Ancient sages developed an integral system to ward off or delay the aging process and to keep the physical and mental faculties strong. These principles are effective exercise, effective breathing, relaxation, a specific diet, positive thinking and meditation and Hatha yoga follows these principles today.
Yogic exercise acts as a lubrication system to the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons etc by increasing circulation and flexibility. Yoga is a complete overhaul of the entire being to rebalance the body. It brings strength to the weak areas, softens the rights spots, and is a work out and work in. It’s the drawing of energy, developing balance, and un-obstructing nerve currents.
Asana means ‘steady pose’ and is held for some time, performed slowly and consciously, and therefore in addition to the physical benefits, there are mental and concentration benefits.
Yoga exercise focuses first on the health of the spine. By maintaining the spine’s flexibility and strength through asanas, circulation is increased, the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen, the body retains a youthful state.
Yoga places stringent focus on knee, ankle, hip and sacrum alignment during static poses to lessen the chance of injury and to strengthen and loosen the joints to promote healthy movement that carries over to many other activities. Poses held for several minutes serves to create a deep connection to the muscle tissue, encouraging it to relax and stretch.
Flexibility helps protect your muscles and joints from injury, while strength helps control and support your flexibility, and promotes good posture.
Asanas also effect the deeper and more subtle parts of the body. The internal organs receive massage and stimulation through the various movements of the asanas and are toned into functioning more efficiently. Yoga works on the internal machinery of the whole body, especially on such key pressure points as Chinese acupuncture areas. Stimulation of these points increases the flow of nerve energy, or ‘prana’ or ‘chi’.
Yoga promotes health for all systems in the body. The endocrine system effects the emotions of the mind and vice versa, yoga aims, though its various postures to restore the internal secretions of these glands to their normality. There are different exercises for the strengthening of different glands. Mental emotions such as fear, sorrow, anger etc affect our bodies, especially the endocrine system and nervous system and can lead to the degeneration of the endocrine glands. Yoga postures help to strengthen the endocrine system through exercises and also bring the emotions under control through concentration and relaxation.
The physical body is built of trillions of cells, each containing a miniature life and energy for a definite function. Cells are nourished from food brought by blood circulation which is kept up through various asanas, covering every part of your body.
The fundamental difference between yogic exercise and ordinary physical exercise is that yogic exercise opposes violent muscle movements as they produce large amounts of lactic acid in the muscle fibres causing fatigue. In the yogic system all movements are slow and gradual with effective breathing and relaxation. Carbon dioxide and other metabolites are produced by active muscles. By doing yoga we can check the accumulation of toxic acids and can eliminate them if already over accumulated in the blood.
Yoga can help increase circulation and keep arteries elastic.
Yogic breathing connects the body to its battery, the ‘solar plexus’ where a great deal of energy is stored and released through pranayama, for physical and mental rejuvenation. Relaxation is nature’s way of re-charging the body. When the body and mind are continually over-worked, their efficiency diminishes. In order to regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, it is necessary to learn to economise the energy produced by our body, which is the main purpose of learning how to relax. Even while resting, the average person expends much energy through needless physical and mental tension, thus most of the body’s energy is wasted. In the course of one day our body usually produces all the substances and energy necessary for the next. But often all these are consumed within a few minutes by a bad mood, anger, injury, irritation or anxiety / worry that reaches a high degree of intensity. During effective relaxation there is practically no prana, or energy being consumed, and some is stored and conserved. In order to achieve perfect relaxation 3 levels of relaxation – physical, mental and spiritual must be attained.
Asanas help you develop single pointed concentration, particularly balances which can transfer to your everyday life. Asanas draw your mind to the present, meaning that thoughts and worries drop away and help you develop strategies to help you control your thoughts. Yogic breathing, positive thoughts and meditation put you in control. By learning to control the body we can easily train the mind to positive thinking. As yoga poses are always practiced with deep breathing, relaxation and concentration, they help to develop mental control. The mind that is unsteady by nature or through external circumstances can be slowly brought under control through yoga exercise.
Deep focus of full involvement of the exercise, and being in the zone is known to have positive effects on your wellbeing. It’s about being aware of yourself and your body, about tuning in to your body and mind. It’s about seeing progress as a journey at your own individual level and losing self-consciousness and thoughts of fear and failure. We all begin yoga to become flexible, not because we already are. There is no failure in yoga, only self-love, self-focus, and respect and positive regard for others in the class, and indeed outside the class. We do yoga to improve our health and wellbeing, develop increased positivity, and to be mentally and physically more comfortable in our bodies, feeling looser and freer and harmonious.
Each asana pose is an affirmation, a commitment to ourselves to improve our health, promoting self-awareness and positive thought patterns, a great feel good factor, developing mindfulness, deep breathing and movement triggering feel good chemicals – dopamine and endorphins. Sometimes we can begin a yoga session either in a restless state or a lethargic state. By the end of the session usually we feel uplifted, relaxed and peaceful.
Reference: The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga Swami Vishnu-Devananda, Anatomy of Yoga L Kaminoff and A Matthews and The Classic Yoga Bible C Brown.
Respiration takes place through elastic movements the lungs and the activities of the side and bottom of the thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity is occupied mainly by the lungs and heart and is bounded by the spinal column, the ribs, the breast bone and at the bottom of the lungs by the diaphragm. The thoracic cavity is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm. In the process of inhalation, the ribs are moved by the intercostal muscles and the pull of the diaphragm downwards expand the 2 elastic lungs. When lungs are expanded a vacuum is created in the lungs and the air from outside rushes in.
The science of pranayama starts with the proper control of the diaphragm and the respiratory muscles, which will bring the maximum degree of lung expansion in order to absorb the greatest amount of the life-giving energy from the air. When the diaphragm contracts it flattens and pushes the abdominal contents and makes the abdomen expand, thereby increasing the cubic capacity of the chest from above downward. We increase our lung capacity to absorb not only oxygen but also prana. Yogic breathing emphasizes long, slow, deep exhalation so tat as much as possible, old stagnant air can be removed and be replaced with fresh air. The more air is squeezed out, the more fresh air rushes into the lungs.
The regulation of the harmonised breath helps to regulate and steady the mind. Breathing is a manifestation of a vitalising force called ‘prana’. By regulating the physical breathing, the ‘prana’ is controlled. All diseases of the body can be destroyed from the root by controlling and regulating prana. Prana can be stored up in the body, especially in the solar plexus. Pranayama is one of the most important practices in all forms of yoga. By practicing pranayama we are able to control the nervous system and thereby obtain gradual control over prana, or vital energy, and the mind.
We begin our yoga sessions by undertaking a breath-awareness exercise, this is so we can tune our minds and bodies, this is helpful to be able to read or mental state. We can notice where we are breathing from and where we might be holding any tension in our bodies, becoming aware of it will help us let go of the tension. If we are holding any tension, we are usually breathing only through our chest and higher, which is shallow breathing, not using all or our lungs. This breathing pattern is telling us the mind is feeling danger or fear, stress causes us to tense our intercostal muscles, if they are tense, the lungs are unable to reach their full capacity. Focusing on abdominal breathing will calm our minds, and also enable us to use the lower part of the lungs. When we slow down our breathing using rhythmic abdominal breathing techniques, messages are sent to our brain from the nervous system telling the brain that we are relaxed, which in turn reduces the stress hormone, boosting the body’s immune system.
In undertaking breathing exercises, we are focusing the mind on one job, allowing the mind to let go of a lot of thought and becoming more mentally and physically still. We try not to allow any thoughts enter our heads, and if they do, we try to bring the mind back to the breath.
We practice Ujjayi breathing as mentioned in Yoga theory One, Ujjayi breathing encourages the mind to focus on a tangible aspect of the breathing process, it promotes complete inhalation and exhalation, especially when doing asanas. Ujjayi breathing clams and soothes the mind and internalizes the senses, it is also a ‘Kriya’, it cleanses the throat of mucus and stimulates the throat Chakra – Vishudda.
Regular practice of Kapalabhati increases lung capacity, Kapalabhati is a dynamic diaphragmic breathing exercise, which is also a kriya (cleanser), removing impurities in the blood. It strengthens the respiratory system, tones and massages internal organs, builds a strong abdominal cavity and floods the body and brain with fresh oxygenated blood, stimulating every cell in the body. Huge quantities of carbon dioxide are eliminated, intake of oxygen makes the blood richer and renews the body tissues. This breathing technique should not be practiced if you have unmedicated high blood pressure, if you are pregnant, have glaucoma, hiatus hernia, migraine, toothache or epilepsy as the increased blood flow to the heart and brain means issues can be exacerbated.
Anuloma Viloma alternate nostril breathing exercise is a purification exercise and helps prevent mucus building up in the nose, throat and sinuses and allows easier breathing and is also mentally soothing. The reason for practicing Anuloma Viloma is that the breath alternates between the 2 nostrils, which promotes equilibrium in the catabolic and anabolic processes in the body.
Reference: Anne-Marie Newland Sun Power Yoga Shala
The core concepts of yoga are: the breath; mind; body; and spirit.
Yoga means ‘to unite / connect’, connecting the mind, body and breath.
Yoga provides the study of anatomy, it is rooted in the exploration of how our life force expresses itself through the movements of the body breath and mind. Yoga emphasizes the relationship of the breath and the spine. We inhale and exhale a gravitational field – we can benefit from a process that enables us to think more clearly, breath more effortlessly and move more efficiently.
Everything essential we need for our health and happiness is already present in our systems. We merely need to identify and resolve some of the obstacles that obstruct those natural forces from operating.
Habitual tension accumulates over a lifetime of operating our muscular pully and fulcrum against the constant pull of gravity, and the constant modulation of our breathing patterns is invoked as a way of regulating our internal emotional landscape. These postural and breath habits operate mostly unconsciously, unless some intentional change (tapah) is introduced, like yoga.
The practice of asana becomes a systematic exploration of un-obstructing the deeper self-supporting forces of breath and posture. Poses are used as a way of uncovering the intrinsic order that nature put there.
The human body is made up of 100 trillion cells. When nutrients penetrate into each cell they are metabolized and turned into energy that fuels a cell’s life functions. A by-product of metabolic activity is waste, which must get back out of the cell. Any impairment to a cell’s ability to let nutrients in or out results in death by starvation or toxicity. This relates to prana and apana, prana meaning to breath and live / nourishment, and apana refers to the waste that is being eliminated. Prana and apana must have a healthy relationship in the body; the body’s pathways must be clear of obstructing forces. Yoga therapy is 90% waste removal. Exhalation is an action of removing waste from the system. Inhalation takes care of itself, when we get rid of the unwanted, we make room for the wanted.
Breathing in yoga is very important, prana commonly means life / energy / breath, and yama means restraint / control. Pranayama means un-restraining the breath which is synonymous with the identification and release of the bodily tensions that obstruct the expression of our system’s intrinsic equilibrium. Prana means vital energy and is found in all forms of life from mineral to animal. We absorb it from food, drink and air. Prana is also universal energy.
Ujjayi breathing gives more length and texture to the breath, the valve of ujjayi creates a kind of back pressure throughout the abdominal and thoracic cavities which can protect the spine during long slow flexion and extension movements by redistributing mechanical stress.
Reference: Yoga Anatomy L Kaminoff and A Matthews.