The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” meaning joining, or union of individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. It means union of the mind, body and spirit with the Divine. Yoga is an ancient art of wellness where one realizes, is in tune with and ultimately merges with the reality.
The wisdom and essence of yoga is condensed into five principles for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. These are:
Proper exercise (Asanas):
Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection. Yogic physical exercises, called Asanas are designed to develop not only the body, but also to broaden the mental faculties and spiritual capacities. Asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems.
Along with proper breathing or pranayama, Asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. The 12 basic Asanas are: Headstand (Shirshasana); Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana); Plough (Halasana); Fish (Matsyasana); Sitting forward bend (Paschimothanasana); Cobra (Bhujangasana); Locust (Shalabhasana); Bow (Dhanurasana); Spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana); Crow (Kakasana); Standing forward bend (Pada Hasthasana); and Triangle (Trikonasana)
Proper Breathing (Pranayama):
The most important thing about good breathing is the Prana, or subtle energy of the vital breath. Control of the Prana leads to control of the mind. Prana flows through the subtle channels called Nadis. The best time to practice pranayama is early in the morning on an empty stomach. During the practice the eyes should be kept close to allow the senses to draw within and the mind to focus. Some prominent types of pranayamas are: Anuloma – Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing), Kapalbhati (short powerful exhales and passive inhales) and Bhramari (Humming bee breath). Proper practice leads to improved blood circulation, better functioning of internal organs and cleansing of body.
When the body and the mind are constantly overworked, their natural efficiency to perform diminishes. Modern social life, food, and work stress makes it difficult for people to relax. By practicing proper and deep relaxation, all the muscles can thoroughly rejuvenate one’s nervous system and help one attain a deep sense of inner peace. Relaxation is nature’s way of recharging.
During complete relaxation, there is practically no energy or Prana being consumed by the body. Although a little is keeping the body in normal condition while the remaining portion is being stored and conserved. Relaxation begins with Shavasana or the corpse pose, where the mind may send a message to the muscles ordering them to contract and relax starting with toes and moving upwards towards the head. This leads one to identify with the all pervading, all-powerful, all-peaceful and joyful self, or pure consciousness within.
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, Yoga advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the Yogic lifestyle. It consists of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested.
Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. A healthy motto is: “Eat to live, not live to eat”. Food has a subtle effect on one’s mind and body, thus foods (like meats, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, alcohol and drugs) which are overly stimulating should be avoided.
Positive thinking and meditation
We become what we think. Thus we should put forth to entertain positive and creative thoughts as these will contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta.
The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation. When the surface of a lake is still, one can see to the bottom very clearly. This is impossible when the surface is agitated by waves. In the same way, when the mind is still, with no thoughts or desires, you can see the “Self.”
In order to achieve this state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, it is important to calm the mind, and go beyond it by turning its concentration inward. Regularity of time, place and practice are important.
The most effective times to meditate are early dawn and dusk, when the atmosphere is charged with special spiritual force. Divine energy freely flows to the adept during meditation, and exerts a benign influence on the mind, nerves, sense organs and body, which opens the door to intuitive knowledge and realms of eternal bliss. It calms the mind and helps one face life with peace and spiritual strength.