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Hatha Yoga

When most people think of Yoga, they think of exercises for the physical body. These "exercises" are only one small aspect of traditional Yoga. The branch of Yoga that deals with the physical body is known as Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga begins the process of returning to one's original state of balance through the physcial body. The end goal of Hatha Yoga, like all branches of Yoga, is to achieve a state of lasting peace and equanimity.

What most people in America mean when they talk about types of Yoga, are types of Hatha Yoga. "Power," "Iyengar," "Kripalu," and "Asthanga" Yoga are all ways of approaching the science of Hatha Yoga. All of these systems start their students with a system of postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and deep relaxation (shavasana or yoga nidra). These preliminary practices serve as the foundation for a deeper Yoga practice. Traditionally an individual would have received instruction in these preliminary practices in a 1:1 fashion. In America, it is typical to learn these practices in a group setting.


Asanas:
"Symptoms of old age, such as wrinkles and poor complexion, are caused by poor circulation of the blood, thus leaving a lot of toxins and other waste matter in various parts of the body. Once the blood circulation is enriched, however, this foreign matter is washed out and eliminated, giving the body a young look and feel."
Sri Swami Satchidananda

The asanas or Yogic postures are designed to release tension in the physical body and to create strength and balance in the organs,and in the endocrine and nervous system. Physical posture affects every aspect of our health and even precursory work done in the area will benefit an individual's sense of overall wellbeing. A well-balanced series of asanas can serve to balance the physical body by releasing tension, improving flexibility, and maximizing energy flow through the body. The practice of Hatha Yoga results in the body feel light and balanced as well as bestowing the gifts of increased vitality and longevity. However, these are considered side benefits. The real goal is to know one's self.

Benefits of Asanas:

  • Releases Tension:
    Releasing tension in the physical body allows for better circulation and flow of energy in the body. Tension causes us our blood to flow in a more restricted way leading to premature wrinkles, decreased memory, mental fatigue and an overall feeling of stress that can lead to anxiety.

  • Physical Alignment:
    Asanas release habitual tension and brings attention to unnecessary movements. Improved alignment allows our bodies to conserve energy as the body does not have to work as hard to maintain stability. This gives us greater vitality and an improved state of well being.

  • Balances the Nervous system:
    The correct practice of asanas balances the nervous output, helps us to be alert without being tense. They enables us to feel equally at home with activity and resting states. The practice of asanas teaches the individual how to engage in activities while retaining a relaxed and peaceful state of mind.

  • Change from Chest to Abdominal Breathing:
    As we switch from chest to abdominal breathing our exhalations are more complete which allows us to take in up to 7 times more oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives us a greater sense of vitality. More oxygen in the system means more oxygen in the brain resulting in improved concentration and mental clarity in addition to a longer life span.

  • Counters the Effects of Aging:
    Pooling of blood and lymph impairs proper nutrient supply to the skin and organs interfering with anti-aging maintenance and repair.

  • Improves Endocrine System:
    Places pressure on the glands and helps to regulate he metabolism of the body.

  • Increased circulation of Lymph:
    The lymphatic system does not have its own circulation method and relies on the movements of the body to keep it flowing. Postures and breathing help to prevent pooling of lymph and increased lymph circulation leading to improved immunity.

  • Physical Massage:
    Placing the body in asanas massages the muscles and glands as well as organs. This benefit is increased with deep breathing during the asanas.

To Learn More About Asanas:

  • Integral Yoga Teacher Training Programs.
    USA call: 1.800.858.YOGA (9642)
    International call: 1.434.969.2048
    e-mail: ARC@Yogaville.ORG
    Website: yogaville.org

    Provides beginning - advanced teacher trainings programs on hatha yoga, hatha for prenatal and postnatal care, yoga therapy etc. The programs are excellent for anyone desiring a comprehensive, traditional approach to Yoga.

  • Swami Satchidananda (1995). Integral Yoga Hatha Yoga. Va: Integral Yoga Publications.

    An excellent introduction for the student new to Yoga on the basic theory and practice of Hatha Yoga.

  • Swami Muktabodhananda (1993). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. India: Bihar School of Yoga.

    This is an excellent text for the individual grounded in Hatha practice and is looking for more detailed instruction. Familiarity with the concepts of Yoga is needed.

Experts on Asanas:

  • Swami Asokananda
    Buckingham, Va., 23921.,
    Ph: 1.434.969.3121
  • Dr. Amrita McLanahan
    Buckingham, Va., 23921
    Ph: 1.434.969.4680
  • Patricia Walden.
    35 Chester Street Arlington Massachusetts 02476
    Ph: 1.781.648.3455
    e-mail: patricia@yoga.com
  • Donna Farhi
    140 Ashworth Rd. RD 2 Rangiora 8254, North Canterbury, New Zealand.
    Ph: 64-3-3129-256
    e-mail yoga@donnafarhi.co.nz


Pranayama:
"When the breath is steady or unsteady, so is the mind and with it the Yogi. Hence the breath should be controlled."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika

In Yoga practice, breath is considered to be the bridge between the body and the mind. Ideally the breath should be slow, relaxed, smooth, deep and steady. With mental and emotional stress the way we breathe is affected. We may begin to breathe very shallowly, or in a choppy and irregular manner. Yogic understanding of the breath is that if we change the way that we breathe it will help us to balance and control our minds.

In a normal breath we take in and put out about one pint of air. If we use a little awareness and inhale deeply we can take in another three pints of air. By pressing out as much carbon dioxide as possible we can exhale another three pints of supplemental air. This enables us to take in seven times the normal quantity of air. We are supercharging our blood with oxygen and prana, which in turn brings a deep sense of physical well being that allows the mind to relax. Richness of oxygen in the blood is the basis for physical health.

By breathing deeply we take in a rich supply of prana, the energy that pervades all things and is the basis for all life. Prana is not oxygen although it is concentrated in the energy that we take in with our lungs and in the food that we eat. It is prana, as well as oxygen, that we take in with each breath.

On a spiritual level, inhalation (puraka) is the intake of cosmic energy by the individual bringing about their growth and progress. During deep breathing you can visualize that your finite body is merging with the infinite. Exhalations (rechaka) are understood to be the expulsion of all that is impure and inhibiting. You can visualize that in exhalation your individual energy is rushing out to unite with the cosmic or infinite energy of life.

Contraindications:
Pranayama is a very powerful practice, which should not be explored beyond the basic practices of deep three-part breath and alternate nostril breathing for those individuals with mental health problems. Pranayama should be approached carefully as one is dealing with the delicate organs of the lungs, the heart, and the nerves.

To Learn More About Pranayama:

  • Integral Yoga Teacher Training Programs.
    USA call: 1.800.858.YOGA (9642)
    International call: 1.434.969.2048
    e-mail: ARC@Yogaville.ORG
    Website: yogaville.org

    Integral Yoga offers comprehensive teacher trainings on Pranayama. Basic level of Hatha certification is a pre-requisite. Program taught by Swami Karunananda and Lakshmi Barsel.

  • Swami Rama, Dr. Ballentine and D. Hymes. (1981) The Science of Breath Honesdale, Penn: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy.

    This is a thorough introductory text on the science and practice of pranayama. It introduces the physiology behind the breathing practices as well as the esoteric reasons for practice.

  • Niranjanananda Saraswati, S. (1994). Prana, Pranayama and Prana Vidya. Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga.

    This text requires some knowledge of pranayama. It is an excellent addition to any library on the science of breath.

  • Light on Pranayama. By BKS Iyengar. (1981). India: Harper Collins Publisher.

    A classical text on pranayama - highly recommended.

Experts on Pranayama:

  • Swami Karunananda. Buckingham, Va., 23921,
    Ph: 1.800.858.9642 x 118

Deep Relaxation:
"Peace and stillness are the great remedy for disease. When we can bring peace in our cells, we are cured." Shri Aurobindu.

Yogic philosophy maintains that physical and mental health problems can only be confronted and removed when the mind is totally relaxed. This makes relaxation techniques an instrumental aspect of any health program. Relaxation helps to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, which assists the individual in retaining a sense of internal calm.

Ultimately, all of our tensions in life are created through the mind. We can see this when we become angry and our muscles tighten and our brow furrows. These muscular changes alter completely when we become happy and relaxed. Our physical bodies respond to our mental state. Deep relaxation is a system to begin understanding this process. Spending time relaxing is an important element in working with this mind-body connection and should not be under estimated.

Deep relaxation is considered to be so effective because of the way in which is works with the deep layers of muscle tissue, know as mamsa dhatu. Yoga understands memories to be held in the muscle tissue (as well as in the subtle mind). One of the situations in which muscular tension rises is when the individual is attempting to protect him or herself from having to deal with their unconscious or unpleasant memories. Deep relaxation enables us to relax the muscular tension in the body and to reach a state of deeper awareness and consciousness.

Most importantly, relaxation is seen as an essential aspect in healing the individual's psyche. Yoga maintains that the mere awareness of psychological trauma can modify the hold that these experiences have on one's life. A major caveat, however, is that the individual must be completely relaxed when he/she explores these issues. If the individual is not relaxed, he/she will externalize the event and identify with the emotion. This leads them to believe that the emotional content is a result of something that is happening in the present moment. The purpose of retaining a calm, relaxed state of mind is to encourage the individual to separate the data from the emotion.

To Learn More About Deep Relaxation/ Yoga Nidra:




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