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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Exercise

"Yoga is a life of self discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking. If you follow these five points,which compose a true holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind, and soul, you will gain strength and balance in this demanding stressful world.  Obstacles become stepping stones to success, and life is a school for the development of character and compassion and the Realization of the Divine all-pervading Self."
-Swami Vishnu-Devananda in The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

I know that I stated in my last post that I would soon be starting a series on meditation. However, I just didn't feel right about diving right into the act of meditating without at least giving you a brief introduction on what it is to live the "yogic" lifestyle.  So let's do an experiment:  What is the first thing you think of when I say (write) the word 'yoga'?  I bet it was some form of exercise, wasn't it? But did you know that "exercise" is only a small portion of what makes up yoga? That is why I've decided to give you a crash course in the five points of yoga.

My guru, Swami Vishnu-Devananda, very generously broke down the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles.  He synthesized these points so that people like you and me would be able to easily incorporate them into our everyday life.  So, what are these five points? Well I intend on breaking them down for you in my new series!

Point One:  Proper Exercise - Asanas
Many of you are already familiar with this point, because it is what many westerners believe yoga to be in its entirety: exercise.  Asana, when translated, means steady pose.  So why were these poses created and why are they so important to the five points? Asana practice is what prepares one for serious meditation. Think about it:  When you meditate, you sit in the same pose for an extended period of time.  This practice becomes easy when one is able to hold more difficult poses for long periods of time.  Also, asana poses should be done with meaning and concentration, thus furthering your ability to meditate successfully.

Another reason asanas are so important is that the practice strengthens and stretches muscles without using violent movement.  When violent movement is eliminated and thoughtful, precise movements are emphasized, the build-up of lactic acid on muscles is avoided.  We've probably all felt the effects of lactic acid and know that it can cause extreme fatigue to our bodies.  With asana practice, we are actually increasing oxygen circulation in our bodies, thus creating energy.

And finally, let's talk about the effects of asana practice on the mind.  There is a lot of philosophical information I could fill the page with on this topic, but it would take you awhile to read and then I would probably lose you somewhere between the nadis and the prana (See?). So basically, the practice of asanas aligns the body with the mind.  When these two are working in harmony, the practitioner gets a deeper sense of Self and meaning, thus furthering one's meditative experience.

Confused yet? I know, this stuff can blow your mind. But, if you have any questions, hit me up in the comment section below.  And, look out for the next point in the series, proper breathing. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from the teachings of The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on proper exercise, check out this link.

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