CHAPTER 15: YOGA AND KARMA USING AYURVEDA
15.3 Philosophy of Yoga
15.3.1 The Wheel of Karma
All your actions, whether physical, mental or verbal, create an impact on the mind. Everything you do gets stored in the mind in the form of subtle impressions or samskaras. These impressions tend to roam in your mind and this process is known as the karma chakra or the wheel of karma. Your actions are propelled by your inner desires and wishes. The stronger the desire, the more intense action rises from it.
As you create your habits through repetitive actions, they soon become strong enough to veil your intelligence and influence your comprehension. When habits mature, they start dominating your decision making ability. Samskaras are deeply embedded habits that shape your mind and change your personality. The strong samskaras tend to dominate your mind, judgement, concepts & thoughts. Vasana is the term used for the most powerful samkara in the body.
The wheel of karma has 3 major components:
- Vritti, or the thoughts that propel your actions
- Samskara, created by that thought and the ensuing action
- Chakra, or the next round of action propelled by the samskara that eventually leads to formation of habits
15.3.2 The 4 types of Karma
यद्यत्संद्दश्यते लोके सर्वं तत्कर्मसम्भवम् ।
सर्वां कर्मांनुसारेण जन्तुर्भोगान्भुनक्ति वै ॥
yadyatsaṃddaśyate loke sarvaṃ tatkarma sambhavam ।
sarvāṃ karmāṃnusāreṇa janturbhogānbhunakti vai ॥
Whatever is seen among men (whether pleasure or pain) is born of Karma (actions). All creatures enjoy or suffer, as per their past actions.
Prarabdha Karma or Matured Karma
Whatever you are going through in life presently and lack control of is what constitutes your prārabdha. This simply denotes current experiences in life, which may change as one matures in the future.
Sanchita Karma or Stored Karma
This karma has a unique feature – it can be changed. This karma says that you can change things once you go to the source of that particular thing.
Agami Karma or Forthcoming Karma
The choices that you make today in the present have a direct consequence in the future. In other words, what you do presently determines what the future holds for you.
Āgāmī karma is a mandatory karma.
Vartamana or Present Karma
This karma is also known as kriyamāṇa, and represents the actionable, present karma, which is true to the moment. This allows you to change your decisions on a regular basis which will affect only the present. Sometimes, life offers you to make decisions for yourself. This is the time when this karma is followed.
15.3.3 The 4 Paths of Yoga
For holistic development of the body, mind and soul, yoga recommends a combination of 4 main practices:
Karma Yoga is the path of action and is ideal for people who have an active temperament. This path talks about performing actions selflessly. This tends to purify the heart and soul and reduces human ego. Karma yoga is the best way to practice silent meditation.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of yoga which talks about devotion and is perfect for people who are emotional by nature. By performing prayers, worship and ritual, one feels the Divine as the embodiment of love. Chanting mantras constitutes an essential part of Bhakti Yoga.
Jnana Yoga is the path of yoga which talks about wisdom and knowledge being the most appropriate for intellectual people. The Vedic philosophy teaches analytical skills and helps in recognising the Supreme power in your own self and in all beings.
Raja Yoga is the science of controlling your body and mind. The asanas (body postures) and pranayamas (breathing exercises) are considered to be an integral part of Raja Yoga. The main practice is silent meditation, where the energies from the body and mind gently get transformed into spiritual energy.
15.3.4 The 8 limbs of Yoga – Ashtanga
According to yogic philosophy, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, literally translating to “eight limbs”. These provide one with guidelines on living a meaningful and purposeful life. They also serve as a prescription for moral as well as disciplined conduct. It determines the attention towards your health and helps to acknowledge the spiritual energies. They include:
- YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
- NIYAMA – Positive duties or regular habits
- ASANA – Postures and stretching
- PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
- DHARANA – Focus and concentration
- DHYANA – Meditative absorption
- SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment
Among the numerous benefits yoga offers, stress reduction is one of the most commonly cited ones. The following chapter addresses the role of yoga in decreasing stress levels and benefits to overall health.
15.2 Role of Yoga in Stress and Health
Yoga has taken the world by storm. The number of people who have commenced practicing yoga in daily life has seen an exponential increase. Three-fourth of fitness clubs around the globe offer regular yoga classes.
Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrttis).
While many see yoga merely as an effective exercise, most long time practitioners did realize that yoga is not just a physical exercise but also creates balance of the mind, emotions and consciousness as well. In this manner, yoga and Ayurveda share the same origin and goal of holistic human development.
THE SANSKRIT WORD YOGA TRANSLATES TO ‘UNION’. YOGA INCREASES MENTAL STRENGTH BY CONNECTING ONESELF WITH THE ATMA.
Unlike other exercises, yoga is one that does not rely on strength of capability alone – it also utilises focus, breath, muscle memory and willpower. The self relief benefits that yoga offers is what makes it truly unique in bringing your mind and body in harmony.
15.1.1 Self Relief Techniques in Yoga
अर्धशक्त्या निषेव्यस्तु बलिभि: स्निग्धभोजिभि:।
शीतकाले वसन्ते च मन्दमेव ततो अन्यदा।। (अष्टांग ह्रदय संहिता सुत्र २।११)
ardhaśaktyā niṣevyastu balibhi: snigdhabhojibhi:।
śītakāle vasante ca madameva tato anyadā।।
One who is strong and eats unctuous food everyday should use half of one’s energy to do व्यायाम. Same to be done in winter season and autumn. In summer and rainy season, one should use less than half energy to do व्यायाम .
Following are some relaxation yoga techniques that can help you in your journey of relaxation and reduce stress:
This is an easy yet powerful technique of releasing stress. You simply have to take deep breaths and completely focus on your breath. This distracts your mind from thoughts and sensations and you are able to feel the positivity of your mind and your body.
This technique is a combination of breadth and muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you should focus on a particular part of the body or a group of muscles to release mental as well as physical stress. This helps in improving awareness and improves the mind-body-soul connection.
This technique needs you to conjure up soothing and relaxing scenes, places, experiences in your mind to help you feel calm and focussed. This technique helps you to reinforce a positive and joyful image of yourself. Your mind may get distracted at regular intervals but you have to maintain your focus for better results.
This is perhaps the easiest way to combat stress and anxiety. All you have to do is lay comfortably and focus on your breath. Bring your attention to the present moment, without wondering about the past or future. Studies show that this is a highly effective way to fight stress, anxiety and depression.
Stretching is another great way which promotes body movements and helps you release stress hormones. It can range from simple stretching exercises to highly complex ones, depending on body strength.
If you practice these regularly, both longer and short term benefits of yoga become evident.
15.1.2 Benefits of Yoga
Undoubtedly, yoga has multiple benefits in leading a healthy life. Some of the notable benefits are listed down.
- Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
- Helps you have sound sleep
- Reduces cortisol levels
- Improves a number of medical problems and imbalances
- Cures allergies
- Relief from asthma symptoms
- Lower blood pressure
- Helps in quitting smoking
- Lowers heart rate
- Facilitates spiritual growth
- Promotes a sense of well-being and health
- Reduces muscle tension
- Increased strength and flexibility
- Slows down the ageing process
Yoga has multiple branches and similar practices. One such similar Ayurvedic technique in connection to yoga are the Kriyas and Asanas, which are elaborated upon below.
15.2 Yoga In Practice – Kriyas & Asanas
Kriyas and Asanas are effective yoga techniques that can be tweaked in line to one’s dosha.
Kriyas are Ayurvedic techniques which help in cleansing the body. Appropriate utilisation of the kriyas can improve the body’s energy levels, facilitate digestion and reduce some common diseases. It brings about bodily awareness and makes you feel re-energized.
Kriyas are of multiple forms and should be made a regular part of one’s routine, to enhance other elements of yoga practice and develop vitality.
15.2.2 Pranayama- The Breathing Exercise
THE TERM PRANA HAS NUMEROUS MEANINGS, INCLUDING ‘BREATH, RESPIRATION, LIFE, ENERGY, AND VITALITY, AND AYAMA ENCOMPASSES ‘EXPANSION, LENGTH, STRETCH, CONTROL AND PROLONGATION’. HENCE, PRANAYAMA LITERALLY TRANSLATES TO THE EXPANSION AND CONTROL OF ONE’S BREATH.
The best time to practice pranayama is early morning on an empty stomach. It’s effectiveness increases by practicing the same outdoors, inhaling fresh air. Ayurvedic experts provide better guidance on how to direct the breath to certain areas of the body.
Some of the benefits that pranayama provides you with are:
- Reduces the breaths needed per minute by increasing the lung capacity
- Enhances awareness, memory, and concentration power
- Allows your internal organs to function with lesser energy
- Maintains healthy blood pressure and blood circulation
- Clears the nasal passage and boosts your immunity
- Aids in healthy functioning of heart and cardiovascular system
- Delivers oxygen to all the parts of your body and encourages
- Natural removal of toxins and encourages natural ways to get rid of toxins.
- Calms excess vata dosha in body
- Promotes healthy digestion by controlling agni
The Pranayama is a breathing exercise often practiced in conjunction with broader ‘asanas’, or postures and exercises covered by yoga.
The sanskrit word ‘asa’ meaning ‘to sit down’ forms the root of the term Asana. These are body postures which expanded from postures requiring sitting to include various others, through modern schools of yoga. These are crucial to bringing peace and stillness to the mind, through ample stretching and movement. Practicing asanas are crucial to oneness of the mind and body.
The Surya Namaskar is one of the most popular asanas over the world.
15.2.4 Surya Namaskar
The word, ‘Suryanamaskar’ literally translates to Sun salutation.
Suryanamaskar is a healthy warm up practice involving various asanas. It creates a positive effect on the overall physical body including endocrine, respiratory, circulation and digestive systems. The Suryanamaskar Asana sequence aims at energising the solar plexus, commonly known as gut instinct. It is responsible for the body’s unconscious functioning (such as breathing, blood circulation and digestion) and also governs one’s mood and relationships.
There are twelve asanas (to be repeated for two rounds, to complete one cycle) which corresponds to the movement of the sun in the 24 hour cycle. While the human body is made up of 5 elements (water, air, fire, ether and earth), the sun is considered to be a universal element of fire and wellspring of life. Agni is that element which deals with all the bodily conversions and supports the Universe.
Surya Namaskar is best practiced at sunrise, as a greeting to welcome the sun. The emerging sun rays should be gazed upon with focus. When you chant the mantras along with watching the sun, your mind relaxes to absorb sun rays, thus awakening your psyche and filling you with energy.
15.2.5 Technique of Surya Namaskar
The twelve steps of the Surya Namaskar include:
- Step 1- Pranamasana
- Step 2- Hasta Uttanasana
- Step 3- Hastapadasana
- Step 4- Ashwa Sanchalanasana
- Step 5- Dandasana
- Step 6- Ashtanga Namaskara
- Step 7- Bhujangasana
- Step 8- Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Step 9- Ashwa Sanchalasana
- Step 10- Hastapadasana
- Step 11- Hasta Uttanasana
- Step 12- Tadasana
15.2.6 Benefits of Surya Namaskar
Practicing the Surya Namaskar on a regular basis holds multiple benefits, including:
- Maintaining cardiovascular health
- Stimulating nervous system functioning
- Muscle stretching and toning
- Weight loss and fighting obesity
- Strengthening the immune system
- Enhancing cognitive functions
- Calming the mind
- Overall well-being and health
15.2.7 Asanas for Kapha Dosha
- Ustrasana , or camel pose
- Setu Bandha, or bridge pose
- Suryanamaskar, or sun salutation
- Adho Mukha Svanasana, or downward facing dog
15.2.8 Asanas for Pitta Dosha
- Ustrasana, or camel pose
- Bhujangasana, or cobra pose
- Dhanurasana, or bow pose
15.2.9 Asanas for Vata Dosha
- Uttanasana, or standing forward bend
- Paschimottanasana, or forward seated bend
- Balasana, or child pose
- Supta Virasana, or reclining hero pose
- Dhanurasana, or bow pose
- Padmasana, or lotus pose
- Savasana, or corpse pose
- Salamba Sarvangasana, or shoulderstand
- Halasana, or plow pose
One of the biggest benefits yoga brings is the ability to avoid restlessness or anxiety, particularly when transitioning at the end of a tiring day. Of course, this is not limited to yoga alone – Ayurveda provides an expansive repository of tips you can use to boost your sleep quality. This can be found in Chapter 16 here.
You can refer back to the broader course outline here.
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