THE PRACTICE AND PURPOSES OF YOGA
by Nick Shroff M.D
“Health is Wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows you the way”.
Yoga means “union”, a process of uniting yourself with what you are essentially. My teacher, Swami Jyotirmayanandaji, has philosophized on self realization of rising beyond the narrow confines of the mind in order to experience the limitless joy from the union with the Divine Self – the goal of yoga.
Yoga improves posture, increases the intake of oxygen, and enhances the functioning of the respiratory, digestive, endocrine, reproductive, and excretory systems. Yoga benefits our emotions by calming the mind, attuning us to the environment and reducing insomnia caused by restlessness of the mind. Yoga has been highly recommended for people in competitive, stressful working environments, and for those who suffer from headaches, back and shoulder aches, allergies, and asthma. The regular practice of yoga helps us to deal with whatever physical or mental conditions from which we might be suffering, by increasing our immediate sense of well being, concentration, and tranquillity.
The perspective that yoga gives is that life is a tremendous gift and we have to take responsibility for it. Yoga gives us the capacity to face up to life's challenges. When we respect our body, we tend to do things that will enhance its vitality. Most people who practice yoga become vegetarians and some will even follow a macrobiotic diet (the theory of promoting health and longevity by means of diet, especially whole beans and grains).
There are many illustrated books on yoga and one can practice it at home. As a beginner, one will benefit far more by joining a class. A novice should listen to his/her body. We should NOT attempt headstands, backward bending or forcing ourselves into a cross-legged position until our body is ready. Our teacher, Swami Jyotirmayanandaji, has taught us in his Ashram in Miami and on his annual visits to Midland, various ways for a beginner to loosen up the spine, shoulders and hips. This consisted of ten standing positions, some floor positions, followed by relaxation and breathing exercises. We are fortunate because his class was structured. He explained a pose and then came and corrected us if we were not doing it properly. When we came out of the class, we felt good and relaxed, with our muscles stretched but never strained.
There are so many facets to yoga that it can literally take a lifetime to master the art. It is naturally a slow process. For the first couple of years, you will repeat the same things over and over again. The poses, meditations and breathing are basic to yoga exercises. Although the exercises in yoga are hard work, they are never grueling. It is gentle because your mind and heart are involved. The Iyengar method is a balanced system using a few basic standing poses to 'open up' the body, freeing the joints, stretching the muscles and allowing blood to circulate. It is very good for the spine and for keeping all the joints mobile.
The exercises appear very simple, but are, in fact, based on very profound thinking, drawing on the some of the most ancient holistic practices and principles of eastern culture. The effects can be very subtle and so it is best to give the practices a few weeks of regular daily practice to see if they are suitable (for the individual practitioner). They can be adapted to one's particular problems and needs as well being flexible enough to fit into his/her busy schedule. Iyengar yoga also works at a psychological level. In a yoga position, one can concentrate on a total awareness of one’s energy and how it flows. One learns how body and mind work together. Whilst almost all exercises can be beneficial depending on the amount and body condition, practicing yoga ultimately leads us towards improved health and well being, both mentally and physically.
THE METHOD OF INTEGRATED YOGA
The yoga system of philosophy presents a rational process where one is intellectually enlightened regarding his/her inner nature. Yoga also shows the disciplines one must adopt in order to enhance the process of personality integration. It is a system of philosophy promoting practice as well as theory. Yoga in the broad sense is the integrated spiritual movement leading to self-realization.
Integrated Yoga is rooted in wisdom (prajna) and compassion (karuna). It implies an understanding of Yoga in its completeness, that is a total union with God in every level of his personality- Reason, Emotion, Will and Action. In order to succeed in life, one must advance along all four lines in a balanced and integrated manner.
Therefore, Integral Yoga presents a blend of four major yogas corresponding to the four aspects of the human personality (1) Jnana Yoga (the yoga of wisdom) trains and renders the intellect sharp and subtle; (2) Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion) nurtures feelings and brings about emotional integration of the personality; (3) Raja Yoga (the yoga of meditation) which enables one to develop a strong will and a controlled mind; and (4) Karma Yoga (the yoga of action) which unfolds one’s hidden potentials while preparing his psychological being to face and confront life’s day to day challenges.
Our integral method combines four types of Yoga along with supplementary minor yogas into one unified harmonious blend towards the goal of self-realization. Integral yoga therefore provides a safe and sure method to enrich and perfect every aspect of our personality. Integrated yoga is designed to free the flow of subtle energy through the joints and spine so as not only to prevent the onset of disease but also to invigorate the yogi's physical, mental and spiritual experience in general by liberating his or her own natural potential.
Postures or asanas stretch the conception and governing vessels of meridian theory running along the front of the body and the spine and also balance the chakras or energy centers. Under the guidance of our spiritual teacher, we have practiced the traditional steps of pranayama (breath control), mudras (gestures), bandhas (energy locks) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal) as a means to calm and concentrate the mind. From the basis of this calm concentration, we can explore the spiritual universe through meditation.
Overall, then, Integrated Yoga is designed to meet our practical health needs as well as providing a sure foundation for embarking on
the more esoteric aspects of yogic mysticism.
The Author: Nick Shroff M.D. is a urologist practising in Midland, Texas. He is a founding member of the West Texas Hindu Association and of the Hindu Temple in Midland.