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The many practices of yoga are designed to help the body and mind meet every situation that arises in life from moment to moment.

The purpose of yoga asanas (postures) is to keep the body healthy and supple enough to sit comfortably and practice pranayama (breathing) and meditation practices that calm and still the mind. Yoga begins with the body because most people can identify with the body very easily. Most of our awareness, in fact, revolves around physical conditions and desires. As such most yoga today is done with physical outcomes in mind. We identify with the body in the initial stages of yoga and work with the body using asanas, pranayamas and other Hatha Yoga practices.  The practices of yoga should gradually evolve from the body to the mind and eventually to the spiritual realms. We can develop awareness of different aspects of life and begin to utilise yoga to harmonise various dimensions. Yoga is ultimately concerned with development of the total human personality.

Anyone can begin yoga at any time in life. For example, try to start each day with a simple breathing and stretching exercise before you go to work or begin other duties. Firstly, stand up straight, feet slightly apart, hold your hands beside the hips or in front of you with the right hand gently on top of the left, thumb tips touching (the mudra of Buddha) and let the arms hang down gently. Relax the mind and be still for a moment. Observing the breath, begin to lift your arms up and out to the sides as you also begin to breathe in, stretching the arms out and up - expanding the abdomen first and then the chest into a deep and full yogic breath. Bring the hands together above your head and put the palms together or interlock the fingers and invert your palms to face them upwards. Looking forwards or upwards stretch up, feel the stretch in the spine, feel the intercostal muscles between your ribs opening up and stretching. Holding your breath in for a moment while you are stretched up trains the respiratory centres in the brainstem to regularly allow a more deeper breath in when you are breathing normally. Synchronise your arms when lifting them up with the full inhalation so that you have fully breathed in when the hands arrive together at the top and also synchronise your arms when exhaling down again to come back into the hand mudra you started with. When breathing out, relax the chest first and then the abdomen. This is the most physiologically efficient way of breathing and maximises your exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gasses, as well as fully charging the body with prana.

Note: If you have any heart problems, such as high blood pressure or hypertension, then please do not hold the breath in for very long as this may not be good for you. If in doubt, consult your physician.

For certain types of asthmatics, exhalation can be done in the opposite order. Breathe out from the abdomen first and then from the chest to keep the chest open longer. This allows the bronchial passages to expand more and stay open longer. Again, if in doubt, consult your physician.

Do this movement several times, as slowly as you comfortably can and have a normal breath in and out in between each movement so that your body can equalise the breath again. Doing this practice each day you will begin to feel more alive, more healthy and more in touch with every part of your body. The sequence described above called Tadasana involves asana and pranayama together in one session. Practicing pranayama helps us to discover the great life-force, (prana) that exists both within and around us. Prana circulates throughout the entire body and is everywhere around us. It is prana that gives us energy and life. The first aspect of pranayama though, consists of simply observing the breath. By learning to control your breath, you can learn to gain control over your emotions and other mental states as well. The breath is the medium to get in touch with pranic flow and energies flowing in and through each part of our body, in every cell and through each and every organ. By becoming aware of the breath, we gradually become more sensitive to our mind and to the flow of energy throughout the body and a stronger energy awareness develops within us.

The ultimate goal of yoga is to find perfection in life. The result is awareness, knowledge, harmony and a deep understanding of our nature. Perfection is the aim of yoga. Everything else an outcome, the result of that process. By integrating yoga into our life, we begin with the awareness of ourselves in our present condition and come to know the potentials and possibilities that exist within us, and then use those strengths or possibilities to reach a higher awareness in life.

 

 

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