There are numerous modern physical cultural systems designed to develop the muscles through mechanical movements and exercises. As Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul in its journey towards perfection, Yoga Asanas (postures) are developed not only for the body, but they also broaden the mental faculties and the spiritual capacities. The fundamental difference between Yoga exercise and ordinary physical exercise is that physical exercise emphasizes violent movement of the muscles; Yoga exercises oppose violent movements as they produce large quantities of the lactic acid in the muscle fibers. The effect of this acid and the fatigue is causes is neutralized by the inhalation of oxygen (deep breathing). Muscle development doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy body, as is commonly assumed. Health is a state wherein all organs function perfectly under the intelligent control of the mind.
Yoga Asanas work first and foremost on the health of the spine. The spinal column contains the central nervous system, the communication system of the body, supporting the health of the whole body. If the flexibility and strength of the spine is maintained with proper exercise, circulation is intensified, the nerves are assured of a supply of nutrients and oxygen, and the body retains its youthful condition.
Yoga Asanas work on the internal machinery of the body, the glands and organs, as well as the muscles. They affect the deeper and subtler parts of the body. The internal organs receive massage and stimulation through the various movements of the Yoga Asanas, and are toned into more efficient functioning. The endocrine system (glands and hormones) is rejuvenated, helping to balance the emotions and improve the mental outlook on life.
Hand in hand with the practice of Yoga postures, we practice deep breathing and concentration of the mind. One hour of practice will give one hour of exercise, one hour of deep relaxation and one hour of meditation through developing the concentration powers within the pose.
The Yoga system of exercise can be compared to no other in its complete overhaul of the entire being. Performed slowly and consciously, the Yoga Asanas go far beyond mere physical benefits, becoming mental exercises in concentration and meditation.
Yogis pay great attention to control of their own minds. The resultant mental power is used to delve in to directly study the hidden mysteries of life. They know that the mind is by nature unsteady and, at every moment, it is being affected and stimulated by sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Therefore, efforts are made to detach the mind from the objects of the senses and draw it inward, freed from all distractions, and kept under control. By practicing the Yoga postures, not as mere calisthenics, but with awareness of the muscles used, of the breathing, of the relaxation- the mind is detached from the senses little-by-little.
Most people uses only a fraction of their potential lung capacity when breathing. They breathe shallowly, barely expanding their 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. These people become tired easily and don’t know why. Usually these people are not using their diaphragms properly, breathing with only the top or middle of the lungs.
There are three basic types of breathing. Clavicle breathing is the most shallow and worst possible type. 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. Intercostal breathing is done with the rib muscles expanding the ribcage, and is the second type of incomplete breathing. Deep abdominal breathing is the best, for it brings air into the lowest and largest part of the lungs. Breathing is slow and deep, and proper use is made of the diaphragm.
Actually, none of these types are complete. A full yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the Intercostal and Clavicle areas. To experience a ‘full yogic breath’, sit up and place one hand on 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, then the ribcage. This is the best type of breath.
Control of the Prāna, or subtle energy, leads to control of the mind. Yogic breathing exercises are called Prānayama, which means control the Prāna.
The grossest manifestation of Prana in the human body is the motion of the lungs. This motion acts like the flywheel that sets the other forces of the body in motion.
Pranayama begins with controlling the motion of the lungs, by which the Prāna is controlled. When the subtle Prāna is controlled, all gross manifestations of Prāna in the physical body will slowly come under control. When we are able to do this, the whole body will be under our control. All diseases of the body can be destroyed at the root by controlling and regulating the Prāna; this is the secret knowledge of healing. In ordinary breathing we extract only very little Prana. But when we concentrate and consciously regulate the breathing, we are able to store a greater amount. The person who has abundant Prānic energy radiates vitality and strength; all who come into contact with him or her can feel this.
When the body and the mind are constantly over worked, their natural efficiency diminishes. Modern social life, food, work and even entertainment make it difficult for people to relax. Many have even forgotten that rest and relaxation are Nature’s way of recharging. Even while trying to rest, the average person expends a lot of physical and mental energy through tension. Much of the body’s energy is wasted uselessly. More of our energy is spent in keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work than in actual useful work done. In order to regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, it is best to learn to economize the energy produced by our body. Learning to relax may do this.
It may be remembered that in the course of one day, our body usually produces all the substances and energy necessary for the next day. But it often happens that all these substances and energy may be consumed within a few minutes by bad moods, anger, injury or intense irritation. The process of eruption and repression of violent emotions often grows into a regular habit. The result is disastrous, not only for the body but also for the mind. During complete relaxation, there is little or no energy, or ‘Prāna’ being consumed. A little is kept in circulation to maintain the body in normal condition, while the remaining portion is stored and conserved.
We know that every action is the result of thought. Thoughts take form in action, the body reacting to thought. Just as the mind may send a message to the muscles ordering them to contract, mind may also send another message to bring relaxation to the tired muscles.
When experiencing mental tension, it is advisable to breathe slowly and rhythmically for a few minutes. Soon the mind will become calm. You may experience a kind of floating sensation
However much one may try to relax the mind, all tensions and worries cannot be completely removed until one reaches spiritual relaxation. As long as a person identifies with the body and mind, there will be worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear and anger. These emotions, in turn, bring tension. Yogis know that unless a person can withdraw from the body/mind idea and separate him/ herself from the ego-consciousness, there is no way of obtaining complete relaxation.
The yogi identifies him/herself with the all pervading, all-powerful, all-peaceful and joyful Self, or pure Consciousness within. This ability comes with the knowledge that the source of all power, peace and strength is in the Self, not in the body. We tune to this by asserting the real nature that is “I am that pure Consciousness or Self”. This identification with the Self completes the process of relaxation.
Positive Thinking and Meditation
When the surface of a lake is still, one can see to the bottom very clearly. This is impossible when the surface is agitated by waves. In the same way when the mind is still, with no thoughts or desires, you can see the ‘Self’. This is called ‘Yoga’. We can control the mental agitation by concentrating the mind either normally or externally. Internally, we focus on the ‘ Self’ or the consciousness of ‘I am’. Externally, we use other points of focus.
When we take up some recreation such as golf, through concentration on putting the ball into the hole, the other thoughts are slowed down or stilled. We feel we have played a good game when we have achieved perfect concentration. The happiness we experience comes because the mind has been concentrated. At the time, all worries and problems of the world disappeared. The mental ability to concentrate is inherent to all; it is neither extraordinary nor mysterious. Meditation is not something that a yogi has to teach you; you already have the ability to shut out thoughts.
The only difference between this and meditation (the positive way), is that generally we have learned to focus the mind externally on objects. When the mind is fully concentrated, time passes unnoticed, as if it did not exist. When the mind is focused, there is no time! Time is nothing but a modification of the mind. Time, space, and causation and all external experiences are mental creations. All happiness achieved through the mind is temporary and fleeting; it is tied by nature. To achieve that state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, we must first know how to calm the mind. By turning the mind’s concentration inward, upon the Self, we can deepen that perfect concentration. This is the state of meditation.
Meditation is an experience that cannot be described, just as colors cannot be described to a blind person. All ordinary experience is limited by time, space and causation. Our normal awareness and understanding do not transcend these bounds. Finite experience, which is measured in terms of past, present and future, cannot be transcendental. Concepts of time are illusory, for they have no permanence. The present, immeasurably small and fleeting, cannot be grasped. Past and future are non-existent in the present. We live in illusion. The meditative state transcends all such limitations. In it there is neither past nor future, but only the consciousness of ‘I am’ the eternal NOW. It is only possible when all mental modifications are stilled. The closest analogous state that we can experience is deep sleep, in which there is neither time, nor space, non-causation. Meditation, however, differ from deep sleep, for it works profound changes in the psyche.
By curbing and stilling the oscillations of the mind, meditation brings mental peace. On the physical level, meditation helps to prolong the body’s anabolic process of growth and repair, and to reduce the catabolic or decaying process. This is because of the innate receptivity of body cells. Each of our body cells is governed by the by the instinctive subconscious mind. They have both an individual and a collective consciousness. When the thoughts and desires pour into the body, the cells are activated; the body always obeys the group demand. It has been scientifically proven that positive thoughts bring positive results to cells. As meditation brings about a prolonged positive state of mind, it rejuvenated body cells and retards decay. One cannot learn to meditate, anymore than one can learn to sleep. One falls into both states.