International Yoga Day
Practice and Benefits of Yoga
Did you know that June 21 is International Yoga Day and a grandiose Yoga Marathon with 10,000 participants will be held at Khreshchatyk Street in Kiev on Sunday June 18 starting 8 a.m.? And on 21 June, a yoga fair and yoga events will be held near the Open stage in City Garden at Mariyinsky Park between 4 p.m.-9 p.m.? Don’t miss it! See our Top Events section for more details.
Many people who practice yoga do not know the history of this unique art form and only think of it as an exercise found in their local workout studios. However, knowing the history of yoga can help further an individual’s exploration of full body integration, mind, body, and soul.
Therefore, in this article, we have decided to give you a holistic understanding of what yoga is all about so you may consider it as a means to awakening the serene self or finding the elusive inner peace; or you may have been inspired by the super-toned body of the yoga enthusiasts whom you voyeuristically follow on the Instagram or simply have no choice but compelled to keep company of a yogi partner or friend. Regardless of your reasons to pursue yoga, we promise that after reading this article, you will be a more enlightened individual!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Meaning and Origins of Yoga
So what is yoga really? The word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ with its ultimate goal of acquiring freedom from worldly suffering and to experience full body and mind integration through mental and physical exercises. Yoga, in general, is sectioned into three parts, breathing, exercise, and meditation. Breath is seen as the source of life to your body, and meditation helps you achieve inner happiness. Exercise is also very important in yoga because the body is seen as your instrument that lets us live, move, and make a difference in the world.
Each of these aspects of yoga is equally important, and one cannot be done without the others. The constant desire of humans for longer lives, better health, and overall happiness created the yoga practices that we see today. What’s amazing about yoga is that since it is passed down from teacher to student, everything that makes up yoga today is a collection of experiences of individuals from thousands of years ago to now.
The development of yoga can be traced back to India more than 5,000 years ago. The first mention of the word ‘yoga’ is found in ‘Rig Veda’, a sacred ancient text containing Sanskrit hymns and verses relating to Sanatana Dharma now popularly called as ‘Hinduism’. Experts credit the origin and practice of yoga to the Indus valley civilization, which is regarded as the most sophisticated and matured ancient civilization in the world. These texts were used by the Vedic priests, also known as Brahmans, and they had songs, rituals, and other mantras. During this time, the Brahmans and the Rishis, also known as mystic seers, were developing and refining yoga as we know it today. They documented their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads which was an ancient work that had more than 200 scriptures in it. One of the most well known of these scriptures was made around approximately 500 B.C.E. and is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ. This scripture talks about sacrificing the ego through wisdom (jnana yoga), self-knowledge, and action (karma yoga).
The Classical Period
The Classical Period (500 BCE – 800 AD) witnessed the elaboration and rendering of physical postures (asanaas) to yoga philosophy. The ‘Yoga Sutra’ of Sage Patanjali, now known as ‘father of yoga’, delves on the Eight Limbs of Yoga or the Ashtanga Yoga outlining the significance of inner restrain, outer action, physical postures, breathing techniques, withdrawal of senses, focus, meditation, and oneness. Later the great teachings of Mahavir (Pancha Mahavrata or five great vows) and Gauthama Buddha (Ashtanga Marga or eight fold paths) also contain references to the philosophy of yoga.
The Post-Classical Period
It is only during the Post-Classical Period (800 AD -1700AD) that there is a greater emphasis on physical postures or asanaas. It is during this period the yogis explored the potential of physical body or the ‘matter’ that was the temple of ‘spirit’. They attempted to energize and strengthen the physical body through asanaas to prolong its life as a holder of the immortal ‘spirit’. This saw the advent of Hatha Yoga that expounded postural practices. Alongside emerged several other forms of yoga.
The Modern Period
Following this, in the Modern Period (1700 AD -1900) fuelled by the prominence of gurus such as Ramana Maharishi, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Swami Vivekananda, yoga gained reputation as a discipline for health, vitality and spirituality. It is during this period that the West’s penchant with the exotic East discovered yoga and fell in love with the practice. A great deal of literature exploring the mysticism of the ancient philosophy and practice of yoga emerged.
Today Yoga has caught on, spreading all over the world as a practice for good mental and physical health. Now we have several schools of yoga catering to the needs of enthusiasts from diverse age group, culture, and interest. The popularity of yoga is attributed to the plentiful mental and physical benefits that among others include:
Overall Wellness – the combined practice of meditation, breathing, and physical exercises ensures holistic health that covers all aspects of your life – be it professional or personal. On the flip side, you may have to fake sickness to take a break from work ☺
Energy and Vitality: The practice of yoga infuses you with positive energy and enthusiasm. Like your phone’s power bank, yoga empowers you with a power backup that never lets you feel drained.
Inner Peace: You don’t need to visit the Himalayas or attend spiritual retreats to awaken the inner peace; anytime, anywhere you can switch to your Zen mode with the help of yoga.
Stress Buster: stress triggers are plentiful in our modern life, not just boss and spouse cause stress but events as mundane as a few minutes of broadband outage or a broken water pipe can flare-up the stress. Regular practice of yoga just for a few minutes can calm your mind.
Improved relationships: The regular practice of yoga makes a person have a balanced view of life. The person eventually exudes awareness, understanding, and positivity that improve relationships. Often times you will find yourself playing the ‘agony aunt’ for your friends and relatives.
Weight Management – the top priority of the calorie counting generation. With regular practice, yoga not only helps you burn calories but also instils sensible eating habits and controls food intake.
Improved Health – The systematic stretching of yoga postures releases muscular tension, helps increase circulation, enhances digestion and helps eliminate toxins more efficiently.
Improved Fitness – Pairing a yoga routine with an activity that gets your heart pumping (such as running, walking or biking) will improve your overall level of fitness. Many competitive athletes incorporate yoga into their workout programs to take advantage of the flexibility training, which among other benefits, helps reduce the risk of injury.
Getting Started with Yoga
Does the following come to your mind when you think of Yoga? A serene studio with pastel shaded walls, fragrance diffused thermostatic environment reverberating with calming music, or a scenic idyllic nature spot where people with svelte and lithe physique or muscular and well toned bodies dressed in loose comfortable linen outfit or figure hugging lycra suits, manoeuvring their limbs and torso into complex contortions at the crack of dawn or at the fall of dusk…
Let me stop you right there. This is absolutely not necessarily!!! These are luxuries without which you are just as fine as any regular yogi to enjoy the bliss of yoga. Even in the midst of your cluttered cubicle, while wearing your snazzy outfit and sporting a double chin and potbelly you can still get into a quick and simple yoga pose or just do pranayama to convey yourself to an idyllic state. Whether you are an exhausted mother, busy executive, stressed boss, fatigued sportsperson or a person recuperating from illness or injury, you do not need all that ninety minutes to experience the wholesome goodness.
Just about everyone can benefit from the yoga practice. Yoga is noncompetitive and easily adapted to different ability levels. If you haven’t exercised for a while, yoga can be appealing because it emphasizes the quality rather than the quantity of movement.
Yoga classes can be a great way to get started with yoga the right way. If you’re not aware of bad postural habits, a video or book will only reinforce them. A teacher will tune into these habits and help change them. Consider the type of yoga being taught: if a morning class fits into your schedule but it’s a rigorous style, you may be unlikely to continue if you’re looking at yoga as a chance to relax and meditate. Yoga is a lot like music; there’s jazz, classical, rock and so on, you need to find the one that resonates with you.
Yoga on the Go
While taking yoga classes is a great option, we also encourage you to fit yoga into your daily routine. What you essentially need is the desire and commitment. Eventually, your efforts will payoff and it will become a natural ritual that will find its own time and space in your routine.
Make sure that you squeeze your yoga quickies discreetly without invading the space and peace of others at office or public spots. Your earnest quest for peace may get you branded as a weirdo. At home, issue sufficient “Do not attempt to duplicate, re-create, or perform the same or similar stunts and tricks” disclaimer/warnings to your toddlers.
Here are some of the yoga quickies that you can fit into your busy routine anywhere and anytime:
Tree Pose/ Vrksasana
This exercise improves balance and strengthens the leg muscles and tones the glutes. This can be done while waiting for the water in the kettle to boil or inside an elevator.
Stand with your feet together, inner ankles and inner knees touching. Bring the palms of your hands together at the center of the chest. Exhale, steady your feet and firm up your balance while shifting your weight to your right foot. Lift your left leg and place the sole of the left foot on the inner thigh of the right leg. Lengthen your spine, lift up your chest, straighten your shoulders and tighten your stomach and stand tall and look up in front. Maintain the pose for a minute or more and repeat for the other leg.
Boat Pose/ Navasana
This helps to build a strong core. Before you spring up from your bed in the morning or just before you shut your eyes for the day.
Lie down in the supine position, legs stretched out, toes facing the ceiling, and palms resting on either side of your body facing the ground. Inhale deeply, as you exhale, lift your torso and legs from the ground with your arms lifted and stretched parallel to the floor with fingers in line with toes. Focus on your breathing and feel the stomach muscle contracting. Breathing normally, hold the posture for a minute. Slowly relax and come back to the supine position.
Spinal Twist/ Matsyendrasana
This can be done seated on a chair sideways. It is helpful in stretching and relaxing the spine.
Sit sideways on the chair, facing to the left. Twist your torso toward the left, holding onto the back of the chair. Lengthen your spine on each inhale and twist on each exhale for five breaths. Move your legs around to the right side of the chair and repeat the twist to the right side.
Corpse Pose / Savasana
For this you have to lie down, so you may need your own private space. It can be done before going to bed and it is immensely helpful in relaxing and calming your mind.
Lie down on the floor, stretch out your arms and legs and close your eyes and relax and focus on breathing for three to five minutes.
Pigeon Pose/ Kapotasana
Again can be done at the comfort of your chair and it helps in relaxing the hips and pelvic region.
Sit straight on a chair, then bring your right ankle to rest on your left thigh, keeping the knee in line with your ankle as much as possible. Hold the position for five breaths. Repeat the opposite side by bringing your left ankle up to rest on your right thigh. Lean forward for a good stretch.
How much and how long you practice is a personal decision, but to improve flexibility and to tone your muscles, you’ll need to do yoga on a regular basis. For starters, try practicing at least three times a week. Ask yourself what your intentions are as they formulate your experience, so if you can focus on what you want, you’ll get it.
Okay, now after reading this, don’t act overzealously to become Cirque du Soleil performers overnight and end up spraining or pulling your muscle. Always remember that only with practice comes perfection. It takes years of practice and patience and it is that gradual process that sets you on the path of self-awareness. With some discipline and committed training your stressed, stiff and creaky spine and joints will become relaxed, flexible and supple and you can wriggle in and out of any complex contorted posture in the blink of an eye.
Happy Yoga Day! Our Kiev Check-in team hopes to see you on Yoga Marathon 2017. Altogether we will set the “Record of Ukraine” for getting 10,000 people doing Yoga together in Khreschatyk Street. BE THERE!