When most people hear the word yoga, an image of a girl sitting with her feet on her things and hands resting on her knees often forms in their minds. They may also imagine that she is meditating. But this ancient discipline is more than just sitting in this lotus position. It is an approach to life that combines the value of both physical and philosophical well being. The word itself comes from ancient Sanskrit writings and in English translates to "royal union." This royal union is that of the mind and body.
The Sanskrit text that offers the foundation is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are four books to this text that were written over 2000 years ago. The four books are the Kaivalya Pada, Vibhuti Pada, Samadhi Pada, and the Sadhana Pada. The Sadhana Pada is where the physical aspects of yoga are found.
Within this book you will discover the "eight limbs" which are steps called the Ashtanga Yoga. The first five of these limbs concern aids from the external while the final three limbs deal with issues of the internal. The third of these limbs is all about discipline of the body. It preaches that the human body should be free of disease and that vital energy must be preserved. Western versions of this ancient discipline have derived from the teachings in this book of the Sutras.
The word asana is the plural form of asan, which means posture or position of the body. The purpose is improved flexibility and meditation. With asana, positions should always be steady and firm, yet comfortable at all times.
Therefore, any pain experienced while assuming poses means that you are not achieving your goal. Poses are plentiful for beginners as well as advanced practitioners.
Whatever your level of expertise is, there are some fundamentals to always keep to. Exercises should be performed on an empty stomach. Breathing must not be erratic but rather controlled and easy. Positions should be such that your body does not tremble from too much strain or pressure. Mats should be used most often instead of doing exercises on the floor. When you complete a session, you should allot time to finding a state of deep relaxation.
Some poses are done standing up. Others are performed lying down, sitting, balancing or with a bent back. Beginning positions that are done sitting include the Seated Wide Legged Straddle, Half Lord of the Fishes and the Cobbler's Pose. Some of the standing positions for those just starting are The Pyramid, The Standing Forward Bend and The Downward Facing Dog.
As we discussed, yoga is so much more than simply arranging your body into a certain pose. It is a complete philosophy that stresses the importance of spiritual well being as well as the tangible needs of a human body. The first limb, in fact, teaches the fundamental virtues of truth in word and thought, nonviolence and monogamy for those who are married and celibacy for those who are not.