What is yoga?
“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”, (Sage Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras – I.2). The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit and means ‘union’. Yoga is a spiritual science of Self-realisation that has been developed in India thousands of years ago. Through Yoga we learn to master our body and mind to cultivate inner stillness and an ever growing realization of the innermost essence (soul).
The traditional practice of Yoga is holistic by nature and includes every aspect of life, amongst which: universal ethics (Yama), personal ethics for self purification (Niyama), body cultivation through practice of postures (Asana), mastering of energy through breathing exercises (Pranayama), control over the senses of perception (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana). The yogic journey guides us from the periphery (body) to the centre of our being (soul) aiming to integrate and harmonize the various layers of our existence to achieve wholeness, health and self realization. Yoga identifies five such layers of being that can be seen as Russian dolls nested within each other: The first layer is the physical body (annamaya kosa) that encompass the following four subtle layers: Our energetic/organic body (Pranamaya kosa), our mental body (Manomaya kosa) our intellectual body (Vijnanamaya kosa), and ultimately our spiritual body, or soul (Anandamaya kosa).
Yoga teaches us that when we manage to bring those layers into harmony and alignment, fragmentation disappears, integration is achieved and unity is established. In the last 50 years Yoga has become widespread in the West mainly due to its appealing aspect of physical practice (asana), and what most of us know is in fact related to a form of Yoga that emphasises the practice of Asana more than any other: Hatha Yoga.
Hatha yoga and its benefits
Ha-Tha means Sun-Moon, representing the two major types of energy referred to in different cultures – the solar and the lunar energies, the Ying/Yang, or even the scientific left/right brain mechanics. Hatha yoga aims at maintaining equilibrium of the two on every level but with a clear and strong application of this principle on the body through Asana and Pranayama. In each aspect of our being, yoga offers great benefits.
For example, on the physical level: Hatha Yoga is therapeutic by nature. The regular practice of Asanas and Pranayama makes the body strong, supple and healthy. Breathing becomes even and calm and the mind more balanced, quiet and clear. Yoga has a profound effect on physiological circulation and on the functioning of the inner organs, glands and nerves, promoting greater health and vitality, better concentration, and a happier life. Many common physical ailments can also be improved through the regular practice of Yoga while others can be better endured.
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