What is Yoga and its Benefits?Let me begin with a quote by one of the greatest humanitarian on the planet Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  He is the founder of the famous Art of Living international ashram based in Bangalore. In his own words, “Yoga is not just a physical exercise or Asanas.  Yoga is a complete science. It unites the body, mind, spirit, and the universe. Yoga brings that much-needed peace in every individual. If you want to be sane, strong, and intuitive, you have to follow yoga”.  Here he sums up so beautifully the entire meaning of yoga in a few sentences.

yoga exercise

What is the most important thing for a human being? It is health, vitality, wellbeing, and peace of mind.  We may play gully cricket or football in a nearby ground or join a gym. These activities will surely keep us physically fit and develop our muscles, but how do we achieve mental fitness? That is when yoga comes for our rescue.  Yoga empowers us to manage our negative emotions. Emotions like anger, hatred; jealousy if not controlled or handled positively can destroy our peace of mind.

The word Yoga originated from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” which means to integrate or unite.  Yoga is all about the culmination of the body, mind, and breath through various breathing techniques along with yoga poses and meditation.

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There is something known as Nadi sources of energy.  They are food, rest, a calm and peaceful mind, and most importantly, breath.  Our breath throws out about 90% of the toxins from our body. We should be proud as Indians because our ancient Rishis and Yogis were the earliest scientists who discovered Prana (life energy) or the universal life force which distinguishes the living from the dead. The Prana flows through subtle energy channels called Nadi.  Our breath is what links our body to our mind.

Each emotional state has a particular breathing pattern.  When you are angry, you breathe faster, and when you are happy and peaceful, you breathe slowly.  It is quite challenging to control the mind. For example, if you try telling your brain to stop getting thoughts about the monkey with a red tail, then you will end up thinking of the red-tailed monkey only that’s the power of our minds.  Breath can become an indirect way of controlling our emotions. The rishis found ways of regulating the breath-ayamas.  Pranayama is working in the dimension of the Prana, which ultimately leads to creating positive energy.

Below are the benefits of Pranayama

  1. It enhances the quality of Prana and clears the blocked energy channels.
  2. It reverses the aging process and boosts the immune system.
  3. It is beneficial when it comes to unifying the body, mind, and spirit.

There are four types of popular Pranayamas

  1. Kapala Bhati (skull shining process): This clears energy channels and detoxifies our body.
  2. Bhastrika (bellow breath):  By practicing this breathing technique, one can quickly come strong if the energy level is low.  It would help you return to an active state.
  3. Brahamari (bee breath):  This activity is beneficial in calming the mind when there is a lot of chaos around.
  4. Nadi shodan followed by meditation: This helps to increase our concentration.

Our mind resembles a pendulum swinging from the past to the future, from anger to regret, anxiety to fear, and from happiness to sorrow.  Yoga asanas bring moderation to our mind. As described in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, “Sthira Sukham Asanam,” which means Yoga is a balance of effort and ease.  We put effort to get into the posture, and then we relax and let go, i.e., get detached from the result of its outcome.

Yoga poses are all about breath and awareness.  When we lift our hands, firstly we become aware of our hands and then we slowly lift it, synchronizing with the breath.  It is graceful like ballet, gliding from one pose to another. By putting an effort to move beyond the agreeable limits of our body, we expand our mind. 

Let’s look at some of the popular asanas and their English names:

Standing Yoga Asanas

ENGLISH NAMESANSKRIT NAME
Standing sideways bending one armKonasana
Standing Spinal TwistKatichakrasana
Standing Forward BendHastapadasana
Standing Backward BendArdha Chakrasana
Triangle PoseTrikonasana
Warrior PoseVeerabhadrasana
Tree PoseVrikshasana
Chair PoseUtkatasana

Seated Yoga Asanas

ENGLISH NAMESANSKRIT NAME
One-Legged Forward BendJanu Shirasasana
Two-Legged Forward BendPaschimottanasana
Sitting Half Spinal TwistArdha Matsyendrasana
ButterflyBadhakonasana
Lotus PosePadmasana
Camel PoseUstrasana
Child PoseShishuasana
Mill Churning PoseChakki Chalanasana

Asanas Performed While Lying Down on the Stomach

ENGLISH NAMESANSKRIT NAME
Downward Facing Dog PoseAdho Mukha Svanasana
Cat StretchMarjariasana
Bow Pose Dhanurasana
Cobra PoseBhujangasana
Superman PoseViparit Shalabhasana
Locust PoseShalabhasana

Asanas Performed While Lying Down on the Back

ENGLISH NAMESANSKRIT NAME
Boat PoseNaukasana
Bridge PoseSetu Bandhasana
Fish PoseMatsyasana
Wind-relieving PosePavanmuktasana
Shoulder StandSarvangasana
Lying-down Body TwistNatarajasana
Lying-down on SidesVishnuasana
Corpse PoseShavasana

What is Meditation and How does it Improve our Lives?

We will now see what meditation is.  The innate nature of human being is joy, love, and peace.  Meditation is the art of doing nothing and letting go of all effort to relax and bring out this true nature.  Yes, you heard right, meditation happens. It is doing nothing or getting into a state of deconcentration which results in developing concentration, and this is only possible with regular practice of meditation.

Meditation is a natural phenomenon, and below are some of the reasons why we need to meditate:

  1. Prenatal meditation:  Meditation begins right from when we are in our mother’s womb.  When we are just a being and receiving all the food for survival.  So naturally, we want to go back to that state of comfort.
  2. The comfort of meditation:  We have experienced the pleasure of meditation before coming to the hustle and bustle of this world.  Everything in the universe is cyclical and seeks its source; hence, the need for meditation. 
  3. Meditation in the cycle of life:  Our mind keeps collecting impressions.  To get rid of these impressions and return to the state of calmness which is our original nature we need to meditate.
  4. Essential nutrient for the soul:  Meditation is love without hatred, pleasure without excitement, and a thrill without enthusiasm.  Just as the body needs food, the food for the soul is meditation.
  5. Every soul is a seeker:  Whether you recognize it or not, you are a seeker searching for the elusive comfort provided by meditation. 

When does meditation happen? When the mind is calm and serene and free from agitation, meditation happens.

What are the ways that we can slip into meditation? 

  1. Physical exercises: The first way to meditate is through physical means-yoga and physical activities.  When our body does certain poses with rhythm, this brings tiredness that pushes the mind into a meditative state.  If you are too active or in a complete rested state, you can’t meditate. Your body has to be in a condition between rest and activity, so then in that kind of balance, the mind slips into meditation.
  2. Breathing techniques: Through breathing, you can get into meditation. After Pranayama, it is easy to get into a meditative state. 
  3. Sensory organs: Through sensory pleasures like sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, we can meditate.  The five sensory organs are in sync with the five elements – earth, water, air, fire and ether or space.  The universe consists of different combinations of these elements. We can go through any of the senses to transcend the elements and go into a deep meditative state.
  4. Emotions: Through emotions, you can get into meditation.
  5. Intellect: Through intellect, you can go into meditation — the context of life changes when we become aware of the kindness of the universe. Something happens deep inside us.  We can’t come quickly out of such experience and go back to our routine.  

Conclusion

What are the benefits of meditation? There are many benefits to meditation.  A calm mind, the right amount of concentration, blossoming of skills and talents, improvement in communication, clarity of perception, an unshakeable inner strength, and the ability to connect to an internal source of energy, relaxation, and rejuvenation are results of meditating regularly. 

By practicing Pranayamas, Yoga asanas, and Meditation, we can lead a rewarding, fulfilling, and wholesome life.  Please share your experiences regarding yoga and meditation in the comment section.