Yoga has many forms. Raja yoga, for instance, is concerned with mastery of mind, Bhakti yoga with love, Karma yoga with service and Gnani yoga with wisdom. In the West. However, the best-known form of yoga is Hatha yoga, which is concerned with physical well-being.
This is the branch of yoga I’ll be handling in this column. It is the yoga which tones up the body and leads on to achieving a sense of deep inner freedom through performing postures, special breathing techniques and relaxation.
It is not just another kind of physical jerks. There are 84 basic postures – although the great teachers of India say the full number is more like 84,000 – which are performed, not to remind one of our bodies, but to bring the body to such a state of well-being and balance that one is no longer limited by concern for it.
It is not as important to twist yourself inside out and upside down as it is to become aware of the inner intelligence which makes the body move, work and play through life.
It is interesting to note the word yoga has the same origin as the yoke to bind two oxen together. Yoga links us with this inner force, so that we see the cares of life in a more tension-free perspective.
I know there are a number of people who are afraid of yoga, because they think it is a religion which will rival their own religion. Yoga can get along quite happily away from the religious practices it grew up alongside. It is not a religion but the state of awareness it brings about could help you to understand your own religion better.
“Yoga can teach the young the wisdom of age and teach the old the secret of youth” says Swami Satchitananda guru to the ‘Woodstock Generation” of American youth. He also said, “Yoga will introduce you to someone you might not know – Yourself”.
Yoga is not about standing on your head as many people think, but learning to stand on your own two feet. As this is our first month we will provide you with two postures. The first is to create awareness about how your body holds itself when in an upright position; the second is a basic standing posture.
- Find a full-length mirror and go and stand in front of it – even better still the next time you go shopping for clothes, get into one of those changing cubicles that has three mirrors so that you can see yourself from different angles.
- Now, just stand there and look
- Check-out how you hold yourself upright for example do you:
- Slightly slump?
- Hold yourself like a sergeant-major?
- Lean to one side or slightly forwards or backward?
Now try this out
- Keeping your feet slightly apart, try to shift the weight of your body so that it is evenly distributed with both feet as well as evenly distributed evenly across the entire underneath of each foot.
- Watch what happens when you do this. You might find that you have to adjust the way you hold your ankles, the back of your knees, your pelvic area to keep this balance of even weight distribution.
- Once you get yourself adjusted to the pelvic area become aware of whether your pubic bone tilts too forward or slightly backward and adjust.
- Imagine a ‘thread’ going from your pubic bone to the point where your diaphragm is located. Now extend that ‘thread’ so that it feels it can’t be stretched anymore – not too tight and not too loose.
- As this happens become aware of your ribcage – keep it open but flexible so that breathing is easy, and breathe.
- Become aware of your shoulders – if they slump, then gently roll them back slightly – if the are held too tight, wriggle them a bit to free the tension. Your shoulder blades need to be experienced as being relaxed and flat.
- Become aware of the distance between your shoulders and your ears. If your shoulders are hunched close to your ears – relax them and allow them to drop. If the distance between your shoulders and your ears feels too far and tense- breathe in then out and let the distance between them relax a little.
- Become aware of the back of your head. Are you pulling it too far back or dropping it too far forward. Adjust this position by making sure that the underneath of your chin is parallel to the floor – give it a tilt forward or back – relax your jaw.
- Become aware of how you hold your head – do you hold it slightly to one side? If so adjust this so that your eyes in the mirror are on the same level.
- Become aware of the top of your head. It should feel less tense and should someone ask you to stand with a load on the top of your head you probably would find that you can do this without strain.
- Stand erect keeping your feet approximately 1 metre apart and your toes in a straight line
- Now turn your left foot to a 90 degree angle
- Inhale and raise your straight arms to shoulder height
- Keeping your hips facing forward as much as possible, exhale and bend sideways
- Grasp your left ankle with your left hand, if possible, or what part of your left leg you can – if you are very flexible, you could try touching the ground next to your left ankle – but in the beginning just gently go as far as you can
- Turn your face to look up at your right outstretched palm
- Remain in this position for a few moments breathing deeply
- Now return to the erect position
- Repeat what you have done to your other side by shifting your right foot to a 90 degree angle.
- Repeat four times.
Tips when holding this posture
- Keep breathing
- Gently does it – don’t jerk or strain and get to know your limits before doing the “perfect” posture
- Relax your jaw
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears
- Be aware of opening out your chest
- If you are a beginner or very stiff use a wall as a guide and support.
A few of the benefits of this posture
- Legs and hips become supple
- Tones up leg muscles
- Aids correcting minor deformities in the legs and allows them to develop evenly
- Relieves backache and tension in the neck
- Strengthens the ankles
- Tones the spinal nerves and abdominal organs
- Increases peristalsis of the bowls
- Keeps the spine elastic
- People suffering from a weak chest area have found this posture beneficial
- Gets you to physically experience balance.