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Yoga

The Bible is the holy book that survived 2000 years. It all began when many people who witnessed the jaded world around them, acknowledged it and wanted to change a few things. They tried to place the guidelines for living a fulfilling life as a human being. One by one, they started to write down the evil they perceived and the consequences that followed. Years after years these ancient scripts were edited, proofread, edited again, then came the kings who didn’t like what was written down, so they changed a few things to justify their conducts. Soon, the language these hand writings were written in was no longer in use, so the scripts were translated and edited so that the average human being could understand them. So today we have a holy book with 7 deadly sins and a bunch of stories interpreted to please the higher-ups and their misdemeanors. Unlike the Western world civilization, people from the East were proud if their antiquity and cherished the relic texts their ancestors left behind. None of their texts were altered or hidden from the public, on the contrary efforts are made to this day to make people understand them better and live a better life. In these texts every aspect of the challenging human life is divided into tiny pieces, studied, enlightened and illuminated. You will need years to study these texts and even if you decide to restudy them, you will find new, hidden meanings and significance. If we go back 1000 in the past, there were very few yoga teachers and their ashrams were miles apart. You would’ve had to change your location permanently for many years until you learn to do this ancient practice as the scripts intended. Nowadays, yoga teachers are at every corner, thanks to a man named Sivananda Saraswati. He is the first man who introduced this practice to the western civilization and the author of over 200 books on Vedanta, yoga and many other Buddhist questions. Sivananda was a spiritual teacher of thousands of students, who went on extensive pilgrimages, studied medicine, worked as a physician and created the Divine Life Society. He had many disciples who expanded his teachings and leadership on every continent. His last disciple died in 2008, but his books, organizations and foundations still convey his Buddhist ideals.

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The History of Yoga

The practice we know today as yoga is relatively new and quite modified in order to match our modern living. More than 1800 years ago, the first yoga text known as Yoga Sutra was written. Before that, yoga teachings were spread mouth to mouth directly from the teacher to the student. No one knows exactly when was the first yoga posture designed or who started the practice. Historians have tried to find the roots of this ancient practice and they found evidence that it dates from the early Bronze Age. On several seals used by the Indus Valley Civilization can be seen the basic meditation poses, but some seals described deities in standing postures also. This yoga position today is known as tadasana, but in many Hindu books is called sthanu asana, after the Hindu deity Shiva, which was also known as Sthanu. However, these seals did not prove that yoga postures were practiced since the Bronze Ages, because they were meditation postures used as penances. Later during the Vedic period, the first yoga positions are mentioned as strictly bodily postures. Centuries later, we have asanas and their many variations. Many yoga guidebooks were written since then to provide instructions on how to gain control over the emotions and mind. Advices on how to achieve spiritual growth and enlightenment are described in these scripts and available for everyone fascinated by these Hindu philosophies. The word Sutra can have many meanings. In most cases it’s translated as an aphorism, which means obvious, ultimate and undeniable truth. Even though, the western world typically focuses on the physical exercises, called asanas, the practice of yoga focuses on many other aspects too. The physical aspect of yoga is called Hatha yoga, which according to this eastern practice is used as a vehicle for meditation. We usually think of our body as a separate entity of the spirit and the mind, but the yoga practice will teach you otherwise. Every Hatha yoga exercise has different enactment. Some of them prepare the nervous system for meditation, other poses are practiced to strengthen the body and improve the stamina. Several poses are combined in sequences to achieve the optimum effect. Not all Hatha yoga series are the same and with continuous practice you can even build your own to suit your needs best. You can build a sequence to balance the chakras, strengthen the core, or you can focus on the lower back, legs or shoulders. When you start practicing the more difficult poses, you can build a series of numerous different poses to reinforce your entire being.

Yoga Poses and Anatomical Focus

Usually, when you mention to someone that you started practicing yoga, they think you spend your time sitting and meditating. It’s true, the yoga sutras were written to help people gain control over their mind and to learn to focus their attention. But to come to that stage of the practice you have to make your body comfortable with itself. Pain makes relaxing impossible, because when you feel any type of physical discomfort the mind focuses on the ache. All asanas focus on different body part, or sometimes more than one. Let’s say you have a constant neck pain that disturbs your sleeping, sitting and walking patterns. There are at least 15 yoga postures that will heal your neck pain and make your entire posture better. Some of them are very hard to perform and you will have to practice with a teacher to make sure there aren’t any dislocated wrists. But some of them are fairly easy and you can do them before sleeping, in the morning or in the office. The Bharadvaja twisting pose is relatively easy to do and it doesn’t require much flexibility. You can start by sitting with your legs in front of your body. Then you have to shift your weight on one buttock, bend the knees and swing the legs to come on the opposite side of your body. If you can’t do this spontaneously or you feel any kind of stiffness, you can use your arm to help you swing your legs on the side. Now, you probably have one leg over the other, where the inner foot has to support the ankle of the outer leg. That will create a bed for the outer foot and make the following twist easier and more comfortable.

What’s best about yoga is that you can adjust the poses until your body feels natural about the posture. If you feel your legs are running out of blood, you can sit on top of a pillow to make the pose more relaxed. This pose focuses on the back and the neck, so any resistance you feel in the legs should be removed in order to make the best of the pose. Once your legs and buttock feel comfortable, you can take a couple of breaths. On the last inhale you should lift your back and chest and focus on straightening the spine. The chest, lower back and buttock should be straight, but not so much that your body feels unnatural. If your legs are swung on the right, exhale and turn your body to the left. Now you have to place your right hand on the left knee and extend your left arm behind you. Make sure the left buttock stays on the floor or pillow. Once you are in this position, you should pull your shoulder back firmly, a movement that will highlight the importance of this pose. You should stay in this position for 30 seconds to one minute, but if it’s your first time doing this pose, you may shorten the time as you please. Every time you inhale lift your back to prepare the lungs for the twist and fill them with oxygen and as you exhale, twist a little more. Once you are done breathing in this position, turn your body forward, extend your legs and prepare to do the same thing on the opposite side. Your legs placed in front of your body is also a yoga posture, generally used in a middle of a sequence, because it’s very easy and relaxing. This sitting posture is called Dandasana or the Staff Pose. If you have lower back problems or you are not sure your back is aligned right, you do this posture by touching your back to the wall. Place your hands flat next to your buttock and straighten your legs until you feel the muscles touching the floor. Your chin has to be parallel with the floor, but you can twist it side to side to find the right position. This asana is called the Staff Pose because it will lengthen your spine all the way down to your tailbone and connect you with the Earth. Once you start practicing yoga regularly, you will find this posture very energizing and stimulating. Neck problems are usually back problems, unless it is an injury involved, in which case you should be careful not to aggravate the damage. All upper back, lower back and core poses will relieve the neck pain, because they all make the spine come to its natural position.

Practicing yoga single-handedly is not very wise, especially if you are anything less than an intermediate student. But even so, a teacher can guide you better trough the poses and help you do them perfectly. All yogis will tell you that each pose you try for the first time should not be repeated more than three times. If you don’t manage to do it after three times, listen to your body because it’s a natural response telling you that you are not yet ready. Other than asanas for the back, there are asanas in Hatha yoga for every body part and organ. If the size of your waist gives you troubles, you can build a sequence to help you get rid of the extra fat gathered around your belly. Excessive computer use makes the wrists, hands and joints very inflexible and in time may cause numbness, pain or even carpal tunnel syndrome. The same effects are caused by jobs that include operating heavy machinery. The Four-Limbed Staff Pose, Plank Pose and especially the Salutation Seal, stretches and energizes the arms, hands and wrists and improve the blood circulation back to these limbs. Cow pose and cat pose are usually combined together and they have a therapeutic effect on the uterus, front torso, belly organs, spine and neck. The Garland pose is almost effortless during the workout, but this posture too, contributes to more than one healing impact. The anatomical focus of this asana is on the thighs, but it also stretches the groins, ankles and back torso. You can combine asanas in sequences to make sure digestive organs, bladder, heart, lungs and kidneys, all get the massage and toning they need during the workout.

Yoga and Age Groups

Kids nowadays can’t say they have the childhood we used to have. Playing hide and seek is replaced with computer games, cassette players are long gone and rarely a kid from this century can proudly say they’ve climbed a tree. The list can go on and it will be pointless to describe how much of an inactive generations will replace us if we don’t make something to motivate them. You can’t make a six year old jog with you every morning and it would be brutal to force them to take karate lessons, if they’re not up for that kind of sports. Yoga practice, on the other hand has very gentle but powerful implementation. With the right yoga teacher your kids won’t even notice they are working out, yet tone, stretch, strengthen and relax the body from the inside out. Even toddlers can practice yoga. Their classes are maybe the most entertaining for teachers and parents alike. This type of yoga is designed to stimulate the toddlers’ physical awareness, improve their motor coordination and simplify your parenting commitments. Age appropriate toys, props and instruments will add fun to the practice and make them focused on their workout. Their class is made of a combination of active and passive poses, which gives them the opportunity to work on their growing bodies along with learning how to rest and when. At the age of 6 and up, kids first start to realize what stress is. We may not look at it that way, but their little brains deal with their own problems too. For this age group, yoga classes are a little more versed. They include animated breathing and relaxation techniques, guided visual imagery and self-expression lessons. That way a child can learn a thing or two about environmental awareness, positive thinking and learn some social skills. 8 to 10 year old yoga classes are especially interesting yoga groups. Before they experience developmental independence, kids of this age group will learn all balancing poses, relaxation methods and breathing techniques to help them cope with their changing bodies when puberty knocks on the door. Puberty is a period that is hard on everybody in the household. There are group and independent activities to help teenagers reach the emotional balance and self-confidence they may lack during these times. Once you reach the adult stage in your life, stress is usually the biggest problem. Most adults assign for yoga classes to manage stress. For most grownups the first yoga classes are relatively ineffective, but a good yogi will teach you how to do each asana to feel the powerful results. The more you practice these ancient teachings, the better you will feel after every class. Every asana has a unique philosophy, anatomical and therapeutic importance, which you may not be able to understand in a single class. Some muscles need a little more stretching, while others are maybe overly active. The idea of this practice is to balance your entire being, starting with the physical body and ending with the mind and spirit. Once you reach the age of 60, you bones and muscles may start to weaken, resulting in chronic fatigue, pain and tiredness. As you may have read before, there are asanas for treating every type of pain or discomfort and elderly might be the perfect age group to recognize the benefits of yoga. The poses for seniors are not challenging and dynamic. They focus on sitting postures for aligning the spine, standing poses to strengthen the legs and joints, twisting poses to improve blood circulation and exercises for the eyes, tongue, facial muscles and jaws. This practice is used as alternative and complementary treatment for many ailments, and doctors recommend it regardless of the type of medicine they practice. Sivananda, the first promoter of yoga in the western world said that if you can’t do a yoga pose with a smile, you are not doing it right. Even if you are sweating, mouthing and frowning at the beginning, keep practicing and the smile will appear naturally. One of the yoga sutras says: heyam dukham anagatam, which means that practicing yoga, will help you to avoid the miseries which have not yet come. So, booking three classes a week will be rewarding and worthwhile.

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