Yoga, a hope of serenity in modern times
By Deveena Seesunkur-Subrun
Yoga: a word which brings hope of peace in this fast-paced life, where achieving ‘success’ has become synonymous to doing more in less time, running faster and faster, working relentlessly, etc. In so doing and with no time taken to re-energise and reboot the body and the mind, humanity has often fallen onto its face. Stress has become the norm and the absence of a perfect physical and mental condition at a relatively younger age is anticipated and accepted nowadays. While the holistic picture of humanity is quite dark, Yoga, a philosophy of life, whose roots are found in ancient Hindu texts, brings hope, solace and a promise of a satisfying life to the tired souls. Despite its ancient origin, Yoga arguably remains of utmost relevance in the contemporary world.
Yoga is by definition is the union of a person with God, who is universally perceived as the source of all that exists in creation. Its practice involves the engagement of the body, the mind and the spirit (atman or soul). There is the involvement of all these three aspects in any word and action of a yoga practitioner. Even the thoughts must be controlled. Yoga has been learnt and practised for ages in India and its knowledge has now been spread throughout the world. There are many styles/branches of yoga. The internet offers impressive clichés of yoga styles practised by top celebrities. The perfect head and hand stands and other ‘out of this world’ looking poses can be spectacular, impressive and at the same time frightening. People may be left with a feeling that it is an art which demands much time, training and a fat financial investment.
In reality, yoga is a lifestyle which can be practised by one and all. Full benefits of yoga can be reaped by practising the following three forms of yoga:
1. Asanas – the physical postures
2. Pranayamas – controlled breathing
The asanas are physical postures which stretch, tone and twist the body, the aim being to attain physical fitness. There exist more than a thousand asanas. If there are different asanas to work out different parts of the body or cure different ailments, some asanas/series of asanas involve the whole body at one go. The ‘Surya Namaskar’ sun salutation is one of such series of postures, which if performed regularly, brings about the very much desired physical comfort which assures the proper functioning of the body.
Also the asanas open up the seven energy centres in the body (called chakras). When all the energy centres are cleared of all blockages, the body feels energized at all times of the day, which brings courage and confidence to undertake the challenges thrown by life at any moment.
The steps of the Surya Namaskar are illustrated below:
The word pranayama is composed of two words, pran meaning life and ayama meaning extension. The practice of pranayama ensures a long life minus diseases. Pranayamas are breathing exercises, which aim at calming the mind, which in turn relaxes the body. Practised regularly, controlled mindful breathing greatly increases the quality of life. Breathing opens and unblocks the respiratory tract and ensures that the air (oxygen) is absorbed adequately even when one is not exercising. This exercise also provides an opportunity for stale and accumulated air to be pumped out of the body; otherwise it would cause physical and mental sluggishness. A very easy and effective pranayama, which can be performed by one and all is the anulom-vilom.
Method of practising the anulom-vilom
Sit down comfortably on a mat or on a chair. Sit straight and relax your body. Place your left hand gently on your left knee and with your right hand, place your thumb on your right nostril, blocking it. Inhale through the left nostril. Now block your left nostril with your middle and ring fingers and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril and again block the right nostril with your thumb and exhale and inhale through the left nostril Repeat this exercise seven times. It is very important that while doing pranayama, your concentration be on your breath.
Meditation is another pillar of yoga. It serves to train the mind to be calm and relaxed. With eyes closed in an upright sitting position and with awareness on the breath, the mind is trained to live in the present. Awareness of all the thoughts and feelings offers us an opportunity of conscious choice of our thoughts which are worth our attention. Thoughts, which are unnecessarily disturbing us can easily be eliminated. A simple, yet effective way of meditating is just to sit down straight but relaxed, with the back, neck and head straight. Close your eyes. Bring your awareness to your breath. Try not to think of anything else. However, you will find thoughts will keep on popping up in your head. Do not fight them. Let them pass like clouds till you find calmness and stillness inside yourself. Just breathe and enjoy the inside peace and stillness you are already gifted with. Imagine you are connected to the whole universe. Feel that you are part of everything and everything is part of you.
Asanas, pranayamas and meditation, when performed regularly, offer the desired benefits of yoga, i.e, a sound mind in a healthy body. However, it is worth noting that yoga is a lifestyle. It starts on a mat but its practice continues off the mat.
Tips to benefit maximum from the practice of yoga
1. Eating matters
Yoga practitioners are mostly vegetarians, feeding mostly on fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts. However, if one’s culture makes it difficult to fully convert to vegetarianism, it is strongly advised that all meals should be largely composed of plant origin. It is also desirable to consume only food from plants on at least one day of the week.
2. Morning Practice is the best
Yoga can be practiced at any time of the day on an empty stomach. However, it yields maximum benefits when practised in the quietness of early mornings when the air is fresh and pure. The asanas and pranayamas practised early in the morning give a boost to the body to start the day well. Morning meditation offers the opportunity to plan for the day ahead. A fit body and well-trained mind are important pre-requisites for working on meaningful goals during the day.
3. Yoga practice continues off the mat
For a yoga practitioner, yoga is awareness expressed through thoughts, words and actions throughout the day. It is important to gain control over these three aspects to be united with the God.
* Published in print edition on 26 July 2019
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