The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “to attach or join”, and signifies union of the individual and universal conscious.
History of Yoga
- Yoga is widely considered as an “immortal cultural outcome” of the Indus Saraswati Valley Civilization – dating back to approximately 2700 BC.
- A number of seals and fossil remains of Indus Saraswati Valley Civilization with Yogic motifs and figures performing Yoga sadhana suggest the presence of Yoga in ancient India.
- The seals and idols of mother Goddess are suggestive of Tantra Yoga.
Ancient Yoga: As a Philosophy
References to Yoga are also available in ancient Vedic and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Darshanas, epics of Mahabharata including Bhagawad Gita and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas, Vaishnavas and Tantric traditions.
The Vedas expounded a diverse set of practices, ideas and concepts; six main schools of philosophy emerged from these teachings.
• Nyaya (logic),
• Vaisheshika (analysis of the universe),
• Samkhya (classification of the universe),
• Yoga (union with the Divine),
• Mimansa (ritual interpretation of the Vedas), and
• Vedanta (inquiry into the Self)
Yoga School of Philosophy:
- Yoga school advocates working with two fundamental realities: purusha, meaning “pure consciousness,” and prakriti, meaning “matter”
- Every living being is a form of connection of these two realities and every living being is considered a union of body and mind
- The path of yoga is guided by ethical principles, yamas and niyamas, and should ultimately result in moksha (spiritual liberation)
Maharishi Patanjali systematised and codified the then existing Yogic practices, its meaning and its related knowledge through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
He elucidated eight limbs of yoga, namely:
• Yama (social ethics)
• Niyama (personal ethics)
• Asana (postures)
• Pranayama (life force)
• Pratyahara (turning the senses inwards)
• Dharana (one-pointed focus)
• Dhyana (meditation)
• Samadhi (merging with the self)
• In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers.
• In 1893, at Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda lectured on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.
• In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga.
• Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River.
• On 11 December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with 193 members approved the proposal to celebrate ‘June 21’ as the ‘International Yoga Day’.
Schools of Yoga
Yoga works on the level of one’s body, mind, emotion and energy. This has given rise to four broad classifications or paths of Yoga.
Four Paths of Yoga:
• Jnana Yoga
o Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation.
o It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.
• Bhakti Yoga
o Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others.
o All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.
• Karma Yoga
o Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.
• Raja Yoga
o Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga.
o It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.
Elements of Yoga
• “The Father of Yoga”, Maharishi Patanjali compiled and refined various aspects of Yoga systematically in his “Yoga Sutras” (aphorisms).
• He advocated the eight folds path of Yoga, popularly known as “Ashtanga Yoga” for all-round development of human beings. They are:
• Signifies restraints.
• Yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life
• Yoga-sutra states 5 code of conducts:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: continence
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness
• Signifies observations
• The five niyamas are:
o Saucha: cleanliness o Santosh: contentment o Tapa: heat; spiritual austerities
o Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self o Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God
• Asana is the third step in the eight rungs of yoga and signifies postures.
• “Sthira sukham asanam” – Asana is a yoga pose that is steady and comfortable.
• Yoga Asanas or Yoga Poses can be meditative poses or they can be postures aimed towards attaining strength, balance and steadiness.
• Types of Asanas:
o Cultural or Corrective Asanas: Bring out changes in the body by correcting postural defects, improper muscle tone etc.
Example: Chakrasan, Dhanurasan
o Relaxative Asanas: The asanas for relaxation are designed in a way that there is no need to contract any muscle. With these, body can come to a deep relaxation.
Example: Shavasana and makarasana
o Meditative Asanas: They provide a stable seat for meditation without moving any part of your body. These postures increase concentration power and help in meditation.
Example: Padmasana, Siddhasana, Swastikasana or Sukhasana
• Signifies breath-control.
• Consists of developing awareness of one’s breathing followed by willful regulation of respiration as the functional or vital basis of one’s existence. It helps in developing awareness of one’s mind and helps to establish control over the mind.
• Pranayama has three phases:
o Signifies withdrawal of senses.
o Pratyahara indicates dissociation of one’s consciousness (withdrawal) from the sense organs, which connect with the external objects.
o Introspection, studying good books are some practices which can help in pratyahara.
• Signifies concentration.
• Dharana indicates broad based field of attention (inside the body and mind), which is usually understood as concentration.
• Stands for meditation
• Signifies integration
• It is the state of pure bliss.
Other Important Elements in Yoga
Bandhas and Mudras
• Bandhas and are practices associated with Pranayama.
• They are the practices involving manipulation of certain semi-voluntary and involuntary muscles in the body.
• These practices bring about voluntary control and tone up the internal organs.
• Satkarmas means six karmas or kriyas.
• The karma/kriya means’action’.
• Shatkarma consists purificatory processes, which cleanse the specific organs of the body by detoxifying them. The purification helps to keep the body and mind healthy.
• There are six cleansing processes described in hatha yogic texts. These are:
- Nauli and
• These are used to clean the internal organs or systems by using water, air or manipulation of certain organs of the body.
• Yuktahara advocates appropriate food and food habits for healthy living.
• Japa is the meditative repetitions of a mantra or a divine consciousness.
• Mantra Japa produces positive mental tracts, helping us to gradually overcome stress.
• Yukta-karma advocates right karmas or actions for a healthy living.
Yogic Practices for Health and Wellness
• In last few decades, the word “Yoga” has been used to refer to practise of performing physical postures or Asanas, with the goal of physical fitness.
• However, in actuality, Yoga is a complete system, of which the postures are a small, though quite useful part.
Yoga & Personality Development
Yogic practices are found effective for development of all dimensions of personality.
• Physical Dimension: Yogic practices like asana, pranayama, and bandha play a beneficial role in physical development of body.
• Emotional Dimension: Yogic practices such as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara and meditation help in emotional management.
• Intellectual Dimension: Yogic practices such as asana, pranayama, dharana, dhyana (meditation) help to develop concentration, memory and thereby help in intellectual development.
• Social Dimension: Following the codes of Yama and Niyama helps betterment of relationships with our friends, parents, teachers and others.
• Spiritual Dimension: For spiritual development, yama, niyama, pratyahara and dhyana (meditation) are helpful. Yama and niyama help to develop moral values while pranayama, and meditation help us to realise our true self. Introspection is a very effective for the development of ‘self’.
Yoga for Stress Management
• Yoga is not limited to the physical postures, breathing techniques or meditation only rather yoga is also a way of life. It propounds several principles including asana, pranayama, kriya, mudra, bandha and meditation, which are relevant to healthy living.
• Yogic principles of healthy living are equally beneficial and can be adopted by all, irrespective of age, gender or profession.
The components of yogic way of life are:
• Ahara (Food)
• Vihara (Relaxation)
• Achara (Conduct)
• Vichara (Thinking)
• Vyavahara (Behaviour or actions)
• Yoga emphasizes on mitahara, which are related to quality and quantity of food and also the state of mind during the intake of food.
• With respect to quality mitahara advocates eating freshly cooked, nutritious, nourishing and in the natural form.
• Regarding quantity of food, mitahara mentions that two quarters of the stomach should be filled with food, one quarter of stomach should be filled with liquid and the remaining quarter (one- fourth) of the stomach should be left empty for free flow of air.
• Mitahara also advocates that the food should be eaten with positive state of mind with utmost concentration.
• Vihara means relaxation, which can be brought about by activities such as exercise, recreation and creative activities like drawing, painting, singing, etc.
• Yogic practices of asana, pranayama and meditation relax body and mind.
• Sound sleep is also equally important for relaxation.
• Achara means conduct that includes emotions, attitudes, desires, instincts and habits.
• Positive emotions, positive attitudes, good habits and control on desires help in making us strong, both, individually and socially.
• Yogic principles of Yama (restraint) and Niyama (observance) help to develop control on our desires and emotions and bring about peace and harmony.
• Our thinking should be positive.
• Positive thoughts bring pleasure in our life; while negative thoughts can make us unhappy.
• Yogic practices like pratyahara, and dhyana (meditation) help in controlling our thoughts and thereby promoting optimism in life.
• Vyavahara (behaviour) means actions.
• Vyavahara is the result of ahara, vihara, achara and vichara.
• Karma- Yoga proposes that we should perform right act with full dedication without worrying about the results.
• Yoganidra means ‘sleep with awareness’. Yoganidra is a state of mind in between wakefulness and dream. In normal sleep, one sleeps without awareness. But in yoganidra one sleeps with awareness.
• Yoganidra is helpful in management of stress. It relaxes body and mind and reduces tension.
• Yoganidra is practised in Shavasana. It consists of body awareness and breath awareness. The awareness is rotated in quick succession through all parts of the body, then it is taken to the breath and finally to the mind.
1. Surya Namaskar
Surya means Sun and Namaskara means salutation. This asana is essentially saluting the Sun through postures.
It includes a series of 12 physical postures. Postures practiced during Surya Namaskara act as a good link between warm-ups and asanas. Surya Namaskara should preferably be done at the time of sunrise and always on empty stomach.
• It helps to increase strength, endurance and flexibility.
• It improves concentration.
• It removes excess fat.
• It gives energy to the body.
• It helps in increasing the height of growing children and tones up their body.
• It warms up the body.
• It improves blood circulation all over the body.
• It provides flexibility to the whole body.
• One should avoid practising surya namaskara in case of high blood pressure, fever, heart diseases, hernia, slipped disk and intestinal tuberculosis.
2. Hastottanasana Up-Stretched Arms Posture
Hasta means ‘arms’; uttana means ‘stretched up’ and asana means ‘posture’. In this posture, the arms are stretched upwards, hence is called Hastottanasana.
• It relaxes whole body.
• It relieves pain in neck, shoulders and arms.
• It is beneficial for increasing the height of growing children.
• It increases the flexibility of spine.
• This asana should not be performed during hernia, abdominal inflammation.
3. Padahastasana The Hands to Feet Posture
In Sanskrit pada mean ’feet’, hasta mean ’arms’ and asana means ’posture’. In this asana, the hands are brought near the feet, hence it is called Padahastasana.
• It strengthens the organs located in the abdominal area and improves their functioning.
• It improves digestion and circulation of blood in upper body.
• It improves the flexibility of the legs’ muscles.
• In case of severe backache and high blood pressure one should avoid this asana.
In Sanskrit, Pashchima means ’posterior’ and uttana means ’stretch-up’ so Pashchimottanasana means stretching the posterior region.
5. Trikonasana Triangle Posture
Trikona a Sanskrit word means ‘triangle’. In this asana, the body makes the shape of a triangle; hence, it is called Trikonasana.
• It stretches up the muscles of trunk, legs and hips.
• It improves the flexibility of spine.
• It helps in increase the height of growing children.
• It relieves the pain in the neck and back.
• Do not practise this asana in case of severe backache.
6. Katichakrasana Lumber Twist Posture
Katichakrasana is made of three words: kati, chakra and asana. Kati means ’waist’, chakra means ’wheel’ and asana means ’posture’. In this asana, the waist and arms move like a wheel. Hence, it is called katichakrasana.
• It stretches the waist region and makes lower back strong.
• It strengthens shoulders, neck, arms, abdomen, back and thighs.
• Persons suffering from severe spinal problems should not practise this asana.
7. Vrikshasana Tree Posture
This is a balancing asana. The Sanskrit word vriksha means ‘tree’, thus, this is the ‘Tree Posture’. In the imagination of the tree, foot seems as a roots, leg is the trunk, arms as the branches and leaves, head as top of the tree, all make the posture in the shape of a tree.
• Improves neuro-muscular coordination, balance, endurance and alertness.
• It tones up the leg muscles and rejuvenates the ligaments also.
• Please avoid this practice in case of arthritis, vertigo and obesity.
8. Dhanurasana Bow Posture
In Sanskrit Dhanur means ‘bow’. In this asana, posture of the body resembles a bow with its string attached to it.
In Sanskrit ut means ‘raised’ and kata refers to ‘hips’. This asana is also a balancing posture. The posture is known as utkatasana because in this asana, the hips are kept raised.
The Sanskrit word pawana means ‘air’ or ‘wind’ and mukta means ‘freedom’ or ‘release’. This is called as the ‘wind relieving posture’ as it assists in releasing trapped digestive gas from the stomach and intestines.
11. Shirshasana Head Stand Posture
Shirsha, a Sanskrit word means ‘head’. In this posture one stands on one’s head, hence it is called Shirshasana.
• It improves blood circulation, particularly of venous blood.
• It helps in the proper functioning of the abdominal organs and endocrine glands.
• It increases the supply of blood to the brain and strengthens central nervous system.
• Avoid performing this posture in case of problems of ears, weak eye, capillaries, high blood pressure, heart trouble, etc.
12. Bakasana Crane Posture
Baka, a Sanskrit word, means ’crane’. The final posture in the asana imitates a crane, hence, it is called Bakasana.
• It increases strength of the arms and shoulders.
• It increases a sense of balance.
• It tones abdominal muscles.
• It provides adequate supply of blood to hand, shoulders and chest.
• Person with high blood pressure, heart disease or cerebral thrombosis should not practise this asana.
13. Hamsasana Swan Posture
Hamsa, a Sanskrit word, means ‘swan’. In final posture of this asana, the body resembles a swan, hence, it is called Hamsasana. It is a preparatory pose for Mayurasana. The only difference is that in Mayurasana legs are raised; while in Hamsasana feet are kept on the ground and the body is kept little bent and balanced on the elbows.
• It gives exercise to the arms.
• Pressure exerted on the abdomen in this asana improves functioning of the abdominal organs and increases appetite.
• Person suffering from peptic ulcers, hyper acidity, high blood pressure or hernia, should not practise this asana.
14. Mayurasana Peacock Posture
In Sanskrit Mayura means ‘peacock’. In the final posture, the body resembles a peacock, hence, it is called Mayurasana.
• It strengthens the arms.
• It helps to promote circulation in the abdominal region.
• It helps to increase appetite.
• It massages the digestive organs.
• It helps to regulate the functions of kidneys and liver.
• It helps to develop muscles control and balance in body.
• Person suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia or peptic ulcers should not practise this asana.
15. Bhujangasana Cobra Pose
Bhujangasana is very helpful in stress management. In Bhujangasana the organs of endocrine system especially the adrenal glands and pancreas are activated which help in strengthening them.
16. Shashankasana Hare Posture
This asana is made of two words: Shashanka and asana. Shashanka in Sanskrit means ‘hare’. In the final position of this asana, the body resembles the shape of a hare, hence, it is called Shashankasana. This asana helps to regulate the functioning of the organs of the endocrine system especially the adrenal glands and the pancreas located in the abdominal and pelvic regions of the body. These glands produce hormones and play a vital role in energy allocation.
17. Ardhamatsyendrasana Half Spinal Twist
Ardhamatsyendrasana is a milder version of the Matsyendrasana which is named after Yogi Matsyendranath. Ardha means ‘half’. The original Matsyendrasana is difficult to practise, hence its easier version called Ardhamatsyendrasana is generally practised. In Ardhamatsyendrasana, the spine is given the maximum lateral twist.
18. Ushtrasana Camel Posture
In Sanskrit, Ushtra means ‘camel’. In the final position of this asana, the body resembles a camel. Hence, this is called Ushtrasana. This asana should be practised after Sarvangasana.
Kapalabhati is a kriya (cleansing procedure). It helps to revitalise the nervous system which becomes exhausted due to stress. It invigorates the person and helps in fighting negative effects of stress.
1. Anuloma-viloma Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Anuloma-viloma pranayama relaxes body and mind. This pranayama nourishes the body with oxygen and purifies the blood. It stimulates various centres in brain thereby improves its efficiency. It lowers stress by developing harmony in various systems of the body.
2. Bhastrika Pranayama
Bhastirka pranayama is a yogic breathing practice in which quick and deep inhalation and exhalation are done to strengthen the functioning of lungs. This pranayama increases the supply of oxygenated blood to the whole body. It strengthens all the systems of body and provides more energy which is required to fight the effects of stress.
3. Bhramari Pranayama
The word Bhramari is derived from bhramara which means a ‘black humming bee’. In this pranayama, the practitioner makes the sound which resembles the buzzing sound of a black bee, therefore it is named as Bhramari Pranayama. It is a relaxing pranayama. It soothes the mind and, therefore, good for stress management.
4. Sheetali Pranayama
Sheetali means ‘cooling’. Sheetali pranayama cools the body and mind, hence the name is sheetali pranayama.
• The sound resonating in the brain is very soothing and removes tension and anxiety.
• It is very useful to reduce high blood pressure.
• It energises the mind and refuels it with new energy.
• It pacifies the mind and helps reduce anger, anxiety and insomania.
• It helps in enhancing the concentration.
• It improves memory.
• It alleviates throat ailments.
• During ear infection, this pranayama should not be practised.
• People suffering from cardiac diseases should also avoid the practice
Yogic Practices to Improve Concentration
Trataka Concentrated Gazing
Trataka is a kriya which is performed for cleansing and strengthening the eyes. In this kriya, eyes are focussed on a particular object which could be a flame of a lamp or a burning candle or a point.
This is done without blinking the eyes till the eyes get tired or start watering.
Garudasana Eagle posture
This asana is named after the well-known bird Garuda (eagle). In this asana, the hands with arms placed in front look like the beak of an eagle
Go means ‘cow’ and mukha means ‘mouth’ or ‘face’. In this asana, the position of legs look like the face of cow, hence, it is called Gomukhasana.
Simhasana Lion Posture
In Sanskrit Simha means ‘lion’. In this asana, the face with open mouth and tongue stretched out towards the chin resembles the fierce look of a lion, hence, it is called Simhasana.
Mandukasana Frog Posture
Manduka, a Sanskrit word means ‘frog’. In this asana, the final posture resembles the
shape of a frog. Hence, it is named Mandukasana.
Uttana-mandukasana Stretched up Frog Posture
Uttana means ‘upright’ or ‘stretched up’ and manduka means ‘frog’. In final position of this asana, the body looks like a stretched up or upright frog, hence, it is called Uttana-mandukasana
Kukkutasana Cockerel Posture
This is called Kukkutasana because this asana imitates the posture of a cock. This is a balancing posture, therefore, it should be practised with caution. Before taking up this practice, one must have sufficient practice of Padmasana.
Other Asanas to improve concentration:
In Sanskrit, uddiyana means ‘raising up’ and bandha means ‘contraction’ of any part of the body. This may be called uddiyana because it raises the diaphragm up. In this activity, the diaphragm is made to fly up from its original position and held very high in the thoracic cavity. This bandha exercises the diaphragm and the ribs. It can be practised either in sitting or in standing position.