What I Learned about Yoga
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Yoga – I’ll just put it out there, I was not too savvy about what yoga was before writing this piece. My only experience with yoga was a few classes I took a long time ago – I don’t remember much and I didn’t stay around to find out more.
Yoga seems to be the trendy, popular thing to do these days. Everyone is doing it. Yoga studios are popping up like mushrooms. Yoga is being taught, in schools, in hospitals, in the workplace, and in YMCAs. Yes. yoga is trendy and it’s everywhere. Yoga mats and Lululemon type clothes are in all the sports stores. It is very popular, particularly among women, though men do it as well.
So, I wanted to explore it and find out more, especially what all the terminology means and where it comes from. I set out to learn more about this topic – the origins, the philosophy, and the practice. I hope you will enjoy this journey of discovery.
Yoga – A Definition
The best place to start is with a definition. The word yoga literally means to “yoke‘ or “unite“. It is described as the yoking or uniting of the jiva (our transitory self) with Brahman (the infinite Divine self). In other words, it is connecting the god within us to the universal and impersonal god (according to Hinduism)
Brahman is a Hindu word used to describe what the Hindus call their god. Basically, the belief is that Brahman is everything and everyone, and flows through everything. It is a universal conscience – a kind of fluid reality.
Specifically, What Is Yoga?
Yoga, is, at its core, religious worship (according to Hindu yogis), but it is not a religion. It is a ritual that involves the mind, the body, and the spirit in order to connect these with the Divine. There are 4 intertwining aspects:
- Postures and movements
Traditionally, all four aspects must be an integral part of the ritual; each has a specific purpose.
The movements and postures: These asanas are very specific (each with its own name) and involve specific transitions from one position to another in order to attain a posture representing this name. The names of the postures can be names or movements of animals, constellations, the moon, the sun or anything else.
In Hinduism, there are over 330 million deities (little gods). If you were to take a trip to India, it would not be surprising to see people doing yoga in the streets. There are so many statues of “little gods” and the people assume these postures in front of the “deity” as an offering. Cows and monkeys roam freely since they are some of the deities in Hinduism.
The Breathing: In yoga sessions, participants are instructed to breathe consciously, which is the essence of yoga. The conscious breathing assists you in connecting with the subtle energy within. Through the practice of proper breathing, yoga adepts learn to eventually navigate the different levels of consciousness. Essentially you are letting go of the past and the future and focusing on the moment inside a breath.
Prana and Pranayama: Prana refers to the vital force – the energy that animates the lungs. Pranayama is the mode of breathing involving three phases: inhalation, retention, and exhaling. According to yoga practitioners, breath is also vibration and has a specific sound which, when emitted enables the flow of energy. One of these we are all familiar with – Om.
The Energy: like in the Martial Arts such as Tai-Chi or Karate, there is a free flow of energy. In the Martial arts, this energy is called Qi. In yoga, it is called Kundalini (potential energy). It flows through channels called Chakras (points of energy in the body). In acupuncture, these are referred to as pressure points or points of stimulation. There are main Chakras through which the Kundalini “serpent” travels from the base of the spine up to the pituitary gland (the 6th chakra) in the frontal lobe in a weaving fashion, opening up each chakra as it moves up. The 7th chakra is the crown (the top of the head), which is the ultimate destination for full awakening.
The Goal of Yoga: The goal of yoga ( according to yogi swamis) is to move toward an expanded state of consciousness or what yogis call: a Kundalini Awakening. The Yoga Sutras (the writings) explain that by moving the energy up through the chakras along the spine (through breathing and meditation chants) and into the pituitary gland, the practitioner can acquire special abilities such as divination, levitation, mind-reading, Astro-projection, and not feel hunger, thirst or the need to breathe.
As the yogis and the Yoga Sutras say, we can not separate the basic belief of Hinduism from yoga, which is reincarnation. This belief is that there is an eternal cycle 0f birth-death-birth when a soul moves from body to body. This process is based on the law of karma. According to a former yoga instructor, Laurette Wills, (yoga instructor for 22 years), this means that yoga is essentially a preparing of the body for death in anticipation of the next reincarnation.
Professor Subhas Tuwari of the Hindu University of America. “Yoga is Hinduism.”
Meditation: According to swami.com, we can not separate or isolate the physical postures and movements from the rest of yoga. Yoga is meditation, they point out. It is a process. Yoga, involves the senses, the body, the breath, and the various levels of the mind in order to achieve a higher consciousness.
For this reason, meditation will necessarily involve, in addition to postures and movements, visualization, contemplation, following an object of focus, and mantras (speaking, hearing, feeling). The goal as, one former yoga instructor stated is ” to attain oneness with the universe – enlightenment through the emptying of the mind”.
Relaxation: According to The National Academy of Sports Medicine, the goal or purpose of relaxation is” to improve feelings of peace and calm and lower the pulse, blood pressure, and reduce levels of stress hormones in the body. Through time and training the mind can help the body calm itself and lower the heart rate and reduce stress levels, which promote calming and feelings of relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.”
In yoga, this relaxation phase is called Savasana. It is a crucial phase which brings the body back into alignment – a state of equilibrium and allows the brain to unwind.
So, What’s the Fuss over Stretching Exercises?
Yoga is very popular in all age groups. Yoga adepts say it is fun, relaxing, energizing and great for developing muscular strength and balance. They say that it is a really great way to exercise. They say that after a yoga session they feel good all over and relaxed.
The Swami and traditional yoga practitioners’ (yogis) perspectives are very different, They state that it is impossible to separate the physical aspects (the stretching, postures, and movements) from the rest of the yoga discipline; they are necessarily intertwined. In fact, these traditional practitioners say that Westerners do not fully comprehend the complex metaphysical and spiritual nature of yoga. Yoga must be yoga; the mind, the body and the spiritual united with the Divine.
So, Is It Healthy?
There are several types of yoga, but the one that seems to be the most popular is Hatha yoga, Hatha yoga is more physical and focuses on the breathing control exercises (pranayama). Some of the benefits promoted about yoga are:
- Develops an inner awareness
- Develops breathing control
- Strengthens the mind and the body
- Develops mindfulness
- Balances weight
- Lowers tension
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Lowers blood sugar
Are there Dangers Associated with Yoga?
“One often hears and reads about the dangers of Yoga, particularly of the ill-reputed Kundalini Yoga. The deliberately induced psychotic state, which in certain unstable individuals might easily lead to a real psychosis, is a danger that needs to be taken very seriously indeed. These things really are dangerous and ought not to be meddled with in our typically Western way. It is meddling with Fate, which strikes at the very roots of human existence and can let loose a flood of sufferings of which no sane person ever dreamed. These sufferings correspond to the hellish torments of the chönyid state…” C. G. Jung, Introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead * – Carl Jung
There is a strong interest in the correlation between yoga (especially meditation) and psychosis. Some reports have described: (1) appearance of psychotic symptoms for the first time after meditation, (2) precipitation of acute psychotic episodes in those with a history of psychosis, after meditation, and conversely, there have also been reports of psychotherapeutic benefits for psychotics…The overall impression is that for the 6 months duration of follow up studied, chronic schizophrenics respond to activity in the form of physical training. Also, the emphasis on relaxation and awareness of internal sensations which are an essential part of yoga may not be useful for schizophrenics. YOGA AND PSYCHOSIS: RISKS AND THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL
“We are bombarded with the idea that yoga is not only a healthy exercise for the physical body but the mind as well. Once again, the statistics show otherwise. 76% of cases experienced psychological disorders, 43% had to have psychiatric or medical treatments. Out of the psychological disorders observed 63% experiences tiredness, 52% experiences states of anxiety, 45% experiences depression, 39% experiences nervousness, 39% experienced regression [a childlike dependency], 26% experienced a nervous breakdown, and 20% expressed serious suicidal tendencies. These statistics are based on a study of the TM (Transcendental Meditation) form of yoga and was pursued by the German Government youth department (Ministry of Youth, Family, and Health), which was verified by the nations Supreme Courts after careful review.” Ernest Wood, Seven Schools of Yoga, Theosophy Publishing House, 1976, p.78)
There actually are some concerns regarding the practice of yoga, Injuries do happen. In a study conducted at Sydney University, researchers found that the incidence of pain is more than 10% (which is comparable to most sports). It can also make existing pain worse.
In the interest of giving as much accurate information as possible, it is necessary to say that there is another side to what is promoted. There can be serious consequences (both physical and mental) related to certain yoga practices. Here is a link to a comprehensive site which contains many references to the side effects of yoga. There are too many to summarize, so I invite you to consult it if you so desire.
Signs and Symptoms of a Kundalini Awakening:
- Mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, memory problems
- Severe emotional mood swings – anxiety, depression, rage, fear, and dread
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal problems, irritable bowel syndrome
- Itching, burning, cramping, twitching of skin and body
- Electrical rushes and feelings of energy moving throughout the body
- Ego problems, grandiose and paranoid states
- Psychic, trance states and out-of-body experiences
- Sexual and hormonal difficulties
- Uncontrollable vocalizations, chanting and body contortions
- Ringing, rushing, and hissing sounds in ears
- Paranormal activity – levitations, possession states, and spiritual assault
- Inability to function effectively enough to work or care for children
- Symptoms can last for years
- For more extensive listings see: Signs and symptoms of Kundalini Awakening and Kundalini: Risks and Information
We all want to be in better shape physically and mentally. We all want to have less stress and more peace in our lives. Yoga seems to have been chosen as a means to achieve these goals as and has millions of adepts around the world. To this end, I wanted to see what yoga was all about and provide information as accurately as possible.
I hope that this post has been helpful to you. Please let me know your thoughts in a comment.
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Have a great day!
Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, pursuing a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life. You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca