A Brief Introduction To Yoga
In just one short phrase, Yoga is an ancient spiritual science. It has been known and preserved for thousands of years in many countries all over the world and in the last few decades. It has become well known and popular in the western world due to an emergence of interest in the mystical eastern paths as well as for its practical relevance for the stresses and illnesses of modern day life.
Yoga is both a philosophy and practical science. It is a tried and true method of attaining better physical health, mental clarity and psycho-emotional balance, as well as a system of total personality integration, that is spiritual growth. Through Yoga, one can speed up the development of both personal as well as social, spiritual consciousness, thereby helping to promote a greater harmony within ourselves, our family and our planet.
The word “Yoga” literally means union or to bring together. It is used to describe a range of psycho-biological techniques of personal transformation which lead ultimately to that state known as “self-realization.” Therefore, any technique or method which encourages concentration, inner awareness and union are, in essence, a yoga.
There are many well-known forms of yoga practiced and taught throughout the world today such as Hatha Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Nada Yoga, Karma Yoga, Sannyas Yoga and many more.
What is Integral Yoga?
Integral Yoga is, in a way, a combination of all of these. Like having a well-balanced diet, a person needs a careful synthesis of many elements for all round well being, and this is the basic principle of Integral Yoga. However, in this Beginners Book, we will be concerned only with the following four categories of yoga practice which are considered of primary importance for the beginner to yoga. Each of these will be dealt with in greater theoretical detail in later chapters. Yoga Nidra, Yoga Asanas, Pranayama, Mantra Meditation.
Advice and Precautions For When Practicing Yoga
The following advice should be studied thoroughly before commencing to practice Yoga and Meditation. These suggestions are to help the practitioner gain the most significant benefits as well as to protect against injury.
Time of Practice
For the four aspects of Yoga encompassed in this book – Asanas, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Meditation – there are ideal times in the day that each of them will give the greatest benefits. However, when practicing at home, these ideals must necessarily be compromised within the activities and timing of your own life.
The format of a weekly Integral Yoga Class of one and a half hours allows for all these four aspects. However, given the time allowable in most people’s lives at home, there is often a need to separate the techniques. To cater for this, the following general guidelines should be followed as closely as possible.
The very best time to practice Yoga is first thing in the morning before breakfast. Upon waking, empty the bowels, shower if you wish, then commence the day with your regime of Yoga practices. The second most conducive time is early evening, around sunset. Thirdly, just before bed is a good time for some aspects of Yoga. But it is of course far better to do something at a time of the day which suits one, rather than to miss out by being too rigid or idealistic.
In general, Asanas may be practiced at any time of day except within 2-3 hours of having eaten. You can do postures when the body feels stiff, tense, tired or hyped-up. Be aware not to do too many over- stimulating postures just before bed time. Asanas are best practiced first in your yoga routine, followed by Pranayama then Meditation. You will find the body is a stiffest first thing in the day, and even though it may be a little harder, it is most beneficial to release this tension at the start of your day’s activities. Asanas are a necessary pre-requisite for successful Pranayama.
In general, Pranayama may be practiced at any time of day except 2-3 hours after meals. It may be done when tense or tired or when space does not allow room for postures. Be careful not to do too much dynamic Pranayama in the late evening. Pranayama is best practiced straight after asanas without breaking the flow of awareness. Pranayama is a necessary pre-requisite for successful Meditation.
In general, Meditation may be done at any time of day when you feel both awake and relaxed. For best results don’t do Meditation within 2-3 hours of eating, when sleepy, nor when mentally “hyped-up.” Meditation practice is best practiced straight after Pranayama, without breaking the flow of awareness.
In general, Yoga Nidra can be done at any time of day, even directly after meals so long as you do not fall asleep in practice. Don’t do Yoga Nidra when you feel tired or sleepy. At that time it is better to do some yoga asanas. More will be gained when you are both awake and relaxed, or awake and over stimulated. Before bed, if you can’t get to sleep, or first thing in the morning if you didn’t sleep well, is beneficial. The best times to practice Yoga Nidra are either: before asanas if you are tense and over stimulated; or after asanas and before Pranayama if there is a need for relaxation then.
Always remember Integral Yoga is a balanced recipe which maintains: That to get the best from your yoga practice, you should whenever possible, mix and match the necessary elements of practice which will improve and enhance your spiritual growth and awareness.
Place of Practice
It is best is to have fresh air in a quiet and clean place that suits the concentration and awareness Yoga will create.
Keep away from furniture, fires, ceiling fans.
Do not practice Yoga in direct sunlight or after sun-bathing. Outdoors is OK but avoid cold wind and insects.
Use a small amount of padding under the body on hard or cold surfaces. Use a blanket to cover yourself during Yoga Nidra.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing. There are no restrictions around the waist or limbs. Keep warm enough, especially during Yoga Nidra.
Remove spectacles, watch and any cumbersome jewelry or ornaments.
Throughout all yoga practices, try to keep your awareness of what you are doing. Don’t be concerned with others in the class or outside the room.
Proceed slowly and carefully. Follow the instructions exactly.
Never force or strain. Relax briefly between each practice.
Always breathe through the nose, both in and out, unless specified otherwise.
Remember: “Nose for breathing – Mouth for eating.”
If you do have trouble breathing through your nose, practice “Neti” (Nasal Cleansing) or visit a doctor for medical inspection.
Restrictions & Precautions
There are no age limits either young or old for the practice of Yoga. However, the application of the techniques will vary according to the abilities of the practitioner. Keep in mind the following.
Never practice any yoga techniques under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering drugs.
Those with disabilities, severe, acute or chronic medical conditions should consult both with their medical practitioner and their yoga teacher to assess any dangers or difficulties which may arise.
There are no hard and fast dietary rules necessary to begin the practice of Yoga. One does not have to give up smoking, become vegetarian, or be a purist to learn Yoga.
Source: Mother As First Guru ( By Swami Gurupremananda Saraswati )