Introduction to Yoga: Its Origin and Health Benefits

Introduction to Yoga: Its Origin and Health Benefits

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From the outside yoga can seem like an esoteric, mystical endeavor exclusively reserved for Tibetan monks and spiritual adepts. This could not be further from the truth.  Yoga is not only accessible to anyone, but it is also easy to learn if you have the right mindset, and the benefits are only a few minutes away.

Several studies have confirmed that a single yoga class for inpatients at a psychiatric hospital could significantly reduce tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue.

This article will show you how to instill simple yoga techniques into your daily routine, inevitably leading you to a healthier, happier, and more successful life.

Related: Basic Yoga Poses for Beginners: Yoga Poses to Tone Your Body

I.      What Is Yoga?

“Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow.” -Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Yoga is the science of right living and, as such, is intended to be incorporated into daily life. It works on all aspects of the person: the physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual. The word yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ and is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj which means ‘to join’.

This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. On a more practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind, and emotions.

This is done through the practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma, and meditation, and must be achieved before union can take place with the higher reality.

The science of yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point. When the imbalance is experienced at this level, the organs, muscles, and nerves no longer function in harmony, rather they act in opposition to each other.

For instance, the endocrine system might become irregular, and the efficiency of the nervous system decrease to such an extent that a disease will manifest. Yoga aims at bringing the different bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for the good of the whole body.

From the physical body, yoga moves on to the mental and emotional levels. Many people suffer from phobias and neuroses as a result of the stresses and interactions of everyday living. Yoga cannot provide a cure for life, but it does present a proven method for coping with it. Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh explained yoga as an “…integration and harmony between thought, word, and deed, or integration between head, heart, and hand”. Through the practices of yoga, awareness develops of the interrelation between the emotional, mental, and physical levels, and how a disturbance in any one of these affects the others.

Gradually, this awareness leads to an understanding of the subtler areas of existence. There are many branches of yoga: Raja, Hatha, jnana, karma, bhakti, mantra, kundalini, and laya, to name but a few, and many texts explain them in detail. Each needs to find that yoga’s most suited to his/her particular personality and need.

In the last half of this century, hatha yoga has become the most well-known and widely practiced of the systems. However, the concept of what constitutes yoga is broadening as more people take it up, and this knowledge is spreading. In the ancient texts, hatha yoga consists of the shatkarma, cleansing practices, only.

Today, however, hatha yoga commonly embraces the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandha as well.

II.   Yoga for Beginners:

Before we get into the practical how-to of various yogic poses, we should consider what it is we’re talking about and what it’s for. Yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years. 

The word yoga comes from Sanskrit and is related to the English word yoke. Just as a yoke joins an ox to a cart or a plow, yoga joins mind and body together in a well-integrated union. On a spiritual level, yoga unites the individual’s personal experience to an experience of absolute reality.

Yoga refers to a broad variety of ancient Indian spiritual practices. These practices are designed to liberate the individual from their ordinary, bound, unfree experience of the self and the world, into an expansive, unlimited state of complete freedom.

So right away we can do away with the idea that to do yoga, you need to sign up with a religious group and give up your own beliefs, adopting a new set of doctrines and strange behaviors. If you’re not into the metaphysical ideas behind yoga as spiritual transformation, that’s no problem.

Yoga is, first and foremost, personal, practical, and experiential. What you get out of it depends on what you bring into it; your goals and purposes for doing yoga will determine what kind of positive effect it has on your life.

In particular, the popular perception associates yoga with a system of bendy, twisty physical movements and positions. Some may even think yoga is just glorified stretching. But yoga is about more than just stretching. It’s about creating balance in body and mind, joining the two together, and bringing them into close communication.

III. Learning About Yoga and Its Origin?

The yoga we know today was developed as a part of the tantric civilization which existed in India and all parts of the world more than ten thousand years ago. In archaeological excavations made in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, now in modern Pakistan, many statues have been found depicting deities resembling Lord Shiva and Parvathi performing various asanas and practicing meditation.

These ruins were once the dwelling place of people who lived in the pre-Vedic age before the Aryan civilization started to flourish in the Indus subcontinent. According to mythical tradition, Shiva is said to be the founder of yoga and Parvathi, his first disciple.

Yoga arose at the beginning of human civilization when man first realized his spiritual potential and began to evolve techniques to develop it. The yogic science was slowly evolved and developed by ancient sages all over the world. The essence of yoga has often been shrouded in or explained by different symbols, analogies, and languages.

Some traditions believe that yoga was a divine gift revealed to the ancient sages so that mankind could have the opportunity to realize its divine nature. In ancient times, yoga techniques were kept secret and were never written down or exposed to public view. They were passed on from teacher or guru to disciple by word of mouth.

In this way, there was a clear understanding of their meaning and aim. Through personal experience, realized yogis and sages were able to guide sincere aspirants along the correct path, removing any confusion, misunderstanding, and excessive intellectual contemplation.

Also Read: Yoga Curious? Try These 16 Poses for Beginners

IV.   Basics to Yoga?

Today, as we prepare to enter the 21st century, a spiritual heritage is being reclaimed of which yoga is very much apart. While yoga’s central theme remains the highest goal of the spiritual path, yogic practices give direct and tangible benefits to everyone regardless of their spiritual aims.

Physical and mental therapy is one of yoga’s most important achievements. What makes it so powerful and effective is the fact that it works on the holistic principles of harmony and unification.

Yoga has succeeded as an alternative form of therapy in diseases such as asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders, and other ailments of a chronic and constitutional nature where modern science has not.

Research into the effects of yogic practices on HIV is currently underway with promising results. According to medical scientists, yoga therapy is successful because of the balance created in the nervous and endocrine systems which directly influences all the other systems and organs of the body.

For most people, however, yoga is simply a means of maintaining health and well-being in an increasingly stressful society. Asanas remove the physical discomfort accumulated during a day at the office sitting in a chair, hunched over a desk. Relaxation techniques help maximize the effectiveness of ever-diminishing time off.

In an age of mobile phones, beepers, and twenty-four-hour shopping, yogic practices make great personal and even business sense. Beyond the needs of individuals, the underlying principles of yoga provide a real tool to combat social malaise.

At a time when the world seems to be at a loss, rejecting past values without being able to establish new ones, yoga provides a means for people to find their way of connecting with their true selves. Through this connection with their real selves people can manifest harmony in the current age, and for compassion to emerge where hitherto there has been none.

In this respect, yoga is far from simply being physical exercises, rather, it is an aid to establishing a new way of life that embraces both inner and outer realities. However, this way of life is an experience that cannot be understood intellectually and will only become living knowledge through practice and experience.

V. Yoga Meditation or Yoga Practice Benefits

Over the past decade or so, a vast amount of scientific research has been carried out to investigate the benefits of Yoga for the human mind and body. Thousands of peer-reviewed studies have now been conducted on the benefits of yoga, and the truth is practicing yoga has so many benefits that I could not possibly list them all in this article.

So here are a few noteworthy benefits of developing a consistent yoga practice:

  1. Improves flexibility
  2. Builds muscle strength
  3. Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
  4. Eases Asthma
  5. Improves memory
  6. Reduces insomnia
  7. Relieves pain more effectively than medication
  8. Perfects posture
  9. Lowers blood sugar
  10. Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
  11. Protects spine
  12. Helps with weight loss
  13. Slows down the aging process
  14. Helps recover from addiction
  15. Helps beat depression
  16. Increases energy levels
  17. Increases endurance
  18. Enhances fertility
  19. Reduces pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic conditions
  20. Boosts immune system functionality
  21. Increases blood flow
  22. Reduces stress and anxiety
  23. Improves relationships
  24. Improves athletic performance
  25. Lowers blood pressure more effectively than medication
  26. Regulates adrenal glands
  27. Improves focus
  28. Cultivates mental strength
  29. Fosters creativity
  30. Helps sleep deeper
  31. Decreases muscle tension
  32. Improves balance
  33. Enhances feelings of happiness and vitality
  34. Enhances self-awareness
  35. Fosters peace of mind, happiness and joy Develops intuition
  36. Builds wisdom

VI.   How to do Yoga? Or How to Learn Yoga at Home?

These yoga poses are ideal for beginners, so start your day or yoga practice journey with the help of these Surya Namaskara sequences of poses, which are some of the most famous and important practices of yoga.

The poses in Surya namaskara have many benefits for the body and mind, improving stress, mood, promoting weight loss and muscle tone, and helping to relieve many common illnesses and conditions. Because Surya namaskara is such a powerful way to promote overall health, it has its dedicated section.

Surya Namaskara / Sun Salutations Group

The asanas in this group form one of the most popular, core practices of yoga. The name comes from Surya, the sun, and namaskara, expressing homage or greeting. The asanas in this group have many physical benefits and also double as a way of honoring the positive, life-giving light of the sun.

Through Surya namaskara, the practitioner internalizes the sun’s beneficial, vitalizing energy, enlivening his or her body, mind, and spirit.

Scientific research corroborates the traditional wisdom on Surya namaskara benefits. Even if you perform no other positions, ten or twenty minutes of Surya namaskara every day will reduce stress and increase your overall physical health.

Researchers have found a difference between performing this sequence slowly and quickly. The advantage of going through the positions several times quickly is similar to other aerobic exercises and improves cardiovascular and respiratory health.

It has tremendous overall benefits, promotes weight loss, improves digestion, strengthens the abdominal muscles, reduces stress and anxiety, increases flexibility, tones the muscles in the arms and legs, strengthens the back, makes you look young, and, for women, promotes a regular menstrual cycle.

There are twelve poses to be performed as part of a single sequence— seven initial poses, which are then repeated in reverse, coming back to the original pose. You’ll see what this means as we go through the poses one by one and learn how they all flow together.

1.   Pranamasana / Prayer Pose

Begin by standing with the feet together. The back, neck, and head should be held straight so that your entire body is aligned. Join the palms of your hands at the level of your heart in a gesture of respect.

Breathe normally, in a relaxed way. Allow any tension in the body to relax, and feel the weight of your body where your feet touch the ground. Gently follow the breath as it goes in and out, just allowing your attention to rest on the movements of the breath.

You may close your eyes or keep them open, maintaining a gentle gaze and looking ahead. Pranamasana establishes a restful, meditative mindset at the beginning of your session.

It induces relaxation and brings your concentration within, allowing you to feel calm and centered.

Benefits: Pranamasana relaxes the mind, enhances focus, and gives a sense of balance to the body and mind.

2.   Hasta Uttanasana / Raised Arms Pose

From the standing position of prayer pose, raise both arms high above your head as you inhale. The arms should be separated, held apart at shoulder width. Arch your arms, head, and torso backward in a gentle curve, so that you feel the muscles in your abdomen stretching.

Benefits: This pose stretches and tones the abdominal muscles. It engages and strengthens muscles in the arms, shoulders, and back. Specifically, this helps improve various spinal problems and stiffness and tension in the shoulders and back.

Hasta Uttanasana increases lung capacity by expanding the ribcage and opening up the chest. It also improves digestion by stretching abdominal organs.

3.   Padahastasana / Hands-to-Feet Pose

As you exhale, bend forward and touch the floor with the fingers or palms of your hands on either side of your feet. Do not bend your knees: keep your legs straight. If you can, touch your knees with your head. But this will be a

 challenge to accomplish at first, and you may even have difficulty bringing your hands to the floor. It is important to remember, in this as in every yoga position, not to try to force your body into a position that it does not want to hold.

Yoga is not about the mechanical repetition of positions. It is about bringing the mind and body into harmony with one another. As your mind becomes more and more attuned to your body, you will become aware of the messages that the body is communicating to you.

If you experience any pain or strain while attempting a position, that means your body is sending you a clear signal: No, don’t force it, ease up a bit. So listen to these messages and don’t push yourself any farther than is comfortable.

If you can’t make it all the way, just bend forward as far as you can go and no farther. In time, your flexibility will improve.

Benefits: Padahastasana stretches and lengthens the muscles in your back and legs, especially your hamstrings. It allows your shoulders and neck to relax. It also benefits the wrists and can improve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. And, it improves digestion by targeting abdominal problems and can help relieve constipation. It also improves circulation.

4.   Ashva Sanchalanasana / Equestrian Pose

From a hands-to-feet pose, with the palms of your hands on the floor, stretch your right leg back as far as it can go while inhaling. Simultaneously bend your left knee without moving your left foot from its position.

Bend your back and neck, so that the head is arched backward and your eyes gaze directly above you. As you achieve the final position, your fingertips should remain touching the floor, shoulder-width apart on either side of your left foot.

Benefits: This position stretches, strengthens, and improves flexibility in the leg muscles. It stretches the abdominal organs, stimulating their functioning.

5.   Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward-Facing Dog Pose

From the equestrian pose, bring the left foot back and place it beside the right foot as you exhale. At the same time, straighten your arms and legs and push your butt up towards the ceiling. Lower your head between your arms, so that your ears are aligned with your inner arm. Press the heels of your feet to the floor. Take some time to breathe deeply and let yourself feel the stretch in your calves, thighs, shoulders, and arms. Again, it is important not to force yourself into a position, to avoid injury. Get your body as close as it can comfortably get into a downward-facing dog and no closer.

Benefits: Downward-facing dog stretches the legs, arms, shoulders, and spine, strengthening the muscles there. By pressing the heels to the ground, you stretch the calf muscles, which can benefit conditions such as tendinitis of the foot.

It improves digestion and the immune system and stimulates circulation. The downward position of the head increases blood flow to the sinuses. It also energizes the body and mind and helps reduce stress.

6.   Ashtanga Namaskara / Eight-point Salutation

This position is so-called because eight parts of the body touch the floor and the body is positioned as if prostrating. From a downward-facing dog, lower yourself to the floor so that your knees, chest, hands, and chin are all touching the floor.

The toes are bent, resting on the floor. Your butt and abdomen should be raised into the air, and your shoulders touch the backs of your hands. The eyes look forward. When you move into Ashtanga namaskara, there is no inhaling or exhaling.

Instead, hold your breath outside for a few seconds as you maintain this position —that is, move into an eight-point salutation from a downward-facing dog after exhaling.

Benefits: The eight-point salutation strengthens the muscles in the arms, legs, and chest, and helps loosen up the upper part of the spine, flexing the neck and the area between the shoulder blades.

7.   Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose

Lower your hips to the floor. As you inhale, straighten your arms somewhat but keep them slightly bent. Arch your back and lift your chest from the floor. Bend your head back, gazing upwards with your eyes.

Only lift your chest and arch your back as far as they can go without lifting your hips and pelvic area from the floor; unless your spine is very flexible, your elbows will probably remain somewhat bent. The feet may be either lie flat on the floor or balance on bent toes. Squeeze your buttocks to remove pressure from your lower back.

Benefits: The cobra pose increases flexibility in the spine, helping to relieve stiffness in the lower back especially. It stretches the muscles in your chest and abdomen. It stimulates abdominal organs, in particular improving digestion and helping to alleviate constipation. And, it elevates your mood and relieves stress. For women, it helps promote regular menstruation.

Contraindications: If you have spinal problems or pain in your back, you may find this position a bit uncomfortable or painful, so don’t try to force yourself into it. Take it easy on your spine, keep your elbows bent, and do not arch your back to the point of discomfort.

8.   Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward-Facing Dog Pose

As you exhale, resume downward-facing dog just as before, once again lifting your buttocks towards the ceiling, pushing your heels to the floor, and lowering your head between your arms. Starting with step 8, you will be performing the same sequence in reverse, so the positions will be the same as described above.

9.   Ashva Sanchalanasana / Equestrian Pose

From a downward-facing dog, bend your left leg and bring it forward so that the footrests between your hands. Resume the equestrian pose as before, with your left leg forward, and your right leg stretched back. (When you repeat the entire twelve-position sequence, you will alter (4) and (9) by keeping your right leg forward, and your left leg stretched back.)

10.   Padahastasana / Hands-to-Feet Pose

As you exhale, bend your right leg and bring it forward so that it rests next to your left. Straighten your knees and keep your hands on the floor next to your legs, resuming Padahastasana as before.

11.   Hasta Uttanasana / Raised Arms Pose

As you inhale, resume hasta Uttanasana as before, straightening your body and lifting your arms high above your head, and arching your back and neck.

12.   Pranamasana / Prayer Pose

As you exhale, straighten your back and bring your arms down, holding your hands, palms pressed together, in a gesture of respect.

VII. Conclusion:

Surya namaskara can be performed quickly and slowly, depending on your purpose. If you go through the sequence slowly, then hold each position for fifteen to thirty cycles of breath, allowing your muscles and mind to relax fully. Doing Surya namaskara slowly has profound benefits for relaxing the body and mind and induces a deep meditative state and heightened awareness of the body.

In addition to developing meditative awareness and integration of body and mind, this can also have a tremendous effect on reducing stress and anxiety, alleviating depression, and regulating your mood, which will help you remain calm and happy throughout the day.

Performed quickly, Surya namaskara is a powerful cardiovascular workout that strengthens muscles in the entire body, improves respiratory and circulatory function, and promotes weight loss, in addition to the specific physical benefits of each position.

A healthy amount of exercise is also a huge mood boost, and also helpful for reducing stress. But in general, we could say that going through the sequence slowly has meditative and mental benefits while going quickly benefits the body.

Yoga is very much like going to the gym. Practice it regularly, and you become fit. Slack off, on the other hand, and you become chubby. In order to attain profound levels of inner peace, mental clarity, and happiness, you must practice yoga consistently.

Also Read: The Habit of Practicing Positive Affirmations to Build Self-Esteem

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