Yoga

By Mr. John C. Kimbrough

Frequently asked questions about the path and practice of Yoga

1. What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient philosophy, path, practice and holistic approach to life and living which through it’s application helps to balance and purify our consciousness and awareness, making us more concentrated, relaxed, energized, healthy and at peace. Yoga is not a religion and it will not conflict with an individual’s religion or religious practice.

With more energy and the greater sense of relaxation that yoga can bring an individual, some will understand, appreciate and practice their chosen religious path better.

2. What are the benefits of Yoga practice?
The practice of Yoga addresses the five main areas of an individual’s life.

Mentally : Yoga calms the mind, keeping an individual alert yet relaxed, more intellectually clear and concentrated. Because of this, we can relax, study and know ourselves better, developing a more balanced state of mind and not be at the mercy of our emotions, old habits and unhealthy conditioning.

Emotionally : Yoga frees the mind from anxiety, worry and tension and transforms negative emotions, traits and behaviors into positive and higher states. It makes an individual more sensitive, caring and compassionate to the needs of others. It helps in all personal relationships at home, at work and in society and improves an individual’s work efficiency and professionalism.

Behaviorally : The practice of Yoga redirects energy which might otherwise be wasted or unwisely used in behaviors that are health compromising and harmful to ourselves and others. It leads to a more balanced and harmonious interaction with others and peace of mind. It helps us make use of our freedom and energy with honesty, accountability and wisdom.

Physically : Yoga makes the physical body healthy, strong, fit, flexible and immune to disease, alleviating those physical disorders which have a psychological or system imbalance cause to them.

Spiritually : Yoga helps an individual evolve spiritually as it enables an individual to understand and accept their life situation and experiences from a broader perspective, thereby increasing faith in a higher process of life and faith in God and the goodness of life. We experience a spiritual awakening because we make a deeper connection with other human beings, the natural world and ourselves.

3. Who should not do Yoga?
Yoga is suitable for all individuals regardless of age or physical condition. Classes can be adapted to suit an individual’s need. However, If you have had recent back surgery or injury, you should avoid yoga until consulting with your doctor. Some individuals may need to work with teachers on an individual basis depending on their age, personality, and mental and physical state.

4. What may be some of the side effects of practicing Yoga?
When we practice yoga we are releasing and redirecting physical and mental energy. Therefore, we may experience physical and mental changes which we find new or unusual. This may include shaking or warmth in the body, changes in eating, sleeping and elimination habits, and different mental states as they get more in touch with their deeper or repressed feelings.

Some individuals may take these symptoms as being a reason to not continue with yoga, instead of understanding that they are part of the balancing and purifying process involved in Yoga. There will be some soreness, fatigue and stiffness from the practice, but an individual will also be more relaxed, concentrated and energized.

5. Does an individual have to be flexible and in shape to start yoga?
No, an individual can start from wherever they are.Yoga will make an individual more flexible in mind and body.

6. Is Yoga is about accomplishing advanced and difficult postures?
The ability to perform a particular pose is not what Yoga is about at all. This misconception has been fostered by many Indian and Western teachers. Goal-oriented yoga isn't yoga at all. Yoga is a process-oriented activity in which what you experience is much more important than what you achieve. Postures, breathing, relaxation, and meditation and the movement and stillness that are involved in these activities, in addition to the understanding and implementation or the moral and ethical teachings of Yoga, and skillful living regarding diet, sleep and leisure activities all work together, because they address all aspects of our being, to facilitate the process. Some individuals can practice and make progress in Yoga with little or no physical practice, instead just through their understanding and integration of the teachings into their lives and actions.

7. Is Yoga is easy or not easy?
It is challenging on many levels : physically, emotionally and mentally. There are different styles and forms of the physical yoga (Hatha Yoga), some being demanding and vigorous, others being gentle and less demanding.

8. How should I choose a yoga class and instructor which is suitable for me?
There are many different styles of Yoga though they all have the same objective. Besides the different styles, the teacher’s personality and experiences with yoga and life will influence how the class is done. It may be best for some individuals to observe or try a number of different styles and teachers, until you feel comfortable with the style, class and the teacher’s approach to the class.

9. What should be the objectives of a Yoga Education Program?
 To give the participants the guidelines for practicing various postures, techniques and breathing so they may develop their own Yoga practice on a regular basis and to become more aware of the breath and it’s effect on our energy, concentration, relaxation and mental and physical health.  To become more aware of the philosophy behind Yoga  To become more aware of their own emotional and behavioral habits which may be hurtful to themselves and others.

10. Are these objectives usually covered in Yoga classes and such?
This depends on various factors such as interest of the students, knowledge and tradition of the teacher, time and place. The deeper study, understanding, and application of Yoga would usually take place in an Ashram or retreat setting, where there is more time to study and reflect on the teachings of Yoga, and put them into practice, through the disciplined approach to daily life that is common to Yoga Ashrams. Buddhist meditation centers are also very good for instilling this knowledge and discipline.

11. What are the best times to practice Yoga. What places are suitable for practice?
Early morning, before breakfast, beginning around 7 a.m. Late morning, before lunch, beginning around 10 a.m. Early afternoon, about three hours after lunch, around 3 p.m. Late afternoon, before dinner, beginning around 5 p.m. Early evening, before dinner, beginning around 7 p.m. Sessions should not begin after 7:30 p.m. as the release of tension and energy may interfere with one’s sleep. Sessions should not be held immediately after breakfast, lunch or dinner, or after eating a large or heavy meal.

The best venues would be a large hall, a Yoga studio, large rooms or a health/fitness room in one’s home, apartment, condominium or office building. Shady areas with flat, firm surfaces on rooftops or near pools are also good. Ideally the area for practice should have plenty of fresh air. Flat grassy areas near trees and water, outside in nature. Once one is familiar with and well established in their practice, the practice can take place almost anywhere and in any environment.

12. How should an individual prepare for the session?
What else may be needed?

Individuals should wear loose cotton clothing and practice with bare feet. Do not eat any large or heavy meals for three hours before practice. If possible, take a bath or shower and use the toilet before the practice. Practice on a thick towel, blanket, rattan mat or non-slip yoga mat. Extra blankets, towels, and pillows may be helpful in performing some postures and techniques. Chairs and the wall may also be used in the performance of some postures/techniques.

13. Are there any other tips you can give me that will assist me in cultivating my own practice.
 Be aware of what you do when you first get up in the morning. Try to get up at the same time everyday. Upon arising, drink a glass of warm water and do all you bathroom needs. Then put on some clean, fresh, loose clothing. Applying talcum powder under the armpits and in the pelvic area may be refreshing. Find a quiet place to sit and sit in a meditative posture and watch your breathing for as long as possible. This place should be free from insects and other potential distractions and have a flow of fresh air.   Try to start sitting at the same time everyday. 6 a.m. is a good time to start at. This will begin your day with a firm and healthy foundation. The process of sitting quietly will calm and focus the mind so the day’s activities can be done in an efficient and enjoyable way. After sitting quietly for a long as possible, do some Hatha Yoga postures. This entire morning practice can last anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. You may prefer to do the yoga postures before sitting quietly. Try to avoid getting into the habit of just doing yoga postures which bend, twist, and stretch the spine and body without some attempt at concentration-meditation practice. The Yoga postures release the energy.

The meditative postures and meditation practice starts to redirect and focus the energy. Meditation is the most important aspect of Yoga practice.   Practice Everyday no matter what, for as long as possible each day. You will start to notice changes in your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and action. You will be better able to identify and deal with what agitates your mind and body.  The routine described above may be applied to other times of the day, such as before lunch, or before dinner.

 When integrating Yoga into your life, don’t force yourself physically or mentally. Try to spend some time studying and reflecting on the teachings put forth in The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Dhammapada, or the scriptural authority of your own religion.  Be aware of, and reflect on the wisdom of the moral and ethical teachings of Yoga, and attempt to implement them into your thoughts and actions throughout the day and life.

14. Is there a relationship between Yoga and Buddhism?
Yoga and Buddhism are both systems of mental and physical purification and enhancement that originated on the Indian sub – continent. Yoga is an older system and it is widely understood that this was a path and practice that the Buddha followed before his enlightenment and the realization and articulation of his teachings.

Both systems are built around a system of moral and ethics which purify the consciousness and meditation which enhances one’s state of being. The way Yoga has been taught and perceived in modern times, with its emphasis on postures and posture performance has weakened the understanding of it’s holistic approach and main objectives, that is, to reach a state of enlightenment and liberation, just as in the practice of Buddhism. Hatha Yoga is a system of Yoga which makes an individual mentally and physically healthier. Healthiness here means mental and physical balance and harmony. It is based on postures and techniques involving the mind, the body and the breath, these being the very elements that make up our being. Through the work we do with them in Hatha Yoga, we enhance their purity and harmonize and integrate them together. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is multi-dimensional, though it’s most important is to prepare the mind and body so one can practice meditation within the context of a spiritual path and discipline.

The path and discipline that Hatha yoga was designed to prepare an individual for it the Yoga known as Raja Yoga. This translates as the Yoga of Kings, or The Royal Way. It is also known as Astanga Yoga, or The Yoga of The Eight Limbs. This is mentioned specifically in The Hatha Yoga Pradipka, 2:76 as “There can be no perfection if Hatha Yoga is without Raja Yoga or Raja Yoga is without Hatha Yoga. Therefore, through the practice of both, perfection is attained”.

Morality and virtue (Sila) of The Noble Eightfold Path are similar in scope and practice to the morals and ethics (yamas and niyamas) of The Yoga of the Eight Limbs. The concentration and meditation similarities and aspects of each path are also obvious. In working and following these paths and practices one needs to be mindful, make an effort, and have discipline. This is why individuals sometimes refer to themselves as “working” a path.

The practice of both of these paths, The Yoga of the Eight Limbs (Astanga Yoga/ Raja Yoga) and The Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya Antangikka Magga) consists of study and practice. Study means learning and understanding what is being taught, and practice means the application, and eventual integration into one’s being of those techniques, specifically meditation, that are put forth in the path.

Regardless of which path one chooses, their understanding and practice do bring results and benefits. These include insight, wisdom, inner strength and joy.

 

-----------------------------------------------------

 John C. Kimbrough lives and Teaches in Bangkok, Thailand, E-Mail : johnckimbrough@yahoo.com

-----------------------------------------------------

Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation
www.jainsamaj.org
R140604