The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. His Yoga Sutras serve as a guide for yoga that is practiced today, outlining the eight limbs of yoga: yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), & samadhi (liberation).
Some of the benefits of Yoga:
- Enhanced intellect, increased efficiency and reduced stress levels
- Greater contentment, concentration and mental steadiness
- Enhanced feelings of well-being and general vitality
- Improved circulation and hence detoxification
- A greater connection with the body’s and mind’s genuine needs
- Living a life with a deeper consciousness, integrity and joy
- Help with chronic illness eg: asthma, diabetes, arthritis (through tailored Yoga Therapy)
Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation. The fourth limb, pranayama (breath control) is also practiced in the West.
‘Hatha’ yoga is used to describe these practices, and is translated as ha ( “sun”) and tha (“moon”). This refers to the balance of masculine aspects (active, hot, sun) and feminine aspects (receptive, cool, moon) within. Yoga is a powerful tool for personal development, creating balance, strength and flexibility of body and mind. It also teaches us how to balance effort with knowing when to accept and surrender to current circumstances.
It’s important to remember yoga is not just theory, nor physical postures to practice on your mat, but is a practical way of life to help you find inner peace. Yoga is also about a life of compassionate self-discipline, both on and off your yoga mat, with the aim of ‘simple living and high thinking.’ This real goal of Yoga is to understand that true happiness comes from within, when the mind is free from endless thoughts. As such, Yoga is universal in nature, and is for everybody regardless of age, gender, physical ability, or religion. Yoga is not a religion, but is a framework for spiritual growth and the integration of body, mind and spirit.
Yoga hasn’t survived so many thousands of years because ‘it is good for you’ but because ‘it makes you feel good’. The only way to test this is to try it out for yourself. If you’ve been put off in the past, try a different teacher or style of yoga. Whatever yoga you practice, at all times focus on being present, using the breath with each movement and finding your ‘edge’ (the point at which you can feel the effects of the posture, without it being painful AT ANY POINT!)
Ayurvedic Yoga with Joanna Webber
Joanna teaches Sivananda inspired yoga due to the completeness of its approach, with pranayama, sun salutes, inversions, forward bends and backbends, twisting, balancing and standing poses, chanting, and a full final relaxation (which is when the Ayurvedic doshas are balanced by your practice). This style of Yoga was brought to the West by Swami Vishnu devananda. His guru, Swami Sivanada wanted yoga to spread out from India. His basic philosophy was to aim for “simple living and high thinking”.
Sivananda Yoga is based on 5 points taught by Swami Vishnu devananda:
- Proper exercise: Asana (‘steady pose’) is the kind of yoga most known in the West, being the physical dimension in yoga. The asanas aim at promoting the health and efficiency of the joints, nerves, glands, vital internal organs and most importantly the spine. The asanas offer you the chance to learn about your body and how it functions for you. The asanas should be approached with concentration and mindfulness. This is achieved by bringing an awareness to the breath during the posture work.
- Proper breathing: Babies breath fully and correctly, but by adulthood, we’ve often developed poor habits such as shallow breathing. Great emphasis is placed on relearning to breath fully using the abdomen, and the Full Yogic Breathing. Beyond this is Pranayama, from the Sanskrit ‘prana’ meaning the life breath and ‘ayama’ meaning pause. It is the science of controlling the breath and how this helps control the mind. Pranayama unclouds the mind and creates a feeling of internal freedom. It is a natural precursor to meditation.
- Proper relaxation is complete relaxation on a physical, mental and spiritual level. We constantly use our 5 senses, but in the 21st Century more so than ever. Overuse and misuse of the senses is seen as a root cause of many diseases in Ayurveda. It is ideal to spend 10-15 minutes in proper relaxation at the end of yoga to allow you body and mind to fully benefit. Without proper breathing and relaxation, Yoga is reduced to physical exercise.
- Proper diet:The yogi diet is lacto-vegetarian (health, moral and spiritual reasons), and looks at the subtle effect that food has on mind. Diet seen as integral part of spiritual discipline. If you practise yoga, you will be surprised by the enhancement of your practise as you modify your diet! Yoga also looks to Ayurveda for its extensive advice on a proper diet for each individual and the time of year.
- Positive thinking and meditation: Yoga encourages a withdrawal from the external world in order to illuminate the Mind. Meditation will enable you to understand that your thoughts are indeed within your control. Meditation helps you to recognise your innate wisdom as you learn to peel away the layers of emotions and thought patterns that hide the beauty of the real Self, whose very nature is happiness and fulfilment.
- Vata types should focus on slow Sun Salutes; leg lifting; Camel; Cobra; and Cat. Alternate nostril breathing can help balance Vata. Beyond Yoga, slow, gentle exercise such as Tai Qi, QiGong, swimming, and walking are recommended rather than active sports such as jogging.
- Pitta types benefit from cooling Moon Salutes; Fish; Boat; and Bow. Cooling shitali breaths can help with heat, irritation, inflammation and anger. Calming exercise, Tai Qi, Aikido, hiking or swimming are all recommended, avoiding intense competitive sports and hot mid-day exercise.
- Kapha types need fast Sun Salutes and postures such as Bridge; Peacock; Tree; and Lion. Bhastrika pranayama and Kappalabhati are good. Any vigorous hot exercise, especially early morning is excellent.
Click here for an excellent introduction to combining Ayurveda and Yoga from Dr David Frawley and Banyan Botanicals. Jo teaches private AyurvedicYoga sessions in Bristol. Yoga Prema offer group Sivananda classes in Bristol.
“The real spiritual progress of the aspirant is measured by the extent to which he achieves inner tranquility.” (Swami Sivananda, pictured)
“An ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory.” (Swami Sivananda)