If you have observed from a distance people doing yoga poses, you would think they are latter day contortionists. You could be wrong, they are wise people who have realized well in time how easily and relatively inexpensively they can keep their bodies healthy, literally fit as a fiddle.
Yoga poses are the best way to maintain the body flexible, supple and toned up without exerting any force on the body. There is a certain subtlety in this ancient eastern system of body maintenance which keeps one in tune with nature.
Modern lifestyle takes its toll in terms of physical and mental health. Hypertension and diabetes are common ailments and the beneficiaries are pharma firms. Resources that should be spent on other productive channels are wasted in shoring up a tiring body that becomes an open invitation to premature aging and a host of diseases.
Yoga has many dimensions
The word yoga means union. It meant a whole set of physical, mental and spiritual exercises developed by ancient Indian yogis as a means of realizing God and being united (‘yuj’ in Sanskrit, meaning ‘being yoked’) with Him. The yogis were performing rigorous routine of meditation in forests and mountains and being scantily clad, they devised indoor exercises now known as ‘yoga poses’ or ‘yogasanas’ to keep their body healthy and light and make it a willing instrument of their meditation.
Over the years, yoga poses (postures) got separated from the rest of the mental and spiritual practices and has become popular as fitness yoga. Nevertheless, people who practice yoga poses derive benefits of yoga like a focused mind, self-discipline, a composed temperament and a healthy view of life.
The great repose
There are a hundred yoga poses. They have interesting names like Red Indians who named themselves Sitting Bull or Galloping Horse. The poses bear names like The Boat, Crow, Peacock, Lotus and so on. The last mentioned is the pose in which the Buddha is shown seated. It is the pose developed by yogis for their meditation. Legs withdrawn and feet resting on the thighs, hands placed on the thighs turned upward with thumb and forefinger closed, the spine and neck held erect, eyes lightly closed and the normally outgoing mind gathered and centred within – this is the ultimate pose of repose without and within.
But yet, before we could attain that inner repose, we have to slowly master the body through various poses and by regulation of breath which is called pranayama. Regulation of breath is said to energise the body and gradual slowing down of breathing is said to reduce the frequency of thoughts which is the necessary prelude for meditation.
The yogi among bats
There is the familiar joke about bats in a cave. They were all hanging upside down as their wont. But one bat was seen standing on his feet. When the other bats asked him why, he answered, “I am practicing yoga!” That bat is the counterpart of the people who delight in doing the headstand, a difficult but a very effective pose for stimulating blood circulation in the entire body. Its modified and easier version, the “all limbs pose” is also recommended for all ages.
In a way, yoga poses are for people who want to be and dare to be different and pursue what their inner being and instinct of the body prompt them to do. It is by treating the body with respect and dignity, not by pumping iron and straining the muscular and nervous system. In the latter case, we see these people breaking down in health when they stop doing these heavy-handed exercises.
Tips for the beginner
Starting practice of yoga poses is easy. But some words of caution would be necessary.
· Please do not learn from the books. One should not be one’s own Guru (Teacher) in matters of Yoga asanas, pranayama or meditation and one might end up worse than before. Look for qualified, committed, professional teachers.
· If you suffer from any ailments or bodily disabilities, obtain medical advice from your physician and from your yoga instructor as to what poses would fit in with your physical condition.
· Age is no bar for practice of yoga poses. You do not have to be a stripling to do it.
· Your yoga instructor will tell you what kind of yoga accessories and props you need. Your dress should be comfortable enough to allow you to stretch and bend freely.
· Like all other physical exercises, yoga poses should be done on a very light stomach and never after a meal.
· Fix a particular time for your domestic practice to develop regularity and discipline
· Such a discipline does not go with habits like smoking and drinking which have a depleting effect on the physical system
The final test
The ultimate test of any exercise regimen is: Do you feel fresh and energetic or tired and exhausted afterwards? Yoga poses pass this test in flying colours.
On the whole, regular practice of yoga poses tempers and tunes up the body, disciplines the mind and trains the will to apply itself to self-improving habits and style of life and lifts one’s perspectives to a higher and nobler level of existence.