Yoga Practice – What Is It?
While many, if not most, people have heard of yoga; there are a lot of people who don’t actually know what it is. Some think that it is a sort of airy bizarre mysticism, while others think it relates to a particular religion, such as Hinduism or Buddhism. And the common belief that yoga came from Hinduism is erroneous.
In actual fact, there is very good evidence that yoga predates any form of organized religion by perhaps a thousand years or more. And since the Rig Veda, one of the fundamental books of Hinduism, was written from oral tradition around 1900 BC or maybe earlier, that makes yoga very old indeed.
Although yoga has been adapted by many religions, its original purpose was more the promotion of health, rather than enlightenment. The actual origin of yoga is clouded in the mists of the past. The archeological evidence we do have indicates that it was first developed as a way of promoting and maintaining a healthy body.
Yoga has only gained acceptance in the west as a legitimate practice within the last forty to fifty years. When I was growing up, many people thought yoga was some form of “circus trick” like laying on a bed of nails. We now know that yoga is a physical and mental discipline that has many benefits.
Yoga Practice Component
Yoga has evolved over the centuries and now consists of three parts.
1. Exercise: These are a set of very specific physical exercises designed to increase flexibility, improve strength and influence the glandular system of the body. Their purpose is to promote health by increasing the flow of nutrients, stimulating glands and create systemic balance. You won’t build muscles with yoga, but your stamina will definitely increase.
2. Breath: Good breath control enables proper oxygenation of tissues, improves alertness and reduces the chances of disease.
3. Meditation: A calm mind contributes to a healthy body by reducing stress and improving outlook. Meditation also clarifies the mind and makes for a happier and more aware person.
There are several different types of yoga practice.
The major types of yoga practices are:
This is yoga blended with the Hindu Scriptures. It is a major form of yoga as practiced by Hindus.
Sometimes referred to as “The Royal Road,” this is yoga that incorporates the many varieties of yoga under one roof and teaches each type as is needed by the student and decided by the teacher. The various aspects of yoga are taught in accordance with what is referred to as the Eightfold Path, including such elements as control of the senses, self-discipline and abstinence, breath work, meditation and intensive scholarly study. As you can see, Raja Yoga is a very difficult form of yoga and not for everybody. It’s a lifetime pursuit.
There are also other types such as Bhakti yoga, characterized by meditation on the concept of God, as well as Kashmir Shaivism and Tantra Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is the most familiar type of yoga and the one most Westerners think of when they hear the word. Its primary concentration is on movements, postures, stretching and breathing. Hatha yoga is the most common yoga in the West because it is the least spiritual and the one Westerners can most easily relate to. Nevertheless, all forms of yoga are beneficial and what type of yoga is practiced depends on the type of person and the advantages they wish to gain.
“Yoga is the unifying art of transforming dharma into action, be it through inspired thought, properly nurturing our children, a painting, a kindness or an act of peace that forever moves humanity forward. “ ~ Micheline Berry