Introduction to Yoga Asanas and health benefits
How This Helps
Yoga is a lifetime of effort and practice. This article is the first, introducing you to this esoteric world.
Modern Yoga has many interpretations and connotations, but this space will focus on classical yoga as it was taught and practiced in ancient India.
For you, the reader and practitioner, this means that as you follow one article after another, you will step into a world which you will soon realize is universal, where there is no caste, creed, sex, color or religion - only good health and wisdom, a gift is given freely you mankind by the ancient Indian seers.
You will realize that your growth is in your hands; you can pace your speed of breaking into this magnificent world, assimilate it, and slowly make it part of your life. Once it becomes part of you, it'll never leave you and your wisdom will shine as it did in India, many millenniums ago.
What are asanas?
Asana - Overview
Citation: This blog follows the Yogacharya Sundaram school of yoga exercise routines and therapy. This format was developed by Yogacharya S. Sundaram, who started one of India’s oldest Yoga schools in Bangalore, India around 1925. These routines focus on maximizing the effect of the exercise on the relevant portion of the body at a time, are holistic, and cover all parts of the body. It is necessary to differentiate between some terminologies;
Asana – The classical definition of asana is Sthira (static) + sukham (comfortable) + asanam (seat). This means that any exercise which is called asana should keep the practitioner close to the condition of homeostasis, which is a psychosomatic state of the body remaining in balance and equanimity. Therefore, asana is a static exercise where the body movement is minimal and the focus is on holding the pose to maximize impact on a specific area of the body.
Asana, therefore, needs to comply with the following rules;
1. - It should be static, not vigorous, or dynamic.
2. - It should be easy to perform and not stressful.
3. - Is should be in one place, with minimal movement.
4. - It should contain a breathing routine.
Kriya - Dynamic exercises that increase the flexibility of the body. Surya Namaskar falls into this classification.
Banda - this is a holding exercise. This exercise is far more complex than the above two types and focuses on the smooth flow of prana in and around that area of focus. Uddyana and nauli fall into this classification.
Translation of the Sanskrit words - there is always a desire to make approximations to make the subject more appealing and less forbidding. I am trying to avoid that and will attempt to stay as close as possible to the classical aspects of the subject.
Many teachers get started with warm-up asanas and beginner asanas. Yogacharya Sundaram never really did that. He got people performing the below-mentioned asanas as soon as he could get them to flex. I think that is the right approach. Hence, I have started with the recommended asanas which need to be practiced in a normal routine, and later, I will be drifting to other asanas that have specific uses.
Yoga asanas for specific health conditions
The exercise routines recommended are:
Reverse bending exercises: Focus on the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, and spine.
The Cobra Pose
The Locust Pose
The Bow Pose
Forward bending exercises: Focus on the lower abdomen and upper abdomen
The Air Relieving Pose
The Torso Stretch Pose
The Plough Pose
The Peacock Pose
Upper region exercises: Focus on the neck, shoulders, heart, lungs, and head.
The Pan body pose
The Fish Pose
The Head Stand
The Chest Pose
The Half fish middle pose
The Yoga seal
The Hand to Toe Pose
The Abdominal Suction
The Rectus Isolation
Body Reset Exercise: Coming back to the condition of homeostasis
The Corpse Pose
Best time to practice asanas
There are two options, morning and evening.
Asanas performed in the evening are less grueling, as the body has undergone the rigors of the day and is already pliable. However, in the evening, the mind is jaded, having undergone the stresses of the day. The emotional and intellectual energies are run down which results in lower awareness during exercises. Also, very often, not enough time has elapsed since the last meal. Yogasanas (exercises) induce peristalsis, forcing undigested food through the intestines, reducing the absorption of nutrients. In certain cases, where the meal has been particularly heavy, or the gap less than four hours, resistance from a full stomach could induce stomach cramps.
Asanas activate specific areas of the body by directing blood flow to the affected area when the asanas are performed. This brings increased rejuvenation of the area resulting in increased energy levels. This is the impact of performing asanas in the morning. Exercises performed in the morning actually increase the energy levels of the person by optimizing the body systems for harmonic performance. However, this means that, in the morning, the mind and body, though rested, is stiff as a result of non-use after sleep. Asanas can be painful initially but with exercising, the organs fire up, loosen and begin flexing. The stomach and intestines are empty and offer no resistance to the bending and stretching actions. The vigorous peristalsis action actually assists in the evacuation of waste matter from the outer colon and rectum.
This blog recommends exercises be done in the morning, though sometimes it may be more expedient for individuals, depending on their daily schedules to exercise in the evening. It is, however, most critical that the same time is maintained every day. This ensures that the system gets acclimatized to the routine and overcomes the lethargy of exiting the bed.
It is important to recognize the difference between asana and kriya. Asana is a static pose, while kriya is a dynamic pose, like uddiyana, nauli and suryanamaskar. Both yield different benefits, and both need to be practiced.
Yoga asanas environment
The exercise environment
Exercise is an opportunity for the person to increase the oxygen content in the body, remove toxins and stress and harmonize with the environment, thereby increasing one's sentience of his environment (vijnana). This means that there is a requirement of peace and tranquillity when exercising. Therefore, it is recommended that the exercise be performed in any place that has plenty of fresh air and no unpleasant odor. It should be free from dust and mites.
Yoga asana clothing
Wear clothes that allow stretching and do not run or fall when lifting or bending. Clothes should breathe and absorb sweat. Men are advised to wear athletic supporters. Both men and women should wear well-fitting innerwear to prevent injury during exercise. If one prefers going to classes for the sake of regularity and discipline, it is advisable that one wears appropriate clothing.
Diet habits for yoga asanas
Diet is absolutely vital to realize the full potential of the exercises. Eating the right food ensures the absorption of essential ingredients and optimization of the tri-gunas.
It is important to start exercises after the lapse of at least 4 hours after consumption of solid food, 1 hour after the consumption of liquid food such as milk or juice, and 20 minutes after drinking water.
The reason for this recommendation is that food takes roughly 4-6 hours to completely move out of the digestive system. The process of digestion begins with the chewing of food and finishes with the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Vigorous exercise induces peristalsis or pulsing of the intestine, which results in the food hurrying through the intestine without nutrients getting completely absorbed. Also, the presence of food in the digestive system acts like a resistor to bending and stretching. This acts in various planes, from stopping the full movement of the diaphragm thereby impeding full ingestion of air to the inducement of sprains and cramps when the body is stretched/bent.
Homeostasis may be defined as the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes but this can be extended to all psychosomatic functions. This means that the body works with a certain set of parameters for proper functioning, like body temperature, etc., and when this parameter is disturbed, the body takes compensatory action to bring it back to equilibrium.
When performing yogasana, it is important to try and stay close to the condition of homeostasis. The reason is that the muscles and internal organs should not experience stress during exercise so as to maximize blood flow and movement of the tissue resulting in rejuvenation of the area.
Share your opinion and experiences;
Ø Do you exercise? What is your exercise routine?
Ø When do you prefer to exercise? morning or evening? why?
Ø Do you exercise alone or in a group? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ø Do you wear any special clothing for exercise? why?
Ø What is your diet? How do you manage your diet?