What is Yoga?

The word yoga is originated from the Sanskrit word yuj and means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union”. Yoga is a way of life which helps to control mind, and helps in developing personality.

The Indian sage Patanjali was the pioneer of yoga and wrote Yoga Sutra about 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 aphorisms that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It talks about eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).

Today most of the yoga practitioners practice third limb- asana which is designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

What is Ashtanga yoga?

(Not to be confused with Pattabhi Jois Ashtanaga yoga)
In Sanskrit, “Ashta + anga” is Ashtanga. “Ashta” means eight and “Anga” is limbs so it means Eight Limb path, ashtanga yoga is based on Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras explain the eight fold (or eight limb) path of Ashtanga Yoga.

Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
The practice of yoga starts with the following moral codes and personal disciplines.

– Yama (Principles or moral code)
* Ahimsa – A principle of non-violence
* Satya – A principle of Truthfulness
* Asteya – A principle of non stealing
* Brahmacharya – Continence / celibacy
* Aparigrah – A principle of non-hoarding or non possessiveness

– Niyama (Personal Disciplines)
* Shoucha – Purity
* Santosh – Contentment
* Tapa – Endurance
* Swadhyaya- Self study
* Eshwar Pranidhan- Dedication to god

-Asana – (Yoga Postures / positions) A stable and comfortable posture which helps
attain mental equilibrium.

-Pranayama – (Yoga Breathing) Extension and control of breath.

-Pratyahara – (Withdrawal of Senses) A mental preparation to increase the power of

-Dharana – (Concentration on Object) Concentration of mind on one object and its

-Dhyan – (Meditation) with drawing mind from all external objects and focusing it on
one point and meditating on it.

-Samadhi – (Salvation) State of Super bliss, joy and merging individual consciousness
in to universal consciousness. Union between Jivatman and Paramatman. Union of Shiva and Shakti in Sahasrar Chakra (the top of the head). Realizing the Bramhan (pure consciousness) or Realization of God is the ultimate achievement of Human Birth.

What are the types of yoga?

While hatha yoga is the most familiar kind of yoga practice in the West, there are four other distinct and individual practices for the purpose of unifying both body and mind.

Hatha Yoga: Called the “forceful path” this is the yoga of physical well-being. In the modern Western approach, hatha yoga is used primarily as a form of physical therapy. It consists of asanas (postures), pranayamas (breathing exercises), and meditation.

Karma Yoga: Karma yoga is the path of service. The principle of karma yoga is that what we experience today is created by our actions in the past. Therefore, all of our present efforts become a way to consciously create a future that frees us from being bound by negativity and selfishness. We practice karma yoga whenever we perform our work and live our lives in a selfless fashion and as a way to serve others.

Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti yoga describes the path of devotion. Seeing the Divine in all of creation, bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel the emotions. The path of bhakti yoga provides an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone who comes into contact.

Tantra Yoga: Tantra yoga is probably the most misunderstood or misinterpreted of all the paths of yoga. Tantra yoga is the pathway of ritual. In tantric practice, one experiences the Divine in everything he does. A reverential attitude is therefore cultivated, encouraging a ritualistic approach to life.

Raja Yoga: Raja yoga is considered the highest form of Yoga. Raja means “royal”, and meditation is the focal point of this branch of yoga. This approach involves strict adherence to the eight “limbs” of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. Raja yoga is also known as “classical” yoga. The practice of raja yoga typically starts with hatha yoga, which gives the body the needed health and strength to endure the more advanced stages of training.

Combining Yoga Paths-One need not be limited to one expression or path of yoga. One may practice hatha yoga, taking care of the physical body; while simultaneously including raja yoga by adding meditation to the practice; performing karma yoga by engaging in selfless service to others and cultivating the lifestyle of a bhakti yogi by expressing the compassion for everyone.

What are the different styles of Hatha yoga?

There are several styles of hatha yoga, many of these are influenced by a particular teacher’s approach to asanas; others reflect the characteristics or teachings of a particular organization. What distinguishes the different styles is what is prominent, be it posture, breath, aerobics, dance, slow and rhythmic movements, philosophy or a combination of many factors. Although the basic asanas and breathing exercises remain the same, how they are done, in what order, and where attention is focused while doing them constitute the main differences among the many schools. Regardless of one’s age or fitness level, one can find a style that appeals and be most appropriate for one’s particular body or personality type.

Ashtanga Yoga(developed by Pattabhi Jois): The Ashtanga yoga system is a rigorous practice. Consisting of 240 postures done in six successive series (vinyasa) linked by the breath. Ashtanga yoga represents the most intensive form of hatha yoga. The purpose of this continual flow of action is to create heat which produces a cleansing or detoxifying effect on the body. Ashtanga places equal emphasis on strength, flexibility and stamina. This style is often called “Power Yoga”.

Integral Yoga: Integral yoga combines all the paths of yoga – asana (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), selfless service, prayer, chanting, meditation and self-inquiry – into one approach. It emphasizes a more meditative rather than anatomical approach.

Iyengar Yoga: Iyengar yoga is probably the most popular and well recognized hatha yoga technique in the Western world. Iyengar yoga is practiced in a manner prescribed by yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar. It is regarded mostly for its rigorous scientific and therapeutic approach, concentrating on correcting structural imbalances in the physical body. Iyengar teachers pay precise attention to the placement of the feet, hands and pelvis, as well as to the alignment of the spine, arms and legs. So the pace of an Iyengar class tends to be slow to moderate. Classes typically focus in great detail on only a few asanas so as to refine movements. Specific breathing techniques are not emphasized as much in this style of yoga as in some of the other styles. Iyengar-style yoga also relies a lot on props – wood blocks, benches, sandbags, blankets, bolsters and straps as a support system to achieve greater symmetry and extension in the postures.

Kripalu Yoga: Kripalu yoga uses classical hatha yoga postures and breathing techniques to help students enter a state of “meditation in motion.” Kripalu yoga teachers offer guidance in these yoga techniques and provide an atmosphere in which sensations, thoughts and emotions can be experienced in safety and relaxation. Yoga postures are held for a long time so as to explore and release emotional and spiritual blocks. This inner-directed form of hatha yoga consists of 3 stages: willful practice, will and surrender, and finally, surrendering to the body’s wisdom. Within each of the 3 stages, poses are offered in different intensities: gentle, moderate, and vigorous. In addition, spontaneous postures and sequences of postures are encouraged, guided by the body’s internal awareness.

Ananda Yoga (Blissful yoga): This method combines the physical and spiritual. The purpose of Ananda yoga is to clear and energize the system in preparation for meditation. Each posture is viewed as a way to expand, or heighten, self awareness. This process is enhanced through the use of affirmation, a distinctive feature of this system. Ananda yoga teaches a series of poses and exercises. These exercises involve tensing and relaxing different parts of the body, coupled with breathing exercises to send energy to them. Another characteristic of this technique is the emphasis it places on deeply relaxing into poses, keeping in mind that hatha yoga is a preparation for meditation.

Kundalini Yoga: Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice designed to focus on the “Kundalini”, or reservoir of energy, stored at the base of the spine. Through the use of breath, posture, chanting and meditation, this energy is stimulated and consciously directed through the chakras or energy centers along the spine. Several breathing techniques are emphasized – alternate nostril breathing; slow, diaphragmatic breathing and a dynamic technique called breath of fire.

Sivananda Yoga: Sivananda yoga incorporates a five-point method of practice, which includes proper exercise, breathing, deep relaxation, vegetarian diet, positive thinking and meditation. Following a standard format, Sivananda hatha yoga classes are based on a routine of breathing exercises, sun salutations, a series of 12 classic yoga postures and relaxation. A short mantra chant and prayers begin and end each class.

Viniyoga: The method of Viniyoga represents a kind of middle path between the exactness of Iyengar yoga and the physically demanding Ashtanga yoga. It is based on the principle of vinyasa krama, which means “an organized course of yoga study,” and combines asana, pranayama, meditation, text study, counseling, imagery, prayer, chanting, and ritual. Yoga postures are tailored to the physical needs and limitations of each student, taking into account body type, emotional needs, cultural heritage, and interest. Emphasis is on the spine, and breath is considered more important than how the posture is done. Breath and movement are consciously coordinated and the inhalations and exhalations are articulated in varying lengths and ratios. Typically, classes are private one-on-one sessions.

Bikram Yoga: Bikram yoga classes consist of a two-part series of 26 repeating postures with 2 pranayama exercises that are designed to stretch and tone the whole body. Most poses are done twice and held for a minimum of 10 seconds in a room with temperatures of 80 degrees or higher, often supplemented by moist air from a humidifier. Class concludes with a brief period of relaxation.

What does Hatha mean?

Hatha is explained as “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, referring to the balance of masculine aspects–active, hot, sun–and feminine aspects–receptive, cool, moon–within all of us.
Also the word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body–especially the main channel, flows through the spine-sushumna–so that energy can flow freely.

So, Hatha yoga is a way towards creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies, we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.

Hatha yoga is very effective in achieving self-transformation. It calls for our attention to our breath, which helps us to calm the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.

What does Om mean?

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is typically chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe.

The ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us– that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be conscious of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the form of rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Chanting of Om allows us to acknowledge the reflection of how the whole universe moves–the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.

Do I have to be vegetarian to practice yoga?

One of the basic principles of yoga philosophy is ahimsa (non-violence) , which means causing no harm to self and others. Some people interpret this as avoiding animal products in the meals. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to do yoga, but as you become more aware of your body, you’ll find that eating meat makes you feel heavy. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, helps you maintain the light and energized feeling you get from practicing yoga.

The yoga diet is especially important if we want to elevate our consciousness to the stage where we’re feeling love and compassion for all living beings—including animals. Eating them, rather than respecting and caring about them, simply hardens our hearts, moving this goal beyond our reach.

What should be the frequency of yoga practice?

Yoga is amazing–even if you only practice for one hour a week; you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. It is recommended to practice for half an hour everyday with pranayama. (Breathing exercises) It is an experience that the desire to practice expands naturally after a while.

How is yoga different from stretching or other kinds of fitness?

Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali’s eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward (pratyahara stage of yoga). We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment.

Is yoga a religion?

Yoga is not a religion. It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed godlike figure to be worshipped in a particular manner. The core of Yoga’s philosophy is that everything is supplied from within the individual. Thus, there is no dependence on an external figure, either in the sense of a person or god figure, or a religious organization.

It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical ashtanga yoga is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras. Patnjali does not tie yoga with any religion. Yoga Sutras provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body.

It is not necessary to surrender one’s own religious beliefs to practice yoga.

Why yoga is preferred to be done on empty stomach?

In yoga practice twisting from side to side, turning upside down, and bending forward and backward is involved. It will not be possible to do these activities on a full stomach. It is also very difficult to do breathing exercises (pranayama) with full stomach.

How is Yoga helpful in our day to day life?

In our daily life, we undergo through different kinds of stress, which can be counteracted with a stable mind and well tuned body achieved through yoga. Through yoga, one can control the workings of his/her mind. It may also help in alleviating/managing some physical and mental health conditions.

Is there any age limit for performing Yoga?

Yoga is suitable for most people of any age or physical condition. However, one should do only those asanas that are suitable to one’s physical conditions.

How is Yoga helpful for children?

Yoga has many benefits for children. Helping their bodies build muscle and retain flexibility as they grow can give them better health going into adulthood. Yoga can also benefit a growing child’s brain by allowing them to learn to control their stress and emotions. Yoga helps them develop better body awareness, self-control, flexibility and coordination.

Special techniques like Omkar, Yoga Nidra can increase the concentration of mind and memory. Also the techniques like Surya Namaskara increase the physical fitness of the child.

What is a Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is a powerful technique for inducing physical, mental and emotional relaxation in a conscious way. It is often called psychic sleep because it’s as though you are sleeping, yet you remain conscious (aware) at a subtle level. The main feature of Yoga Nidra is the systematic rotation of consciousness throughout different parts of the body. It also involve visualizations, awareness of feelings, and awareness of breath.

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is a very important aspect of yoga. Pranayama means controlling the Prana i.e. bio-energy which is behind all the activities of the body. This is done with the different types of breathing exercises.