The mind, body & soul connection
“Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India and is now practiced in various forms around the world. Yoga promotes harmony among people and between ourselves and the outside world” : General Secretary of the United Nations.
Recognising Yoga’s universal appeal, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21st June as the International Day of Yoga. Large sessions and performances were conducted all over the world with a big one being held in the US, in Times Square in New York City.
Am super proud of this heritage of ours taking roots all over the world and the UN recognition, though I was pleasantly surprised by the onslaught of Yogasana programs doing the rounds on Whatsapp and the mass yoga sessions being held as, in the case of Yogasana, ‘one size doesn’t fit all’!!
And this is when we come to the question: Is Yoga for you?
What with these mass Yoga programs or your friend or co-worker always going on about how great you would feel if you’d just try Yoga, you suspect whether they are right! Would it really help with your back pain, knees or stress levels?!
Aren’t you better off with good old walking?! Or just gymming?!
With all the confusion on what exactly does Yoga do and which style to follow , do you or don’t you, get into it?
Or are you just not a ‘YOGA PERSON’!!
Well, in an attempt to simplify Yoga and help you make up your mind, here I go……
[Written by RITU NAGPAL, with inputs from Dr Omkar Mulik, a Kevalyadham & Iyengar Yoga Institute trained Yoga Instructor with an MPTH(Masters in Physiotherapy) in Sports Medicine].
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. While stretching is certainly involved, Yoga is not just that. Specific stretches & postures are suitable for different lifestyle disorders & injuries.
There was a time when taking Yoga Classes with a teacher from a certain famous Yoga School, I had a knee injury while playing badminton. Before my appointment with the specialist, I asked him to help with the right kind of exercises to manage pain. He got me doing these stretches & exercises involving rotations & swaying, which, if I had continued, would have done more harm than good and the pain didn’t reduce!!
After various rounds of medication and a stint with crutches, I needed physiotherapy and maintenance exercises for my knee. That was the time I met Dr Omkar Mullik, who used physiotherapy and yoga to heal me physically and mentally, puting me firmly on the road to a lifelong yoga practice.
His degree in Sports Medicine gives him the scientific know-how of ‘WHY’ and ‘WHEN’ of asanas and his training at the Iyengar Yoga Institute definitely gives him the ‘HOW’.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, which means “to yoke” i.e. bind or connect the spirit and physical body.
According to Dr Omkar Mullik,
“Yoga is the union of ‘body with the conscious mind and the conscious mind with the soul or the subconscious mind”
It’s not just a set of exercises, but a lifestyle! It makes us physically AND mentally strong.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the ancient Sanskrit texts that is often cited as a source for the philosophy behind yoga, there are eight ‘limbs’ (‘Ashtanga’ in Sanskrit) of yoga.
These were followed as part of one’s lifestyle since ancient times. They are basically rules to live life by and are the guidelines for the ‘art of living’.
In modern day practice, though, Yoga has come to be just a physical process dealing with fitness and health by means of the practice of body positions, postures & movements called Asanas, in combination with different breathing techniques termed as Pranayama.
Asanas are essentially body positions and movements
There are as many Asanas as there are ‘Yonis’. A Yoni is a form of life or species. Eg. Marjariasana: Cat Pose ;Ushtra-asana: Camel Pose ;Adho-mukha-swanasana: Downward facing Dog Pose.
‘STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM’
sthira = strong; steady; stable; motionless
sukham = comfortable; ease filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = asana; posture; seated position; physical practice
i.e. ‘Practicing yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner
gives rise to harmony with the physical body.’
Pranayama is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises.
Dr. Omkaar gives us a very interesting historical logic to this question-
- Tortoises have one of the longest lifespans of any animal. Some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years.
The Tortoise takes 2 breaths per minute.
- The Elephant has a lifespan of 60 years, but according to the Guiness Book of World Records, an Elephant named Lin Wang lived upto 86 years of age.
Elephants take 25 breaths in 1 minute.
- A Dog has a lifespan of 10 to 14 years.
Dogs take 70-75 breaths per minute.
- Human lifespan is 90 years.
We take 15 breaths per minute.
People were believed to have a lifespan of about 400 years in the DWAPAR YUG i.e. during the Mahabharatha, with Bhishmapitamah living upto 125 years!
So, what does all this mean?
Dr. Omkar says, “This data is to prove that in order to live longer, we need to consciously take in less breaths per minute.”
Practicing PRANAYAMA helps us to consciously reduce our breaths to about 4 per minute.
As a result of reducing our breaths per minute from 15 non-focused quick breaths to 4 focused deep ones, we increase the Oxygen intake.
More Oxygen supply to the blood leads to a smooth & more effective arterial venous flow( blood flow to & from the heart)
More effective arterial venous flow means a more relaxed state of mind leading to the optimal functioning of the brain and a younger looking you!
Having crossed over into the dreaded 40s, I definitely want that!
STYLES OF YOGA
The poses in Yoga can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose.
The poses are a constant, but the approach to them varies depending on the yoga tradition or style. And while there are many great yoga books and videos available, there is no substitute from learning directly from a good teacher.
In order to choose a good teacher, we have to be wise and trust our instincts, besides the qualifications and the experience, of course.
Typically, a yoga class at a gym will be more focused on the purely physical benefits of yoga, while one at a yoga centre may delve more into the spiritual side.
The following are the most commonly known styles of Yoga:
Ideal for: Beginners
Hatha is the general term for slow-paced and gentle yoga, and can provide a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.
Hatha Yoga would not suit people who can’t sit still for too long & like to move around.
Ideal for: Weight loss.
Vinyasa, which means breath-synchronized movement, tends to be a more vigorous style based on the performance of a series of poses called ‘Suryanamaskara’ or ‘Sun Salutations’ in which, movement is matched to the breath, building lean muscle mass throughout the body.
Other asanas include inversions, such as a shoulder stand or a headstand.
Ideal for: Seasoned yoga practitioners and to be on the spiritual path
Ashtanga yoga metaphorically focuses on Patanjali’s ‘eight limbs’is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga practice. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order.
Ashtanga practice is very physically demanding, because of the constant movement from one pose to the next.
Ashtanga is the inspiration for what is often called ‘Power Yoga’. Power Yoga is the western world’s term for a class/ session based on the flowing style of Ashtanga, but not necessarily keeping strictly to the set Ashtanga series of poses.
Ideal for– Neck / back problems, arthritis, balance issues and injuries
Developed by yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1930s, Iyengar Yoga covers all 8 aspects of Ashtanga Yoga and emphasizes upon proper body alignment to strengthen the muscles and support the joints.
Iyengar practice usually emphasizes holding poses over long periods versus moving quickly from one pose to the next.
Iyengar yoga also includes seated, and twisting asanas, as well as inversions and backbends.
Often props like blocks and straps are used to get into poses.
Ideal for– Building flexibility and flushing out toxins
Founder Bikram Choudhury popularized this style of “hot yoga” in the 1970s. To mimic the climate in his hometown in northern India, studios are heated to around 40 degrees celcius, with a 40 percent humidity level.
This style is popular mostly in the U.S. “The heat loosens the muscles, increasing the body’s ability to stretch,” says Raffael Pacitti, the owner of Bikram Yoga Manhattan.
Vinyasa and Ashtanga are ‘cardiovascular’ exercises and help to lose weight if done regularly, along with a diet plan.
According to a study, Vinyasa burns up to seven calories a minute!!
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi performing Yogasana on the International Yoga Day
MY LEARNINGS OF
- Anyone can start a yoga practice or Yogasana, even if one doesn’t feel like one is very flexible or very strong. These develop over time, for sure!
- Because yoga is so diverse, each person has their own interpretation of the asanas, even within the same session. So, as long as the asanas are done with technical know-how and awareness, we are good to go.
- We need to work at our own pace on a particular day; not the neighbour’s or even our own, of a week ago.
- The amazing thing about yoga is that our practice is always evolving and changing so it never gets boring.
- Another liberating aspect about Yoga is that it encourages the non-competitive spirit, It helps in letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else.
- In Yoga, although the poses themselves do not change, our relationship to them does and it always manages to fulfil and assist in incredible transformation.
- People, like me, find that the physical practice of yoga becomes a gateway into a spiritual exploration.
- Others, just enjoy a wonderful low-impact workout that makes them feel the joy and energy that yoga imparts.
YOGA CAN SUIT ANY STYLE
WHAT STYLE SUITS YOU?
YOGA IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO BUT HOW YOU DO IT. IT IS ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.
IT IS NOT ABOUT BECOMING SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT. IT IS ABOUT GETTING BACK TO THE TRUE AWESOME YOU!
Article written by RITU NAGPAL
Dr Omkar Mulik practices in Pune. He can be contacted through his website www.droms.in.