Yoga: Is it all about stretching? Or Does it have a deeper meaning?21 min read

“We are not worshipping anyone or anything, we are simply communing with creation.”

– Paulo Coelho

 

As conspicuous as gyms and workouts seem to be, the process of actualising weight loss, achieving body fitness & other fitness gimmicks are quite farfetched. And this inherent desire to be fit, healthy and able-bodied comes from the fact that as humans we are more inclined to indulge in activities that grant us opportunities and chances to escape from the nagging cycle of daily work. Such fitness pursuits are a sort of refuge from the cul-de-sac of a 24-hour work day.

 

 

Ravi Raman in an article about The Freedom Formula speaks about how societal & industrial progress have lessened our freedom & are unconsciously making us materialistic. He quite rightly pens it down saying, “We are attached to our smartphones not liberated by them. We are obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder not freed by the income it yields. We are bound by material possessions not uplifted by their utility and beauty.”

We are born free, that’s what every Yogi you meet will teach you first & then he’ll make you realise how one can lead a life of simplicity. This is easier said than done, for we’ve become so attached to flimsy goodies of this modern era that we are constantly trying to improve upon an already stable state of mind and body.

 

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.”

– Seneca

 

An individual is much more than his thoughts, his struggles and his pains. And regardless of the circumstances we have the potential to gain immediate freedom through the understanding of the sole caveat that freedom is a way of being & a state of mind, it’s not an entity in the stock market, nor a perishable good; remember that, write that down and you’ll live & breathe freedom.

And through all of these instances of personal pursuits and endless goals, we arrive at the gilded, polished & somewhat a gateway of heavenly bearing called Yoga. The word Yoga means to connect, unite or yoke. The thing we look to connect to is the true Self, also known as the ‘divine essence’, ‘ultimate self’, or atman. You might also think of this as the soul. If that way of thinking doesn’t resonate with you, then consider that the word yoga can also mean separation or disentanglement. The thing we’re disentangling from is whatever stops us from feeling free, as the ultimate goal of any yoga practice is to attain moksha, meaning liberation or freedom.

 

“So how does one go about attaining freedom? Does it come at the cost of an expensive pair of yoga pants? Can you reach it by signing up to a detox retreat or finally touching your toes? Probably not.”

– Emma Newlyn

 

Why Yoga?

Remember from the get go that usually when everything in life is how you need it to be, you’ll seek out yoga to attain inner peace, to attain the next level of bliss and ecstasy. This is somewhat on a very deeper level, making it stand apart from material & momentary happiness. Do not confuse yoga with achievement of goals, or in dealing with frustrations, they are poles apart.

 

“You cross this line. Do you find it hard to say it with me tonight. I’ve walked these miles but I’ve walked in straight line. You’ll never know what was there to be fine.”

– London Grammar, Wasting My Young Years

 

What’s the true essence of Yoga?

Maharishi Patanjali’s eight-fold path to liberation as he mentions in context of the Yoga Sutras are more popularly known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or the ‘8 Limbs of Yoga. These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature. They are – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.

 

“There’s just one catch though – Samadhi isn’t a permanent state. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras importantly tell us that unless we are completely ready, without ‘impressions’ such as attachment, aversion, desires and habits, and with a completely pure mind, we will not be able to maintain the state of Samadhi for long.”

– Emma Newlyn

 

 

Traditional Yoga – Branches of Yoga

Traditional Yoga was often referred to as a tree, a living entity with roots, a trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruit. They were Hatha yoga, Raja yoga, Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Tantra yoga(Should rightfully be the Yoga for this age & generation). Each branch with its unique characteristics and function represents a particular approach to life. However, it is important to note that involvement in one of these paths does not preclude activity in any of the others, and in fact you’ll find many paths naturally overlapping.

RAJA YOGA – Meditation is the focal point of this branch of yoga. This approach involves strict adherence to the aforementioned eight “limbs” of yoga. Also found in many other branches of yoga, these limbs, or stages, follow this order: ethical standards, Yama; self-disciplineNiyama; posture, Asana; breath extension or control, Pranayama; sensory withdrawal, Pratyahara; concentration, Dharana; meditation, Dhyana; and ecstasy or final liberation, Samadhi. Raja yoga attracts individuals who are introspective and drawn to meditation. Members of religious orders and spiritual communities devote themselves to this branch of yoga. However, even though this path suggests a monastic or contemplative lifestyle, entering an ashram or monastery is not a prerequisite to practicing raja yoga.

KARMA YOGA – The next branch is that of karma yoga or the path of service, and none of us can escape this pathway. The principle of karma yoga is that what we experience today is created by our actions in the past. Being aware of this, all of our present efforts become a way to consciously create a future that frees us from being bound by negativity and selfishness. Karma is the path of self-transcending action. We practice karma yoga whenever we perform our work and live our lives in a selfless fashion and as a way to serve others. Volunteering to serve meals in a soup kitchen or signing up for a stint with the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity are prime examples of selfless service associated with the karma yoga path.

BHAKTI YOGA – Bhakti yoga describes the path of devotion. Seeing the divine in all of creation, Bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel the emotions. The path of Bhakti provides us with an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone we come into contact with.

Bhakti yogis express the devotional nature of their path in their every thought, word, and deed – whether they are taking out the trash or calming the anger of a loved one. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are prime examples of Bhakti yogis. The life and work of Mother Teresa epitomise the combination of the karma and Bhakti yoga paths with devotional aspects of Bhakti and the selfless service of karma yoga.

 

“Just as we can stretch our bodies with asana and our breath with Pranayama, we can elongate our capacity to feel and expand our ability to love with Bhakti yoga,” says Sean Johnson, the lead musician of Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band and founder of the Wild Lotus Yoga studio in New Orleans. Johnson found bhakti yoga in his early 20s when his first love ended in disappointment.

 

JNANA YOGA – If we consider Bhakti to be the yoga of the heart, then Jnana yoga is the yoga of the mind, of wisdom, the path of the sage or scholar. This path requires development of the intellect through the study of the scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition. The Jnana yoga approach is considered the most difficult and at the same time the most direct. It involves serious study and will appeal to those who are more intellectually inclined. Within the context of our Western religious traditions, Kabalistic scholars, Jesuit priests, and Benedictine monks epitomise Jnana yogis.

 

 

Remember you need not be limited to one expression—you may practice Hatha yoga, taking care of your physical body, while simultaneously cultivating the lifestyle of a Bhakti yogi, expressing your compassion for everyone you meet. Trust that whichever avenue of yogic expression draws your interest, it will probably be the right yoga path for you.

 

“These are the only four realities in your life: body, mind, emotion, and energy. Whatever you wish to do with yourself, it must be on these four levels.These are the only four realities in your life: body, mind, emotion, and energy. Whatever you wish to do with yourself, it must be on these four levels.”

Sadhguru, Jaggi Vasudev

 

The whole process of yoga is to take you from something that you know, and take the next step into the unknown. We have made this yogic science almost like a physical science. Suppose you mix two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen, you get water. Even when a great scientist puts it together, it is water. Even if an idiot puts it together, it is only water. Similarly, in yoga too, whether a great yogi does it or an ignorant person does it, it does not matter. If he does the practices properly & shows utmost dedication and discipline, the result is there to be seen.

 

“Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefitting every aspect of life, not just the 60 minutes spent on a rubber mat; if we can learn to be kind, truthful and use our energy in a worthwhile way, we will not only benefit ourselves with our practice, but everything and everyone around us too.”

– Emma Newlyn

 

In yoga, these systems have been identified. To start with, you work with the body, then you move to the breath, then to the mind, then to the inner self. Like this many steps have been created. They are only different aspects. They are not really different types of yoga. In fact, we address all of them at once. It is important that in a very balanced way all of them are addressed at once, as one unit. Otherwise, if you work just with the body, it is only preparatory in nature. So, there is really no division as such. Yoga is a union of all these.

TRADITIONAL & MODERN YOGA – The Debate

Traditional yoga has deep religious roots; it’s styles are not only physical, but are highly meditational. The main goal of traditional yoga is to achieve moksha– liberation, enlightenment, freedom from reincarnation and conscious recognition of one’s own divinity. Traditional yoga is not practiced the way many popular modern day styles are. For example, Jnana yoga does not involve physical postures, but instead focuses on a path of rational self-inquiry and seeks to rid ignorance of one’s true nature.  When the term yoga is brought up, many will think of bending into different postures. However, these postures aka “asanas” weren’t even a part of yoga until Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras (200BCE). He incorporated postures to discipline the body and to create a body and conscious connection. To ancient yoga practicers, asanas were just a small, but useful part of the practice as a whole. Although traditional yoga styles are not as commonly practiced in western culture, some aspects are highly incorporated and it is important to keep in mind and understand where the practice once originated from.

 

 

On the other hand, most any yoga studio you wander into now will be based on a variety of physical postures/ asanas.  Yoga has largely become popular in western culture due to its numerous benefits including stress relief, increased flexibility, detoxification of the body, and injury prevention/recovery.  Depending on the style of yoga, a class can be focused on physical fitness or can have a more meditative focus using some of the traditional background. Modern day yoga doesn’t require one to practice for any kind of spiritual awakening, but it can most definitely be used for that purpose.

 

“Show me the way to the gates of dawn, and we’ll find a place you call home. Colours spin, all turn to white, close your eyes, try and touch the night. Each moment, pass you by, save me from this blinding light”

Advaita, Gates of Dawn

 

The word “yoga” has become a homonym, with a traditional meaning having to do with the realisation through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realisation of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti, and the modern meaning of yoga as any of a wide variety of physical fitness or exercise routines.

BENEFITS OF YOGA

If medicines have failed you, yoga might not disappoint you. It actually boasts an impressive plethora of physical benefits suitable for all groups and can be used as complementary therapy in combination with conventional treatments for various diseases. Even though yoga aims to rejuvenate the body from within, be sure to consult a physician before attempting a yoga regimen in order to identify any limitations that may perhaps result in an injury.

 

 

A strong and flexible body, glowing beautiful skin, peaceful mind, good health – whatever you may be looking for, yoga has it on offer. However, very often, yoga is only partially understood as being limited to asanas (yoga poses). As such, its benefits are only perceived to be at the body level and we fail to realise the immense benefits yoga offers in uniting the body, mind and breath. When you are in harmony, the journey through life is calmer, happier and more fulfilling.

  • All-round fitness – As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar puts it, “Health is not a mere absence of disease. It is a dynamic expression of life – in terms of how joyful, loving and enthusiastic you are.” This is where yoga helps: postures, pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation are a holistic fitness package. The benefits accrued by being a regular practitioner are numerous. Some very discernible ones are: Improves health, Gives mental strength, Improves physical strength, Protection from injury and Detoxifies the body
  • Stress relief – A few minutes of yoga during the day can be a great way to get rid of stress that accumulates daily, in both the body and mind. Yoga postures, pranayama and meditation are effective techniques to release stress.
  • Inner peace – We all love to visit peaceful, serene spots, rich in natural beauty. We make it a point to schedule a trip away from the mess of the cityscape. Little do we realise that peace can be found right within us and we can take a mini-vacation to experience this any time of the day! Benefit from a small holiday every day with yoga and meditation. Yoga is also one of the best ways to calm a disturbed mind. And because Yoga is all about subtlety, poise and posture, it helps to bring peace to our otherwise fidgeting mind & body. Robert. M. Pirsig rightly said, “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there”.
  • Improved immunity – Our system is a seamless blend of the body, mind and spirit. An irregularity in the body affects the mind and similarly unpleasantness or restlessness in the mind can manifest as an ailment in the body. Yoga poses massage organs and strengthens muscles; breathing techniques and meditation release stress and improve immunity. It is a great way to deal with lethargy and a brilliant way to begin the day, feeling re-energised & motivated. It has been said that a person doing the Mayur Asana daily would allow him to digest almost anything, even poison.
  • Living with greater awareness – The mind is constantly involved in activity, swinging from the past to the future, but never staying in the present. By simply being aware of this tendency of the mind, we can actually save ourselves from getting stressed or worked up and relax the mind. Yoga and pranayama help create that awareness and bring the mind back to the present moment, where it can stay happy and focused. Fun fact – Hillary Clinton during the Presidential debate used the Anulom-Vilom or Alternate Nostril Breathing technique to calm herself down during Trump’s tirades on her being “crooked Hillary” and the lot.
  • Better relationships – Yoga can even help improve your relationship with your spouse, parents, friends or loved ones and even with yourself. A mind that is relaxed, happy and contented is better able to deal with sensitive relationship matters. Yoga and meditation keeps the mind happy and peaceful.
  • Increased energy – Our corporate rat-race of eat-sleep-work-repeat leaves us drained of all energy when we get back from office at the end of the day. Shuttling through chores, and multitasking continuously can be quite exhausting. A few minutes of yoga everyday provides the much-needed fillip/stimulus that boosts our energy and keeps us fresh. A 10-minute meditation is all you need to charge up your batteries in the middle of a hectic day.
  • Better flexibility & posture – Yoga must become part of your daily routine to get a body that is strong, supple and flexible. Regular yoga practice, stretches and tones the body muscles and also makes them strong. It also helps improve your body posture when you stand, sit, sleep or walk. This would, in turn, help relieve you of body pain caused due to incorrect posture.
  • Better intuition – Yoga and meditation have the power to improve your intuitive ability so that you spontaneously realise what needs to be done, when and how, to yield positive results. It does work! You only need to experience it yourself.

Yoga isn’t all about general body fitness, clarity of mind & soul, and a source of true energy, but it has got some amazing benefits in helping people in terms of their health as well. For women especially, yoga helps to cure or curb common health problems such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome disease (PCOS – Affecting 10 percent of women of reproductive age, hampering their fertility. Women with PCOS are also more prone to weight gain, abnormal periods, acne, and excess hair growth.) and Depression (This disease affects women about 50 percent more than men, largely because of hormonal changes. For example, postpartum depression that develops post-pregnancy, or lifestyle factors – feeling disconnected from loved ones, a family history of the disease, or substance abuse. It also can be triggered by a stressful life event, a history of childhood abuse, or neglect).

Suggested Yoga Poses for specific health problems –

    • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – Dhanurasana / Bow pose: – This posture helps in galvanising reproductive organs. Bhujangasana / Cobra pose: It helps in activating ovarian functions.

 

Dhanurasana / Bow pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

Bhujangasana / Cobra pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

    • Depression – Baddha Konasana / Bound Angle Pose: – This yoga can help you out of depression. Sukhasana/ Easy Pose: Do not confuse it with other traditional postures. In this asana, there should be a comfortable gap between the feet and the pelvis. It is helpful in alleviating mind from depressing thoughts.
    • Migraines – Padmasana / Lotus pose: – This asana relaxes the mind and alleviates headache. Sirsasana / Headstand or Salamba Sirsasana / Supported headstand: It is also known as King of all asanas and increases the flow of blood in brain. If the Queen of Belgium can perform this exercise in her 80’s then you can definitely make an attempt.

 

Padmasana / Lotus pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

    • Indigestion/Stomach Disorder – Apanasana/ Knees to chest pose: – If you are battling any sort of stomach disorder then this pose can relieve you from constipation, indigestion, bloating and acidity. It is beneficial for digestion and helps in removing toxic substances from the entire system. Paschimottanasana/ Seated Forward Bend Pose:  This simple stretch can relieve you from digestive problems.

 

Apanasana/ Knees to chest pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

    • Diabetes – Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half Spinal Twist: – People suffering from diabetes can do this asana to control body sugar level. Chakrasana / Wheel pose: Chakrasana can help people suffering from diabetes.

 

Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half Spinal Twist(Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

Chakrasana / Wheel pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

    • Lower back pain – Supta Matsyendrasana / Supine Spinal Twist: – If you want to get relived from constant back pain try this asana. Vrikshasana / Tree Pose: This exercise is beneficial for the spine and balances the body.

 

Vrikshasana / Tree Pose (Yoga Expert – Idfa Ahmed)

 

YOGA & GYM –

And then comes the senseless debate about Yoga and Gym. It’s not worth talking, or trying to make a stand against either one. Each has it’s own merits, and each in combination with the other seems to be a preferred style amongst the present generation.

Benefits of gym and other exercises:

  • Keep muscles fit
  • Enhance respiration and perspiration
  • Helps in weight loss
  • Relieves stress
  • Increase appetite and food consumption

 

Benefits of yoga and walking:

  • Keeps you active throughout the day
  • Helps bowel movement
  • Increases mind control over the body
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Relieves anxiety and keeps one stress free
  • Can be practiced anywhere and everywhere

Subtle Differences:

Although it can be argued that gym workouts are better than yoga and vice-versa, the subject matter is highly ambiguous and debatable. Since both activities are good for your health, physically as well as mentally, it is very difficult to say which one is better; perhaps a detailed comparison of the differences between the two may be more helpful:

  • While gymming and other exercises focus on building the body and helping you attain the desired body figure, yoga and walking aims at regulating the entire body mechanism, with more emphasis on mental control.
  • The goal of asanas in yoga is to energise your body because unlike the tiring effect one feels after a mere 30-minute gym workout, an hour or more of yoga makes your body fresh, activated and replenished.
  • While gym workouts may be more expensive, yoga requires minimal accessories and is therefore, more economically convenient.
  • Yoga is suitable for people of all ages, whereas gymming and other intense physical activities are not advisable for old people or those with specific medical ailments like hypertension and heart problems.
  • There are minimal withdrawal effects with yoga, in contrast to gym workouts.
  • Gymming requires you to go to the gym, whereas yoga and walking can be done anywhere and everywhere.

 

Conclusion

Yoga involves the practice of mental and physical engagement to become self-aware. The term itself derives from the Sanskrit translation meaning “yoking together” referring to the union of body and mind. The practice of yoga has recently become increasingly popular in western culture partially due to the many health benefits including: disease prevention, cardio and circulatory health, protection and healing of injuries, increased muscle tone, flexibility, etc.

There is however, more to yoga than its seemingly endless physical benefits. With consistent practice yoga can help individuals to become in touch with their spirit and mind and develop a better peace of mind. It is a great method of relaxation that people have personally found to be a great help in relieving stress.

There is no time limit as to how long you must practice, whatever time you decide to practice yoga is time dedicated solely to you and your needs ( forget about all of the hustling and bustling of daily life for a few minutes).  There are several different styles of yoga and modifications that can be made to each posture based on individual need.

Yoga is not about being able to bend like a contortionist right away (that will come in time), it’s about exploring your limits and bettering yourself with each practice.

 

 

Remember yoga is a continuous process. So keep practicing. The deeper you go into your yoga practice, the more profound will be its benefits.

 

“Yoga means addition – addition of energy, strength and beauty to body, mind and soul.”

– Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations

 

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