circles and parallel lines. When you do a posture, always stretch your body to its utmost limit and then hold it there for a slow count of 10, gradually building up the time, until each posture can be maintained for 30 seconds. Holding a posture is essential to yoga because it gives the body a chance to settle into the stretch and loosen up. Then each time you stretch it will be just that little bit farther.
Many of the sideways, or lateral, stretches in Hatha Yoga require that the body face forward, with hips level and back and spine tilting neither forward nor back. Beginners tend to lean forward to increase the stretch. But leaning forward is wrong and will actually detract from benefits and possibly cause harm. To perform these stretches properly, make sure to keep your spine firmly against a wall. The wall acts as a prop. Even those who have practiced yoga may find that they cannot bend as far as they thought they could when they do the postures properly. The extra time spent in forming careful postures will pay off: Your body will gain excellent flexibility and strength.
Yoga is a 3,000-year-old, Hindu discipline of mind and body that became known in Western society with the hippie generation of the Sixties and early Seventies. Its image as a mystic practice is disappearing as fast as the stressful aspects of the Eighties are appearing.
As an effective method of stress management, yoga is spreading into the business world, the helping professions, nursing and old age homes, and is used in the treatment of alcoholics, hyperactive children and youngsters with learning disabilities. Yoga centers are getting stiff competition from adult education classes of community colleges, boards of education and parks and recreation departments.
The meaning of yoga is union of the body, mind and spirit with truth. There are many kinds of yoga to study, and there can be endless years of practice for the willing student.
Hatha Yoga is among the most popular forms in the west. It emphasizes the practice of postures, which stretch and strengthen the body, help develop a sense of balance and flexibility, as well as body awareness and mental concentration. All forms of yoga incorporate the practice of proper breathing techniques for relaxation, to rest the mind from its constant chatter, to experience an internal calm, and to energize and purify the body.
As stress levels in society reach new heights, Raja Yoga, the yoga of meditation, is growing in popularity in Western society, while others, such as Krya Yoga, the yoga of cleansing, and Mantra Yoga, the yoga of chanting, not surprisingly, have little appeal for newcomers.
Stretching and toning, though beneficial, aren’t the primary reasons people turn to yoga. Newcomers are hoping that yoga will provide them with a means for handling stress and diffusing tension. The difference between exercise and yoga is that yoga has a meditative quality.
A lot of people are exercising for the psychological benefits and trying many of the Eastern activities, like yoga and tai chi. Yoga seems to have a calming effect on people.
And the techniques work on children as well as adults. When your children are quarreling, ask them to stop what they’re doing, raise their arms over their heads, lean forward and breathe deeply to help diffuse their anger. It definitely helps them to cool it.