Strenuous body yoga of contortion demanding the highest flexibility, held for prolonged periods, is typically what most of us understand by yoga 101 today. These kinds of yoga 101 poses are called asana(s). It is widely believed that asana practice predominantly originated in one of the older branches of yoga – hatha-yoga.
As most Western yoga today is focused on asana it is assumed by most that our modernist postural yoga (as it is often named as a direct descendant of hatha-yoga. However, through most of history only very few yoga practitioners practiced demanding asanas. Many would, at best, perform a mild form of stretching, others more energetic movements combined with intensive breathing, and yet others, simply quiet meditation. Some only studied religion-philosophical texts while others chanted sounds.
Finally, throughout India’s history will be found millions of people called jogis (yogis) who were performing neither postures nor meditation but rather were beggars, magicians, thugs, merchant soldiers, and fortune-tellers. Many yogis never practiced any yoga (defined as either asana or meditation). There are, in fact, several branches of yoga 101 poses, but you will not find official schools with any clear definitions of their specialty.
Possibly hundreds of styles of yoga 101 pose developed and mutated in India over an extensive period. Scrolling through old Indian scriptures we find names like raja-yoga, jnana-yoga, karma-yoga, Kundalini-yoga, laya-yoga, bhakti-yoga, and kriya to mention a few well-known examples.
Many of the branches overlap and thus there is no consensus among the present schools as to how they define themselves. Each practice gives a different answer to what they believe is the nature of yoga 101.
(Related: Mindfulness or Psychotherapy?)
I. Yoga 101?
At the beginning of the 20th century, most Western people who had heard the word yoga belonged either to a cultural elite or too esoteric circles. In the main, they thought the word referred to meditation. However, by the beginning of the 21st-century yoga had become a well-known word believed to refer to acrobatic poses.
In other words, during the last 100 years or so, yoga has moved from esoteric meditation exercises for the few to the mass culture of body fitness. So even in our Western societies, during the short period, we have been aware of it, yoga practice and its meaning has changed dramatically.
It follows then – just by observing the evolving nature of the yoga sign in the West – we can begin to marvel at yoga’s changing cultural use and significance during its 2,500 years’ history in India! However, as we shall see on reading the following couple of pages, many modern yoga popularisers have arrived at a general and timeless answer describing what yoga is about.
I would label this way of thinking an ahistorical approach as it ignores historical change and the society-effect. We will follow some of these ahistorical efforts to define yoga’s core principles.
Many readers may wonder if the word ‘yoga’ in itself reveals its full meaning. What did the sign ‘yoga’ really mean, as it originated? Hence, many yoga popularisers believe they can find the nature of yoga by investigating its etymology.
‘Yoga’ is an old Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is the equivalent of the Latin language of Europe: an old language used by the elite to communicate knowledge amongst themselves. However, most Sanskrit words have many meanings – often changing according to their literary context – and often, over time, their meaning changes further.
This also applies to ‘yoga’: “union, join, harness, yoke, practice” are just some of the synonyms dictionaries offer.
So the word could be used in the old Sanskrit scriptures to mean anything from to merge, to contact, to discipline, to control, to meditate, to practice, an approach, a way, a method, etc. Each of these translations may, as we will see, have several meanings when we begin to think about it.
Take, for instance, the popular translation of yoga as “to discipline”: When we think about it, there are many ways to discipline something – and anyway what is it we are disciplining?
For instance, soldiers are very disciplined, but they are not seen to practice yoga 101. So would we know what yoga was about if we agreed that its exact translation is “to discipline”? In other words, studying the direct translation of the word will not help us in understanding the whys and what’s of yoga.
II. Yoga 101: Yoga for Beginners?
The most popular definition of the Sanskrit term yoga is “union”, i.e. “bringing together”. Here, for instance, is the authoritative definition of J. Grimes (1996): A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy who defines yoga this way: ‘union; yoke; a process or path or discipline leading to oneness with the Divine or with one’s Self (from the verb root yuj: “to unite, join, connect”)’.
However, the term ‘union’ creates problems. The word yoga (‘the signifier’) was first rather late in history encoded with the meaning ‘union’ (‘the signified’). The yoga signifier may well have been used for 500 -1000 years before certain religious cults – e.g. Pasupata’s worshipping Siva – talked about yoga as “the soul’s union with Siva” (White 2009).
Before that, the yoga sign was not explicitly encoded with the meaning ‘union’. Thus this definition does not capture most early usages of the word ‘yoga’. Furthermore, to define yoga as ‘union’ is too wide. Many forms of the union have little to do with yoga. A union of a family or merging of two companies will not be seen as yoga.
So yoga in this view must be a special kind of ‘union’ and we wonder which? As a response to this, some may then reason that we unite with a ‘supernatural principle’ or ‘an abstract idea’. Others – as we see it in the definition above – would say it is a union with God (can atheists then not practice yoga?) or even a union happening “inside yourself”.
From these interpretations we can conclude that understanding the sign yoga as signifying ‘union’ is not enough – what we unite with also becomes critical for the definition. But there is no agreement as to what that might be! Scholars agree that this definition is too vague and broad.
They point out that many of the world’s religions and sects aspire to and promise a union with their god. The definition of yoga as ‘union’ seems to make too many things into yoga.
The same objection applies to people who define yoga as ‘spiritual practice’: suddenly most religious people, who have never heard about yoga, are practicing yoga. Others, in their effort to define yoga, study the yogis’ historical scriptures, typically Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (about 1800 years old).
The Yoga Sutra is the earliest known treatise that explicitly aims to define and describe the term yoga. In general, it describes yoga as an austere and ascetic lifestyle – comprising eight (or three) elements. Reading the Yoga Sutra, it is clear that of the eight elements, it is the last element of meditation, which is crucial.
The Yoga Sutra specifically defines yoga as the “cessation of thoughts” – empty mind. This happens in deep meditation. The meditator moves through different layers of consciousness called Samadhi. Finally, at the bottom layer, the meditator achieves liberation – dharma mega Samadhi.
The problem is that yoga is here defined as both an effort (meditation) and a goal (liberation). Further, overall it becomes synonymous with ‘meditation and austere lifestyle’.
The major problem with using the Yoga Sutra to define yoga is that many self-declared yoga branches do not subscribe to austere lifestyles, nor do they regard Samadhi meditation as their main practice or agree with the sutras’ understanding of liberation.
The scholar D. G. White (2009) has further suggested that the sign yoga had a range of radically different meanings not related to meditation at all – especially through its early years from the Vedic’s to the Middle Ages.
The Yoga Sutra definition(s!) are in other words too narrow. The problem with using the Yoga Sutra is that it defines a historical branch of yoga at a given time in history, an ascetic branch focussing on meditation. Both the narrow and the broad definitions are abstract non-historical approaches.
They are trying to grasp, unsuccessfully, the timeless essence or core principles of yoga. Modern cultural studies and above all discourse analysis and genealogy reject the even possibility of this approach. Instead, such post-structuralist approaches suggest that we should look for the sociological processes conditioning the ongoing changes of the yoga discourse.
Genealogy, for instance, understands human categories – like the yoga sign – as Darwin understood the biological species: they are constantly evolving (as they are formed by an ever-changing environment) and the further we look back in history, the more they dissolve and become something else.
III. How Yoga Can Improve Your Relationship?
Many would confidently say that relationship difficulties can be the most explosive and debilitating aspect of their lives. When your love life is good it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad it’s crippling! The greatest area of transformation and self-growth lies in the mirror of intimate relationships.
It is here that the shadow self-arises most inopportunely and spectacularly. The muddy pot of our subconscious mind is voraciously stirred and all of the rejected aspects of ourselves begin to rise to the surface. These could be our negative, disowned qualities but also other wonderful aspects, such as a theatrical nature squashed down by parental criticism at a young age which we then criticize when we see it in our partner.
Too many relationships end in this place of projection and warring shadows, where one or both of the partners can’t be present with their wounding. To do so requires turning the spotlight onto their inner baggage and disowned selves.
1. The Introspective Heart of Yoga:
Science is catching up with ancient wisdom, and today science proves what Yogis always knew: inner reflection, stillness, a practice of mindfulness, and inner calm such as that experienced when practicing Yoga, which is conducive to complete wellbeing and enhanced performance in all areas of life.
Yoga 101 teaches you to be with the contradictions, the opposites, and most importantly, to be with yourself. The practice of yoga empowers you to be your healer.
The deepened connection and intimacy with yourself create closer relationships with others and a greater possibility for meeting at a new level. Becoming our healers, finding support, and having a spiritual practice, such as yoga 101 and meditation, empower us to walk the path back to wholeness more gracefully. We become partners on the road to self-discovery, grounded in the solidity of our healing resources.
2. Sustaining Intimate Relationships
The ancient practice of Yoga is an enormous resource for creating open, authentic, deeply intimate, and sustainable relationships.
Healing comes from within. As you realize yourself as non-separate through the practice of yoga 101 poses and meditation, the abandonment, loneliness, isolation, and sense of separation that can get in the way of close relating, are broken down.
By practicing Yoga, we come to know and love ourselves, we find self-acceptance, a union of opposites within us, and awareness and sensitivity to our own needs. When we are self-aware, self-accepting, self-responsible, and self-loving, we are ready to enter into a relationship with another.
Too often we dive into relationships with our baggage intact and no tools to support the healing and unraveling of the cellular held pain we carry from our past. Whilst intimate relationships can be an incredible catalyst for healing and lifting the lid on this wounding, we can burn our lovers out by overburdening the relationship with our wounds.
3. Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement
The idea behind the mindfulness study was that by practicing the skills of moment-to-moment awareness, people gain insight into patterns in their thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others and can then choose to change habitual patterns, by responding rather than reacting to their partners.
The participating couples underwent eight sessions of Partner Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices, as well as home practice with the help of guided audiotapes.
IV. Yoga 101: Risky Yoga Poses Can Cause Injury
If you’re a beginner, you might as well learn the poses which can cause injuries. However, that does not mean that you ought to stop doing yoga; you just have to be careful and take precautions before doing these poses. Not everybody can do these poses; it takes time to learn and practice them.
Some of these risky yoga poses are:
1. Headstand (SALAMBA SIRSASANA)
Headstand pose is under Ashtanga in yoga classes. However, there are some injuries related to this pose. It is very dangerous, especially for people who have sensitive necks. If you had a neck injury at some point in the past, you must consult your doctor before doing this pose.
As it contains a head-down position, it is neither suitable nor appropriate for people who are suffering from glaucoma, where they cannot adjust their eyes with the pressure being upside down.
When in this position, the blood of the body goes into the brain, which is useful for brainpower but dangerous for those who are pregnant or suffering from glaucoma. The most unsafe thing about this posture is, if you fall, it could be fatal. If you want to do this pose, make sure you consult an experienced yoga master.
2. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
Handstand is the pose in which you have to balance your body with your hands on the ground, your hands being the foundation of the pose. Some poses can go wild on the body; for beginners, this pose can cause strain in the hamstring while attempting it.
It will take time to get perfect at this pose; once perfect, you may feel it easy to do without help. Given that this pose requires better balance as compared with a headstand, the risk of falling in this pose is much greater.
As with headstand, people who are pregnant or suffering from glaucoma ought to avoid this pose. Handstands can also cause injury to the shoulders, as the whole body’s pressure and weight are on the hands, supported by the shoulders. Therefore, you must feel relaxed and positive before doing this pose.
3. Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
This is the third pose which can be dangerous. These poses are dodgy as they put our bodies in different and unstable positions. Yoga poses are effective, but they can cause risky effects on the body.
These poses are for experienced people who do yoga daily. A shoulder stand can put the neck in such a position that, if too much pressure is put on the neck, it can be vulnerable. There is the possibility of putting a strain on the shoulders if the position of the legs is not in alignment or you have incorrect posture.
People with back injuries can try to do this pose if their body is capable of lifting their backs. However, too much pressure on the neck and shoulders can be risky for people who have sensitive necks and backs. Patients with glaucoma cannot and ought not to do this pose. Any pose with the head facing down or upside-down can be dangerous for people who suffer from glaucoma.
4. Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
There has been an increase in the number of dangers when doing this pose, as the pose is not being done in the correct position. In some practices, this pose is taught many times in yoga classes; many people suffer from shoulder injuries if the alignment of the shoulders is incorrect.
In this pose, make sure the shoulders are not plunging towards the elbows. Traditionally, students learning this pose are trained in alignment by keeping their upper arms parallel to the floor. This position may be difficult for beginners.
In this posture, the body is in a straight position and the weight is balanced on the toes and hands. The pressure goes to the shoulders, which can cause some wear and tear. Try not to put your whole weight on the shoulders; therefore, keep the body a little higher than the 90 degrees angle.
If taking a lot of classes of vinyasas, you may feel too tired to do this in a safe manner and with the correct posture of chaturanga. Consequently, you should skip vinyasas to avoid any injuries from doing chaturanga.
An excellent and experienced mentor will not put too much pressure on you or your body, guiding and teaching you different poses according to your body’s potential.
5. Standing Forward Bend (UTTASANA)
Poses that involve the hamstring may lead to severe injuries later on. These poses include the basic bending uttasana and advanced poses such as the monkey pose (hanuman asana). If the injury is severe, it may take years to recover from. Therefore, it is better to avoid such poses which can cause pain.
However, a hamstring can loosen up the body and is of great benefit; yoga students have to suffer and pass this line of a pulled hamstring. The hamstring is the body’s way of telling you to stop or take a little break. However, hamstring injuries can be severe or mild and an almost definite thing to happen to beginners.
- Firstly, before the pose, you have to feel free and confident to refuse your teacher’s adjustment. If you feel and see that the current pose or poses which you will do in the class, later on, can harm you, you can consult with your teacher before the class or simply refuse if you feel that the limit of this pose has reached out to your hamstring.
- Secondly, always keep track of your body’s potential. If you force your body too much, instead of getting a positive result, you will have to face the consequences.
(Also Read: Yoga 101: Yoga Poses for Beginners)