Foundations of YOGA by Wendy Kolanz

Yoga: Bringing Joy, Creativity and Wholeness to Life

 

When you think of Yoga, does it bring an image of sweaty exercises on a rubber mat with the goal mainly being physical fitness? Yoga today is most often defined in terms of the postures or Asanas that constitute the third limb of Yoga. This confuses people about the true nature of authentic Yoga, since in actuality Asana is one small part or just one tool in the box. Yoga is a complete system and the word itself refers to the entirety of YOGA.  

 

In fact, true YOGA is for everyone. It has been called a “life-style” but is more accurately a way of living that brings inner growth for a truly fulfilling life – it is really about embracing a process that allows you to be integrated, authentic and connected to a conscious awareness of the expanding bigger picture.

 

What Yoga IS NOT

  • Yoga is not just another sweaty exercise program on a rubber mat
  • Yoga is not a cult looking for devotees
  • Yoga does not contradict or interfere with any religion
  • It is not about becoming a pretzel or being a super slim, trim “yoga body” although it can help
  • It is not about special clothing, beads or tattoos, a specific age group, body type or ability

 

What YOGA IS

  • Yoga is for Everyone regardless of age, body type or ability
  • Yoga is the practice of tools and principles that bring inner growth for a truly fulfilling life
  • Yoga practice is a door to better health in body, mind and spirit
  • Yoga is a profound, beautiful and powerful, ancient 5000 year old living tradition
  • Yoga accepts all paths based in universal truths, asking each practitioner only to remain true to themselves building greater strength within; clarifying and enhancing their own belief system  

Yoga Alliance is a certifying organization for Yoga instructors. The organization lists 10 reasons to try Yoga. They are summarized below.

  1. Stress Relief: Yoga encourages relaxation, reduces physical stress lowering the stress hormone cortisol; lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, improves digestion, boosts the      immune system, and eases symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, asthma and insomnia.
  2. Pain Relief: Studies show asana and meditation can reduce or ease pain for people with cancer, MS, hypertension, back and neck pain, and chronic conditions including auto-immune, arthritis, and emotional pain as well.
  3. Breathe Better: Yoga breathing techniques help develop slower, deeper breathing, improving lung function, triggering relaxation response, and increasing available oxygen to the body.
  4. Flexibility: Yoga helps      improve flexibility, mobility, range of motion, and through continued      practice improves body alignment and posture, helping relieve back, neck,      joint and muscle problems and pain.
  5. More Strength: Yoga asanas involve every muscle in the body head to toe, building more muscle tone and strength, and relieving muscular tension.
  6. Weight Management: Yoga asanas (even more gentle styles) and deep breathing can aid weight control by reducing cortisol levels and stress. Yoga study and practice also encourages healthy eating habits, and increases sense of wellbeing and      self-esteem.
  7. Better Circulation: Yoga asanas and pranayama (breathing practices) help improve circulation and movement of oxygenated blood more efficiently to cells, helping with detoxification of the body.
  8. Cardiovascular Conditioning: Even gentle asana practice can lower resting heart rate, increase endurance and improve oxygen uptake during exercise.
  9. Improve Focus: Yoga practices are designed to bring us into the present, develop more awareness of body/mind connection, and improve concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory.
  10. Inner Peace: Asana, breathing practices, contemplation and meditation help develop a growing awareness of our body/mind/spirit connection, for a more spiritual and      satisfying outlook on life. Many practitioners who began practicing for reasons of greater physical well-being report Yoga has become an essential and effective path to more peace, happiness and wellbeing enhancing all levels of life.

 

In the true living tradition of YOGA, people in both the East and West practice yogic techniques to create a sense of inner peace, harmony, and clarity of mind – values absolutely relevant and necessary in today’s world.

 

Just as the popular saying goes, that “We are Spiritual Beings having a Physical Experience,” the very essence of YOGA draws upon that same truth, and is at its essence a Spiritual system and spiritual practice. In Yoga, we learn to begin every day from where we are.

Yoga’s origins are ancient and deep, and have been defined and refined over many thousands of years.

YOGA in a Brief General and Historical Context    

 Origins of Yoga in India

 Ancient scriptures define YOGA as a science. It is a practical, methodical and systematic discipline that concerns itself with helping human beings become aware of their deepest nature and realize their greatest potential. It is a living tradition with doctrines and practices dating back to the time of the Vedas and Upanishads, around 4500-5000 BCE, or some believe, even earlier. 

Patanjali, was an Indian scholar and teacher who around 200 BCE codified or systematized – i.e. collected and organized – these ancient teachings into a text consisting of precepts or maxims called Sutras. Patanjali is regarded as the Founder of Yoga and defining YOGA in terms of “The Eight Limbs,” is based on his sutras. Patanjali’s efforts are deemed so important to present day Yoga, that these ancient teachings are often divided historically into three periods of different emphasis: Pre-Patanjali, Patanjali and Post Patanjali. The Eight Limbs of Yoga defined by Patanjali’s Sutras include: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. 

Yogic Sciences include the practices and truths contained in the Eight Limbs, as well as:

  • Ayurveda – the principles of the imbalances causing dis-ease formation, and knowledge and practices for healing and health.
  • Vastu – the principles based on laws of nature meaning the forces of earth, fire, water, air and space, and the directions, and how their energy applies to balance and harmony in the architecture of homes, public buildings and our natural      surroundings, to enhance prosperity, health, and happiness, through the flow of positive energy.
  • Vedic Astrology or Jyotish – a very complex combination of cosmology, astronomy and astrology used to chart auspicious timing for major events in a person’s life including birth, marriage, death, and information for larger world events.

 

Yoga and the West

 As Yoga Gurus (teachers) and their teachings spread West in the 1800’s, interest and fascination gained followers both in Europe and the United States. Some notable followers include the British writer Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and the Transcendentalists, a philosophical and religious movement (mostly Unitarian), whose proponents included writers like Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson and many others. The teachings and principles of the ancient system infiltrated Western intellectualism, spiritualists, the emerging field of psychology, and even spilled into media and pop culture – think Beatles and beyond – on both sides of the pond. Even Albert Einstein’s quote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” is right in line with Yogic principles of growth and consciousness.

Now statues of Buddha and mala beads are as ubiquitous as the word Yoga itself. Yet, with all this rich history and the incorporation of much of Yoga’s knowledge base into our culture, essentially no credit has been given to the rich historical tradition from which it came. When we divide the system of Yoga into pieces instead of seeing it as a whole, we do ourselves a huge disservice.  In pieces it significantly loses value for all of humanity for the simple reason that it loses its spiritual base. 

Many of us in the spiritual communities of today are working to help build the living principles of universal truths and true spirituality back into the lives of all individuals, our culture and the world.  An interesting and engaging read on Yoga’s journey to the West and its impact, can be found in the book by Philip Goldberg, AMERICAN VEDA, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.

 I sincerely hope you will join me and find this journey of 30 days to be as valuable to you as my Yoga journey has been for me. Remember, you can only begin from where you are today, yet please remember that the energy of your intent, combined with teachings, experiences and practices,  and the learning and transformations that impact your life in a positive way, will transform tomorrow not just for you, but for others as well. 

We are all connected. We are all One. 

Namaste

Wendy

 

 

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