Beginners Guide to Yoga
“Like a flower bud, human life has the potential to blossom fully. Blossoming of human potential to fullness is yoga”. ~Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means to yoke or bind; this is interpreted as a discipline or the union of the individual consciousness with the universal Consciousness. It is the Hindu System of contemplation for effecting union of the human soul with the Supreme Being. Yoga is a practice, or collection of practices all aimed towards developing an oneness with the universe, a state of enlightenment, and attuning your mind and body. There are several different “paths” of yoga; these paths are Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Tantra Yoga.
Most of the yoga that is practiced today is based off of a sutra which contains near 200 statements which serve as a philosophical guidebook. The eight limbs of yoga are contained here. These “limbs” are as follows; Yamas (restraints), Niyamas (observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyani (meditation), and Samadhi (absorption). These “limbs” are used to refine and change our behaviors so that at some point we will reach a state of enlightenment or Samadhi.
Hatha (forceful/willful) Yoga is the system of yoga that is commonly practiced and known of the Western world. The word “Hatha” also has another meaning; it’s broken down into two parts. Ha meaning the sun, or male characteristics such as heat, sun, and active. The word Tha means receptive, cool, and the moon. Hatha yoga forms a unity with opposites and forms a balance.
This practice is done by the use of yogic postures (asana), Yogic breathing (Pranayama), internal cleansings (shatkarma), and Body Gestures (mudra). Today most yoga places do not stress some of these fields, more commonly just focusing on the asana. These practices are used to center and purify the body, they teach you to cultivate your “prana” (Live Force or Energy, some also call this “Chi” or “Ki.”) and unlock or activate your “kundalini.” Kundalini, according to “Kundalini Rising” by Dr. Barbara Condron is the active property, unconscious in most, which functions under the direction of Universal Law, DNA, and the subconscious mind.
Kundalini translates directly to “coiling.” Kundalini according to yogic tradition is seen as a serpent curled up three and one half times in the back part of the root chakra, around the sacrum (The triangular segment of the spinal column that forms part of the pelvis and closes in the pelvic girdle posteriorly, It’s formed between the ages of 16 and 25 by the fusion of five originally separate sacral vertebrae, and articulates with the last lumbar vertebra, the coccyx, and the hipbone on either side.) This image of coiling portrays untapped potential, or power. Kundalini Yoga consists of a large variety of bodily movements and postures, breathing patterns, different degrees of concentration, as well as different and expressive movements.
Kundalini is said to be raised through meditative exercises. When this takes place, the Kundalini rises up the spinal channel, through each chakra, starting with the base. During this process several siddhis (spiritual abilities or powers) are suppose to occur. It is taught by many leaders and traditions not to get caught up on these, for it apparently impedes or distracts the practitioner in the development of kundalini.
Despite the often times slow and gradual development of kundalini, side effects are still said to occur. These side effects range from, but are not limited to Gastro Intestinal Disorders, Sexual dysfunction, Short or long-term disorientation, Death, Headaches, Insomnia, Inability to talk, etc… These are some symptoms, though; they are not always experienced when ones kundalini is awakened. These symptoms are more likely to occur in someone whose kundalini awakening was rushed. Also, it is said that treating these, among other symptoms with Western medicines is not advised and may cause other side effects, though; there are times where medicines can play a roll in recovery from some side effects.
Living Principles of Yoga
Yoga has five principles, or parts in which it follows. They are very simple and easy to remember. The principles are Relaxation, Exercise, Breathing, Positive Thinking, and a Suitable Diet.
Relaxation – Relaxation is extremely important during meditation and Yoga. Though yoga puts you into a relaxed state, it is sometimes not easy to achieve this. When you put your muscles at rest, and your mind is calm, you achieve a state of inner peace allowing you to save energy and reduce stress.
Exercise – This principle is based around physical movement. A series of asana’ are used to stretch and tone the muscles and ligaments, developing suppleness of the spine and the joints, and improving circulation of the blood. Yoga postures go hand and hand with the breath. The coordination of movement and breath is important because it helps you with physical strength and mental relaxation. Asana’ contributes to spiritual growth and the stretching of the spine. With a properly stretched and flexible spine, your life span increases.
Breathing – Correct breathing uses all parts of the lungs to utilize your maximal oxygen intake. This means taking slow, deep and rhythmical breaths. It’s important to be able to control the lengths of your inhalation, exhalation and pauses between breaths. As well as using them during your asana‘, moving the body at the rate of the breath is very important in yoga. Regulating the flow of breathing can boost energy levels while calming the mind and allowing a more focused mind.
Positive Thinking – Thinking and the mind affect our entire way of living, and lifestyle. Thinking positively can alter your life in a huge and positive way. Negative thoughts seep into our minds several times a day, and most of the day. People spend so much time regretting and feeling remorse for the past, or feeling nervous, scared, or stressed about the future, completely forgetting that the best time of their life is in the present, after all, life IS the present. The best way to work on stopping said things is through meditation and becoming aware of the moment several times a day. This is done by simply focusing on the breath.
Suitable Diet – Nutrition is a vital part of wellbeing and eating besides breathing is one of the most important things we as humans need to do to survive. Your mental state, thought patterns, emotions, spiritual awareness, and body are all easily affected by your diet. Too much wheat, meat and dairy consumption is not recommended because bacteria breed on said which can in turn creates large amounts of mucus in the system. Eating too much or consuming large amounts of junk food can block senses and lead to diet related ailments such as obesity or diabetes. Your diet in Yoga suggests eating in moderation to help keep the body light and the mind calm. This diet should be based on more organic foods and foods which are high in Prana or life force/energy. This means less meat, and if you do choose to eat meat, it should be done sparingly and along with a food that is high in prana. I would suggest going on a 10 day, 3 meals per day diet with absolutely no meat. This will cleanse your system and you will feel completely renewed and refreshed. After this diet if you choose to eat meat, do so gradually and in moderation, or you will feel the difference and probably be sick.
As you can see these principles are more than just principles for the practice of Yoga. This is a way of life aimed towards self betterment, whether you practice yoga or not, these principles will help you throughout your entire life.
We know that with all aspects of Yoga, each movement is guided and paced along side the breath, because this is so important, let’s go into more detail on the breath it’s self. The breath is the most vital part in any effective meditation. The breath is used to fuel our bodies with the most important nutrient to humans in existence, oxygen. It is also used to release the body of a sometimes very harmful element, carbon dioxide. Despite the fact that we can live for days without food and water, we can only live a mere few minutes without the assistance of breathing. Breathing properly can allow you to live a much more calm and relaxed life. To begin with, let’s break down the breath and what it does for our bodies.
Oxygen enables the cells of the body to release energy that is stored as high-energy chemical bonds in our food, and enables them to use that energy to do what cells do. Cells keep us alive. They keep our heart, brain, and kidneys working properly. Virtually every cell in the body needs oxygen in order to perform its role in the body. The average person breaths about twelve to twenty times per minute. Children breathe far faster than adults, taking in an average of thirty thousand breaths per day, and infants take about forty per minute. More times than not, people tend to take shallow and inferior breaths, substituting them for full complete breaths. With oxygen having such importance in our lives, we should take into consideration spending time to just focus on our breathing. Meditation and yoga aids us tremendously in daily living by calming us and supplying more vital oxygen to our bodies.
With this said I will give you a basic exercise that is extremely common and useful, as well as fun. The exercise is called the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation.)
Begin by standing completely straight, in the mountain pose. Your feet should be together with your hands in a prayer position resting at about chest level. Begin by taking a few deep and long Ujjayi breaths here.
Inhale the arms up as far as you can, stretch and arch the back from the hips, pushing the hips out, relax your neck.
Exhale the body down into Forward Fold, try to touch the floor, this should be gradual, if you can, grab the backs of your legs and pull your forehead to touch your knees.
Inhale into the lunge position, your right leg should be extended straight back with your left leg bent. Hands are on the floor and the left knee is directly over, but not passing the left ankle. Look up to face the sky, bending the back, staying in the position. Inhaling as you do this.
Step the left food back, into the plank or pushup position, press your heels back, extending the crown of the head.
Exhale down into the caterpillar . Bend the knees so they and your chest touch the floor, hands should be by your chest. Slowly slide downward until you are flat on the ground.
Inhale upwards into Upward Facing Dog, push the chest forward, legs straight on the ground, hands pushing your chest and upper body upwards, look up to the sky. Bend elbows slightly if you feel an above average strain on the lower back.
Exhale into Downward Facing Dog, keeping your hands on the ground, straighten the legs and lean backwards onto your heels, your head and upper body should be facing down and looking back at your legs, creating an upside down V. Press back on the heels, the back should remain straight.
Inhale and bring the right foot forward into the lunge position. Be sure to keep the right knee over the ankle, shoulders are flat, hold the exhale and sink lower down into the lunge.
Hop the left leg forward (still in exhale) and stay in the Forward Fold position.
Inhale the arms up in prayer position (palms together). Reach out with the waist, push your legs down into the ground, and have your eyes on your thumbs.
Exhale the arms down into the Mountain Pose, with hands in a prayer position at chest level, palms are lightly pressed together, the crown of the head is lifted upwards, and the chin is parallel to the ground.
Repeat, with the opposite leg in lunge position first (Right).
This concludes one session, do as many as desired, it’s extremely beneficial, easy to learn, easy to practice, easy to do. It’s also a good work out that you can use to keep in shape and maintain flexibility. If you’re out of shape, you may find yourself even out of breath and sweating after a good Sun Salutation Session.
This concludes this article, and because this is only a paper I tried my best to explain what I could, there is only so much yoga that can be learned without an instructor. I do hope you gained some information or developed a new hobby. Yoga and meditation go hand and hand, it can be fun, and exciting.