Yoga, in its entirety, is a complete way of life. This 5,000 to 10,000-year-old discipline is a collection of teachings handed down through the ages, a means to connect mind, body, and spirit through proper breathing, meditation, and mindful, focused postures. The full practice of yoga is concerned with all aspects of living: the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the individual and his/her relationship to the Earth and fellow creatures. It provides principles to live by and a means to reach self-actualization and enlightenment.
There are four major paths to yoga:
- Bhakti Yoga—the path of devotion
- Jnana Yoga – the path of rational inquiry
- Raja Yoga – the path of mental concentration
- Karma Yoga – the path of right action
It is believed that all yoga paths lead to spiritual enlightenment.
Around the second century, Patanjali sought to define and standardize yoga. He outlined the underlying principles of Raja yoga, which are now known as Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga or the Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga.
Reading much like commandments, the first two limbs are concerned with the do’s and don’ts of everyday life—basically morality and proper living.
First Limb: Restraints (The 5 Yamas)
- These are the things you are to refrain from doing—“the don’ts.”
- Do Not Be Violent (Ashama) Treat yourself and all other creatures with respect and kindness. Learn to love yourself.
- Do not be Untruthful (Satya) Live a truthful life, but if the truth can harm others, keep silent.
- Do Not Steal (Asteya) Do not take anything that is not yours, including the ideas of others. Do not abuse your power or confidences.
- Do Not Lust (Bramacharya) Gain control of the senses and practice moderation in all things, especially sexuality.
- Do Not Be Possessive—Do Not Covet (Aparigraha) Don’t be greedy or exploitive.
Sun Salutations Instructions
- Begin by standing in Mountain pose, feet about hip width apart, hands either by your sides or in prayer position. Take several deep breaths.
- On your next inhale, in one sweeping movement, raise your arms up overhead and gently arch back as far as feels comfortable and safe.
- As you exhale, bend forward, bending the knees if necessary, and bring your hands to rest beside your feet.Inhale and step the right leg back.
- Exhale and step the left leg back into plank position. Hold the position and inhale.
- Exhale and lower yourself as if coming down from a pushup. Only your hands and feet should touch the floor.
- Inhale and stretch forward and up, bending at the waist. Use your arms to lift your torso.Lift your legs up so that only the tops of your feet and your hands touch the floor. It’s okay to keep your arms bent at the elbow.
- Exhale, lift from the hips and push back and up.
- Inhale and step the right foot forward.
- Exhale, bring the left foot forward and step into head-to-knee position.
- Inhale and rise slowly while keeping arms extended.
- Exhale, and in a slow, sweeping motion, lower your arms to the sides. End by bringing your hands up into prayer position. Repeat the sequence, stepping with the left leg.
Second Limb: How to Treat Yourself (5 Niyamas)
These are the observances—”the do’s.”
- Be Pure (Sauca) Internal and external cleanliness is achieved by cleansing and detoxifying the body, yoga breathing, yoga exercises, and meditation. Your surroundings, your mind, and your body should all be clean and uncluttered.
- Be Content (Santosha) Practice humility. Be content with who you are and what you have.
- Be Disciplined (Tapas) Practice discipline of the body and the mind.
- Study (Svadhyaya) Study the sacred texts and one’s self. The more you know yourself, the deeper your connection with the higher power.
- Live with an Awareness of the Divine. (Ishwara Pranidhana) Let go and connect to the Divine or surrender to God’s will.
- The third and forth limbs combine to form Hatha Yoga, the practice of breathing and exercises that comes to mind when most of us hear the word yoga.
Third Limb: Physical Poses or Postures (Asanas)
These are the exercises most of us think of when we hear the word yoga. These exercises are designed to give us strength, balance, and control of our bodies; to improve circulation, oxygenation, and flexibility; and to relax and rejuvenate us. Postures are to be done gently, with focus and concentration to bring our mind and body into harmonious union.
Fourth Limb: Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)
Through proper breathing the body receives more oxygen and wastes are eliminated. In fact 60% of toxins released from the body are exhausted through the lungs. In traditional martial arts and meditation, breathing is taught before anything else. Breathing is emphasized and considered to be one of the most important skills you can learn. Through yoga breathing exercises, the body and mind are strengthened and you become calmer and more focused.
Breathe through your nose and fill the lower part of your lungs. Instead of your chest expanding as it does with a shallow breath, your abdomen expands. Watch a baby breathe. This is a natural breath.
Practice breathing every day, all day. In time, proper breathing will become second nature. You will have greater reserves when you exert yourself. Your stress will be reduced. Every cell in your body will benefit from higher oxygen levels and increased elimination of wastes and toxins.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh limbs are dedicated to an escalating mastery of meditation. Each is dependent on mastery of the limb preceding it.
Fifth Limb: Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)
This may occur through breathing, meditation, or exercises, but it refers to the ability to withdraw your senses to the
point they no longer distract you.
Sixth Limb: Concentration (Dharana)
Concentration is honed to focus on one object, one point, one image, at a time.
Seventh Limb: Meditation (Dhyana)
This is uninterrupted meditation when objects are no longer needed to focus the mind.
Eighth Limb: Enlightenment (Samadhi)
The eighth limb is achieved through mastery of the other seven. The eighth limb is the ultimate goal.
All of the other 8 limbs work and nothing blocks you from oneness with the Divine. This is the definitive level or awareness and peace.
It is estimated that eighty-five percent of westerners who practice yoga limit their involvement to Hatha yoga, the combination of breathing techniques and postures or exercises. You don’t have to stand on your head or twist like a pretzel to practice Hatha yoga. You can find books, Internet sites, and teachers to aid you regardless of your age, weight, disability or physical condition. Check out your local library. Chances are you’ll find at least a dozen books on yoga. Look for those that target your needs.
Dress comfortably in loose clothing and take off your shoes and socks. Give yourself plenty of room and a quiet atmosphere. Start with a few simple exercises, but follow directions carefully. Even the simplest exercises gently stretch your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, increase blood flow to all parts of the body, including your organs, and increase your flexibility and range of motion.
All postures involve three equally important actions:
- Gently stretch into the posture
- Hold the posture
- Ease out of the posture
Focus your concentration on your form and on correct breathing. Never force or push. Do not bounce. Maintain slow, easy, fluid motion. Empty your mind of everything except your breath and your form.
Every yoga exercise, or every set of exercises, includes equal and opposing movement. For instance, neck rolls to the left are followed by neck rolls to the right. Forward stretches are followed by stretching back, either as a part of the same exercise or as the following exercise. This is an important element to remember if you are practicing without a teacher. Watch for this pattern in your instructions.
Through regular practice you will achieve both physical and mental benefits.
The Seven Chakras
|Crown Shakra(Sahasrara)||Pineal||Top of Head||Knowingness-the right to aspire (spirituality and the divine)|
|Brow Chakra(Anja)||Pituitary||Forehead between eyes(Third eye)||Intuition- the right to “see” (insight and psychic ability)|
|Throat(Visuddha)||Thyroid||Throat||Relationships- the right to speak (truthful expression)|
|Heart Chakra(Anahata)||Heart||Center of chest||Relationships- the right to love (acceptance, forgiveness, self-control)|
|Solar Plexus Chakra Manipura)||Pancreas||Solar Plexus||Personal Power- the right to think (balance of the ego, the intellect, and self confidence)|
|Spleen Chakra (Manipura)||Gonads or ovaries||Lower abdomen||Feelings- the right to feel (senses, feelings, intimacy)|
|Root or Base Chakra (Muladhara)||Adrenal||Base of the spine||Survival- the right to exist (the material and physical world)|
Yoga tells us seven major chakras run in a line from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Each is a spinning vortex or wheel of energy first connected to the major organs and glands and then to other parts of the body that resonate at the same vibration. Each chakra is associated with a color, and in addition to the physical connection, each is connected to us on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.
The goal is to have all of our chakras clear and unblocked. If a chakra is underactive, other chakras may compensate by becoming overactive, so balance between the chakras is also important. Chakras are said to take in the energy of our environment—all kinds of energy—including sound waves and light waves, and they emit energy as well.
Chakras are affected by our environment, our diet, and the people who surround us. Meditation and Hatha yoga help to clear and balance chakras. But there are also specific means to target the chakras and release bound up or blocked energy such as chanting and/or utilizing sacred hand positions (mudras) while meditating.
Kundalini yoga is a discipline that focuses on spiritual growth through awakening the life force lying dormant in the chakras. This yoga practice is said to be so powerful it is not to be undertaken without a teacher.
Yoga for the Hands (Mudras)
Throughout the ages, mankind has used hand gestures to communicate and to record history. We find some of these gestures to be universal, such as clapping our hands in approval or holding our palms together in prayer.
In Eastern cultures many hand gestures are used in traditional dance as well as during the practice of yoga. Mudras are believed to have restorative or healing properties when used in conjunction with meditation, focused concentration, and proper breathing.
Mudras redirect or activate energy flowing through the body and stimulate targeted body systems, organs, emotions, etc. Mundras are also used in conjunction with meditation and chanting to open the chakras.
Check out this site for more info on Mudras.
To see images and instructions for a wide range of poses check out YogaJournal.com.
You can practice breathing exercises to calm and rejuvenate your body. You can concentrate on chakra work to awaken your dormant energy. You can learn mudras which can be unobtrusively practiced anywhere. (In stressful situations you can even practice mudras with your hands in your pockets!) Yoga offers something for everyone, from simple stretching and breathing exercises, to a lifelong pathway to spiritual enlightenment. Every journey begins with the first step. Namasté.