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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What is this thing called Yoga?

There are different kinds of yoga. Some of the more common forms of yoga in the United States are Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Krapalu, Bikram, and Iyengar. Although they are different in many respects they all use asanas (poses) in their disciplines. The original intent of yoga, as written in the Yoga Sutras, is to reach a higher state of consciousness known as Samadhi. The use of asanas is one of seven steps for reaching this higher state.

The word yoga literally means "union" - union of the body with the breath, the mind, and the spirit as well as with all things. By doing yoga, not just asanas, we may begin to realize that we are not separate but rather one within ourselves as well as with all that is. So, yoga poses are not all that make up yoga but are one part of the practice.

There is no one particular style or form of yoga for everybody. Each person must find what works for him/her. Once a person finds his/her style of yoga the benefits are virtually limitless. Some benefits are: becoming more peaceful with one's self as well as with others, internal and external purity, contentment, austerity, better concentration, improved strength, flexibility, balance, lung volume, spirituality and well-being. Also, improved posture, mental attitude and immune system not to mention the final goal - Samadhi.

If one follows the original intended path of yoga, through all eight sutras (paths), purity of mind and body will occur automatically. Asanas alone cannot completely unite the body, mind, breath, and spirit. Union comes by following all eight paths with impunity. If a person does only asanas he is not doing yoga - he is only doing asanas. The eight limbs of yoga are: 1. Yamas - non-violence, truthfulness, moderation in all things, and non-covetousness; 2. Niyamas - keeping the body and mind free of impurities, being austere and studying the sacred texts; 3. Asanas - postures for internal discipline; 4. Pranayama - regulation and control of breathing; 5. Pratyahara - withdrawl of the senses in order to still the mind; 6. Dharana - concentration; 7. Dhyana - meditation; 8. Samadhi - unity of self with all that is.

Having said all that, asanas are very important and are an integral part of yoga especially when they are combined with the power of the the breath (prana) and a focused mind. Moving through a series of asanas (vinyasa) while directing prana with the mind can be highly therapeutic. Where prana goes so does energy (shakti). The movement of shakti through the astral tube of the body (the sushuma) by using prana is what pranayama is all about. Once a yogi has perfected pranayama the healing power of shakti can be very powerful. 

Last but not least it is important to say that yoga is not something one does for 90 minutes twice a week. Yoga is a lifestyle.

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