Yoga is an Art and Scince of healthy living. It is a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science, which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. The holistic approach of Yoga is well established and it brings harmony in all walks of life and thus, known for disease prevention, promotion of health and management of many lifestyle –related disorders. Today, Yoga is popular across the globe, not just because of its efficacy in the management of some diseases, but also of its strength in providing relief to the practitioner, from mental and emotional distress and providing a feeling of well-being. Hence, now-a-days Yoga is being practiced as part of healthy life style across the globe.
The term Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘YUJ’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. As per Yogic scriptures the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man & Nature. The aim of Yoga is Self-Realization, to overcome all kinds of sufferings leading to 'the state of liberation'. This is one of the oldest sciences of the world, which originated in India. Yoga is very useful for preserving and maintaining one's physical and mental health and also for 'spiritual evolution'. The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization.
Origin and Development of Yoga
Yoga, being widely considered as an ‘immortal cultural outcome’ of Indus valley civilization – dating back to 2700 B.C. – has proved itself catering to both material and spiritual upliftment of humanity. Basic humane values are the very identity of Yoga Practice. Egolessness, Desirelessness and Equality are the building blocks of Yoga.
The Presence of Yoga is available in folk traditions, Indus valley civilization, Vedic and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Sad-Darshanas, epics of Mahabharat and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Tantric traditions. In addition, there was a primordial or pure Yoga which has been manifested in mystical traditions of South Asia. This was the time when Yoga was being practised under the direct guidance of Guru and its spritual value was given special importance. Though Yoga was being practiced since the pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.), the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematized and codified the then existing practices of Yoga, its meaning and its related knowledge through his Yoga Sutras. After Patanjali, many Sages and Yoga Masters contributed greatly for the preservation and development of the field through their well documented practices and literature.
These different Philosophies, Traditions, lineages and Guru-shishya paramparas of Yoga lead to the emergence of differnt Traditional Schools of Yoga e.g. Jnana-yoga, Bhakti-yoga, Karma-yoga, Dhyana-yoga, Patanjala-yoga, Kundalini-yoga, Hatha-yoga, Mantra-yoga, Laya-yoga, Raja-yoga, Jain-yoga, Bouddha-yoga etc. Each school has its own principles and practices leading to altimate aim and objectives of Yoga.
Yoga for Health and Wellness
Health and Wellness are closely related to lifestyle of an individual. Lifestyle is the way people live and this has immense influence on the status of health or disease of an individual. Since one’s lifestyle has developed early in life, it is advisable to cultivate healthy lifestyle in early childhood. Many factors determine one’s lifestyle. Economic status determines incidence of under-nutrition in poor and obesity in the rich. Cultural values of the society dictate the dietary preferences in the population. Sedentary life is a major factor for coronary artery disease while personal habits like smoking and alcoholism determine the incidence of heart disease and cirrhosis of liver. Exercise, healthy diet, rest, and relaxation are important components of healthy lifestyle.
Yoga is the most perfect health and wellness module as it is comprehensive and holistic in nature. Yogic principles help to strengthen and develop positive health enabling us to withstand stress better. This Yogic “health insurance” has achieved by normalizing the perception of stress, optimizing the reaction to it and by releasing the pent-up stress effectively through the practice of various Yogic practices. Yoga is a holistic and integral science of life dealing with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of an individual and society.
Now, Yoga is being practiced as an alternative healthcare practice. The number of Yoga practitioners continues to rise tremendously. Of the many benefits ascribed to yoga practice, blood pressure control is among the most studied. There are several reviews regarding the potential benefits of yoga for reducing blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Yoga has also been seen to improve indices of risk in adults with type 2 diabetes, including glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lipid profiles, anthropometric characteristics and blood pressure. It also leads to a reduction in oxidative damage; improve coagulation profiles and pulmonary function, and decreases sympathetic activation in adults with diabetes and related chronic disorders. Yoga may also be useful in reducing medication requirements in patients with diabetes and could help prevent and manage cardiovascular complications.
Yoga Practice of all hues and colours is considered panacea for a meaningful life and living. Its orientation to a comprehensive health, both individual and social, makes it a worthy practice for the people of all religions, races and nationalities. Now-a-days, millions and millions of people across the globe have benefitted by the practice of Yoga which has been preserved and promoted by the great eminent Yoga Masters from ancient time to this date.
Yogic Practices for Health and Wellness
However, the widely practiced Yoga Sadhanas (Practices) are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi /Samyama, Bandhas & Mudras, Shat-karmas, Yukta-ahara, Yukta karma, Mantra japa, etc.
Yama's are restraints and Niyama's are observances. These are considered to be pre-requisits for the Yoga Sadhanas (Practices).
Asanas, capable of bringing about stability of body and mind consists in adopting various psycho-physical body patterns, giving ability to maintain a stable awareness of one’s structural existence for a considerable length and period of time as well.
Pranayama consists in developing awareness of one’s breathing followed by willful regulation of respiration as the functional or vital basis of one’s existence. It helps in developing awareness of one’s mind and helps to establish control over the mind. In the initial stages, this is done by developing awareness of the ‘flow of in-breath and out-breath’ through nostrils, mouth and other body openings, its internal and external pathways and destinations. Later, this phenomenan is modified, through regulated, controlled and monitored inhalation leading to the awareness of the body space/s getting filled (puraka), the space/s remaning in a filled state (kumbhaka) and it’s getting emptied (rechaka) during regulated, controlled and monitored exhalation.
Pratyhara indicates dissociation of one’s consciousness (withdrawal) from the sense organs which helps one to remain connected with the external objects. Dharana indicates broad based field of attetion, inside the body and mind which is usually understood as concentration. Dhyana (Meditation) is contemplation (focussed attention inside the body and mind) and Samadhi – integration.
Bandhas and Mudras are practices associated with pranayama. They are viewed as the higher Yogic practices mainly consisting on adopting certain psycho-physical body patterns along with control over respiration.This further facilitates control over mind and paves way for higher yogic attainment. Shat-karmas are de-toxification procedures, help to remove the toxins acumalated in the body and are clinical in nature.
Yuktahara (Right Food and other inputs) advocates appropriate food and food habits for healthy living. However, practice of Dhyana (Meditation) helping in self-realization leading to transcendence is considered as the esssence of Yoga Sadhana (The Practice of Yoga).
Tradiitionally, Yoga was imparted by knowledgeable, experienced, and wise persons in the families (comparable with the education imparted in convents in the west) and then by the Seers (Rishis/Munis/Acharyas) in Ashramas (compared with monastries). Yoga Education, on the other hand, aims at taking care of the individual, the 'Being'. It is presumed that a good, balanced, integrated, truthful, and transparent person will be more useful to oneself, family, society, nation, nature.
The knowledge aspect of Yoga is being extensively researched, with advantage to Yoga practitioners. Psychological, anatomico-physiological and philosophical phenomena underlying Yoga Sadhana have been commendably understood by us today. It is a matter of satisfaction for the entire humanity. So also, elaborate and effective means of its transmission, such as internet across the globe, is a great stride for propagation of yogic knowledge.