Yoga originated in India and has the purpose of stimulating both spiritual growth, mental wellbeing and physical health. Yoga contains many exercise programs, of which physical exercises, or hathayoga, is one. In the following the basic principles of hathayoga are outlined.
An important part of physical yoga is the breathing exercises, or pranayama. This part is in many ways the most fundamental, because the basic type of breathing is also a part of the yoga postures – the asanas. The postures consist of stretching and holding the body in specific stretched positions for some time, while breathing in a specific way. One usually do both pranayama and asanas in the same session. You can do the pranayama before or after the asanas.
The complete yoga-breath is a basic exercise upon which all other breathing exercises are based, and this is also the way you breath during the body postures. It is however also an independent exercise that you can do any time to refresh yourself. It begins with lungs in a totally empty state obtained by contracting your stomach muscles and all of your chest muscles.
Then breath in as much as you can by letting your stomach expand. Then proceed breathing in by expanding the muscles in the mid of your chest. At last complete the filling of your lungs by expanding the upper part of your chest. It is not possible to separate these three faces completely, though, and they shall also glide over into each other in a smooth way.
Then you empty your lungs completely in a similar sequence. First you contract your stomach muscles and empty as much as possible using these muscles. While holding your stomach muscles contracted, you proceed emptying by contracting the muscles in the mid of your chest and then complete by contracting the upper part of your chest.
All other breathing exercises are essentially variants of the complete yoga breath. When doing the exercises you sit in an upright position on a chair or on some cloth at the floor with crossed legs. Some of these exercises are:
– You breath in and out rapidly 8-15 times, and then hold your breath some while.
– You breath in rapidly, using 4 seconds, then hold your breath 16 seconds or as long as it feels comfortable, then breath out using 8 seconds.
– In a more complex variant of the above exercise you breath in while closing one of your nostrils with a finger, hold your breath some while, and then breath out closing the other nostril. Then you repeat it while still closing your other nostril, hold the breath and then breath out while closing the first nostril.
– You can breath in and breath out through your mouth while pressing your lips towards each other so that you get an extra pressure in your lungs. You can also press your lips together while breathing in so that you get an under-pressure in your lungs.
A yoga posture begins with your body in a relaxed position, either laying flat down or sitting right up. You empty your lungs before the posture as in a complete yoga breath.
– Then you slowly swing or twist your whole body or parts of your body into a stretched position. While doing this your breath in as in the complete yoga breath.
– Then you hold the position for a short or longer time. If you hold it long, you are breathing relaxed with the complete yoga breath method, but not in such a complete way that the breath makes you exhausted.
– Then you slowly swing back from the stretched state to the original position while breathing out like in the complete yoga breath.
Most postures are variant of these basic principles, of which a few are:
– You lay on your back on a cloth at the floor. Then swing your arms up and behind your shoulders, stretching all of your body from top to toe. Then slowly sit up and swing your torso forward while stretching your arms towards your toes. If possible bend your torso all the way down to your knees. After holding the position some while, slowly sit up and then lay down to the original position.
– You lay on a cloth at the floor on your stomach, with another cloth under your lower stomach to protect your genitals. Then lift and swing your upper body up as long as possible, while also bending your head back. Push with your hands towards the floor to help the lifting and to get an effective stretch. Then slowly lay down again at your stomach.
– Sit at the floor on a thick cloth with your legs flexed up halfway towards your stomach and your knees together. Then twist your torso and also swing your head to one side, while pushing against your knee with your hands to help the twisting and get an effective stretch. Then, after holding the position a while, swing your torso back and twist to the other side in the same manner.
– Lay on your back on a cloth at the floor. Swing your legs up so your feet come over your head. Then lift your torso up from the floor so that your body rests upon your shoulders, and straighten your body upwards as much as you feel comfortable. Help the lifting and holding the position with your arms. After having been in that upright position some while, descend your torso and legs again.
The classical description of this exercise prescribes that your body shall point straight up, but that causes your neck to bend unpleasantly and a great pressure in your head. Therefore it is best for most people not to straighten out completely when resting the body on your shoulders.
After all your exercises you should lay straight out on the floor a few minutes to rest. To get as relaxed as possible, go through each body part from your feet to your head and relax specifically that body part. Then think about your whole body and try to relax all of it even more. At last also relax you mind by not thinking actively about anything.
HOW TO BEGIN YOGA PRACTICE
You can find exact descriptions of yoga exercises in books and in web-sites or you can attend courses. You will probably find that the exercises are difficult to do as described in the beginning. It is however possible to do them approximately in the beginning and gradually learn to perform them perfectly.
But you can also compose your own exercises that fit your personal condition and need. To be yoga exercises they must be composed according to the principles outlined above. Weather you learn standard exercises or compose your own, you should however choose a set of exercises that will stretch or twist all your body parts.