From its Indian origins as far back as 4000 years ago, yoga has been continually practised but it is only in the present century that its use has become more widespread. Yoga has an effect on the whole person,combining the physical, mental and spiritual sides. The word 'yoga' is derived from a Sanskrit word that means 'yoke' or 'union' and thus reflects on the practises of yoga being total in effect. For many hundreds of years in India, only a select few, such as philosophers and like-minded people with their disciples followed the way of life that yoga dictated. The leaders were known as 'yogis' and it was they who taught their followers by passing on their accumulated knowledge. These small groups of people dwelt in caves or woods, or sometimes a yogi would live like a hermit. Yoga has had quite far reaching effects over many hundreds of years in India.
The basics of yoga were defined by a yogi called Patanjali who lived about 300BC. He was a very well respected teacher and commanded great influence at that time and his classification is one that is used now. He established the fact of yoga being separated into eight different parts. The first two concern a person's lifestyle, which should be serene with the days spent in contemplation, study, maintaining cleanliness and living very simply and at peace with others. Anything that involves avarice or greed or is harmful to others has to be avoided. The third and fourth parts are concerned with physical matters and list a number of exercises that are designed to promote peace and infuse energy into both the mind and the body. The remaining four sections are concerned with the advancement of a person's soul or spirit and mental faculties by being able to isolate himself or herself from outside worries and normal life, contemplation and broadening mental faculties with the ultimate knowledge known as somadhi. Mentally, this is a complete change that gives final realisation of existence. Much more recently, yoga became available in India to everyone, in complete contrast to centuries ago.
Nowadays, the practice of yoga is not restricted to India alone, with millions of people worldwide being followers. There are five different types of yoga: raja, jnana, karma, bakti and hatha. It is this last system that is known in the west and it involves the use of exercises and positions. The other methods concentrate on matters, such as control over the mind, appreciation and intelligence or a morally correct way of life. These other methods are regarded as being of equal importance by the person completely committed to yoga as a way of life. Many people have little or no spiritual feeling. However, the basic belief in yoga is the importance of mental attitudes in establishing the physical from exercise.
In yoga it is believed that the body's essence of life (prana), is contained in the breath. Through a change in the way of breathing there can be a beneficial effect on the general health. If a person is in a heightened, emotional condition, or similar state, this will have an effect on the breathing. Therefore, if the breathing is controlled or altered, this should promote joint feelings of peace or calm, both mentally and emotionally. There is a variety of exercises and each promotes different types of breathing, such as the rib cage, shoulder and diaphragm. Some of the movements and stances in use were originally devised from the observations of animals, since they appeared to be adept at relaxation and moved with minimum effort. These stances which are maintained for one two minutes, aim to increase freedom of movement and make the person aware of the various parts of the body and any stress that may be present. It is not intended that they be physically tiring or that the person should 'show off' in front of others. The aim is to concentrate on self knowledge.
It is recommended to follow some simple rules when practising yoga. First use a fully qualified therapist and practise daily if at all possible. It is always best that yoga is undertaken before mealtimes but if this is not possible then three hours must elapse after a large meal or one hour after a light meal. Comfortable clothes are essential and a folded blanket or thick rug should be placed on the ground as the base. Before commencing yoga have a bath or shower and repeat this afterwards to gain the maximum benefit. If the bladder or bowels are full it is not advisable to do yoga. Should the person have been outside on a hot or sunny day it is not recommended that yoga is practised straight afterwards, as feelings of sickness or dizziness may occur.
Yoga is believed to be of benefit to anyone, providing that they possess determination and patience. If a person has certain physical limitations then these must be taken into account with regard to their expectation but there is no age barrier. If you suffer from stress or disorder in your lives, teachers believe that you are in greater need of harmony and peace. Yoga was used in the main to encourage health in the physical and mental states and thereby act as a preventative therapy. Tension or stress was one of the main disorders for which it was used but nowadays it has been used for differing disorders hypertension, bronchitis, back pain, headaches, asthma, heart disorders, premenstrual tension and an acid stomach. Trials have also been conducted to assess its potential in treating some illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and depression experienced after childbirth. Since the effects of tension are often shown by the tightening and contraction of muscles, the stretching exercises that are performed in yoga are able to release it. Also, being aware of each muscle as it is stretched encourages the person to mentally lose any stress or problems with which they have been beset. Suppleness is developed by the exercises through the use of the bending and twisting actions. This will help to maintain healthy joints, particularly for those people who lead inactive lives.
There should be no strain felt and after practise some or all of them can be done in order. As mentioned previously, it is best to check with a qualified therapist if the person is an expectant mother, suffers from hypertension, is overweight or is having their monthly period.
I have already mentioned that yoga has been used to treat some illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and if a person has such a severe disorder, then a highly skilled and experienced therapist is essential. Since this form of yoga, known as therapeutic yoga, is new there is a limited number of suitably experienced therapists available. For those who wish to use yoga to maintain mental and physical health, joining a class with an instructor is perhaps the best way to proceed, so the exercises are performed correctly and any lapses in concentration can be corrected. These classes last usually in the region of an hour and are separated into sessions for beginners and those who are more proficient. Proficiency and progress are achieved by frequent practice, which can be done at home between lessons.
Most doctors now regard yoga as a type of exercise that is of benefit, although a few will recommend that patients refer to yoga practitioners. However, if a specific disorder is to be treated, it is very important that the ailment should first be seen by a doctor.