The following series of articles, an in-depth look at Yoga has been compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com
1.4 The Five points of Yoga
Yogic practice can be broadly classified into five important aspects we will examine the first 3 points in today’s post and we will examine the next 3 points in part 4
1. Proper Exercise
2. Proper Breathing
3. Proper Relaxation
4. Proper Diet
5. Positive Thinking & Meditation
1. Proper Exercise
Our physical body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and great discomfort will ensue with time. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life.
There are many modern physical culture systems designed to develop the muscles through mechanical movements and exercises. As yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection, yogic physical exercises are designed to develop not only the body. They also broaden mental faculties and spiritual capacities of the practitioner.
Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means ‘seat’ or ‘steady pose’ (“Sthira Sukham Asanam” YS II:46). This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is supposed to be held for some time, namely to sit in meditation. Being able to sit comfortably in any meditation pose requires steady and dedicated practice of Yoga Asanas.
The body is as young as it is flexible. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine’s flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured of their supply of nutrients and oxygen.
The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones).
2. Proper Breathing
Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity.
Most people use only a fraction of their lung capacity for breathing. They breathe shallowly, barely expanding the ribcage. Their shoulders are hunched, they have painful tension in the upper part of the back and neck, and they suffer from lack of oxygen. Proper breathing is full yogic breathing.
Three Types of Breathing
1. Clavicular breathing is the most shallow and worst possible type of breathing. The shoulders and collarbone are raised while the abdomen is contracted during inhalation. Maximum effort is made, but a minimum amount of air is obtained.
2. Thoracic breathing is done with the rib muscles expanding the rib cage. It is a little better than clavicular breathing, but it remains a type of incomplete breathing.
3. Deep abdominal breathing brings air to the lowest and largest part of the lungs. On an inhalation the diaphragm contracts, compressing the abdominal cavity and expanding the thoracic cavity drawing air into the lowest lobs of the longs. The abdomen rises on an inhalation. On an exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes pushing the air out form the lowest parts of the lungs and at the end of the exhalation the abdominal muscles contract slightly to push the last remainder of air out. Breathing is slow and deep. This is one of the best ways of breathing; however still not full yogic breathing.
A full yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas. The key to full yogic breathing is to properly use the diaphragm in breathing, which takes some pratice and time.
Learning to engage the diaphragm in breathing
To get the feel of proper diaphragmatic breathing, wear loose clothing and lie on your back. Place the hand on the upper abdomen, where the diaphragm is located. Breathe in and out slowly. The abdomen should expand outward as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Try to get the feeling of this motion.
Learning Full Yogic Breathing
Once you feel proficient in the practice of abdominal breathing you will be ready to learn full yogic breathing. Breathe in slowly, expand the abdomen, then the ribcage, and finally the upper portion of the lungs. Then, breathe out in the same manner, letting the abdomen cave in as you exhale. This is the yogic complete breath.
By far the most important thing about good breathing is the Prana, or subtle energy of the vital breath. Control of the Prana leads to control of the mind. Breathing exercises are called Pranayamas, which means to control the Prana. Prana is the universal life force pervading the cosmos. It is more subtle than air. During Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), breathing is made more refined; this life energy is distilled from the air, and is distributed and stored within the body. The universal energy unites with the individual soal in the form of breath. In exhalation the mind and ego are subdued as the outgoing breath flows back into the external universe.
There is a difference between normal breathing and Pranayama. Normal breathing is a natural process requiring no thought or understanding. Air enters the lungs and is expelled through the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm. The volume and quality of the breath depend on the physical and emotional state of the individual. Pranayama involves the complete mastery of the length, volume, flow, and quality of the breath. The rib cage is made to open completely and the lungs to fill and empty consciously. Control of the diaphragm is fundamental to achieving this. Observing and quieting the diaphragm calms the mind and emotions.
This concludes Part 3 of what is Yoga? In part 4 we will examine the role of diet, positive thinking and meditation in Yoga ?