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The ultimate aim of a human being is to unite themselves with their soul and finally with the Spirit (or God). However, neglect of the bodily vehicle while existing in the mortal world is tantamount to treason. In most cases, we have been given an intelligent, creative, and fully functioning body. It is the only one we have, thus as far as it can go, it is obligatorily loyal to us. So, for us to pay no attention to it (with regards to maintaining it) whilst still demanding it work for us is a betrayal of the faith the Spirit or Creator has put in us as a responsible and disciplined life form.
Although the mind, heart, and soul are indeed more valuable to sociological and personal development, it is foolish to endeavour to travel long distances in your lifetime (regarding success, growth, relationships etc) whilst allowing your physical framework to decay, disease, decrepitate, and eventually die on you without you realising the progression of its states i.e. being oblivious to your body’s needs and requirements.
Likewise, it is wrong to place the intelligence and ingenuity we are all endowed with only on the body. It is a vehicle, like a car, and the car must be well maintained at all times so that halfway through your life’s journey it doesn’t unexpectantly break down on you. But to spend the whole of your life maintaining, polishing, tending to, and over-elaborating things with the car and do little else, is also a tragedy against our consciousness. So, to look after the body is good, but to be over-fussy is not smart.
Just as a tree’s roots kept the tree firmly grounded and help it to grow, our body touches the earth, keeps us grounded, and teaches us many things. If we can’t look after our own body, how are we going to be capable of looking after anyone else’s heart and mind, let alone their bodily health? How can we ignore our own body, show it no love, nurture, or attention – and expect to grow as caring, balanced individuals?
The origin of Hatha yoga postures are said to date back to the Himalayan master Lord Shiva (who is revered as a God in many parts of Asia). Lord Shiva is said to have given discourses to his wife, Parviti, and locals in India on 84,000 different yoga postures, most of which represent various aspects of nature, like birds, animals, plants etc.
These postures were handed down over the years to sages like Matsyendra, until the great sage Patanjali re-organised the whole yoga system in the 2nd century BC. He created a system called Ashtanga (eight limbs) of yoga. Of these eight limbs, hatha yoga is believed to be the first. In Patanjali’s system, Hatha (meaning Sun and moon) yoga has around 84 main postures.
Patanjali’s system ended with the yoga practitioner learning to meditate – and it is said that the whole purpose of hatha yoga is to give the yoga aspirant the kind of body that can sit for hours in a physically static mediation posture without suffering irritating aches and pains – or digestive troubles etc. The purpose of hatha yoga is thus to prepare the body for meditation. Of course, as a side benefit, the postures also look after the body in daily life.
These postures are designed to work on the physical body not just in a muscular or cardio-vascular sense – but right into the nervous, circulatory, endocrine, skeletal, and digestive systems of the body.
An example of yoga postures follows below. Some postures have been put up because they are more advanced, and some because they are simple to understand. But all are beneficial. Yoga poses are not about total perfection at the beginners and intermediate levels, but they are about taking the pose it the correct path towards perfecting them. So, even if you only manage half of a complex pose, the effort that it will take you to do that will still be immeasurably beneficial for you. Half a stretch done correctly is a whole lot better than no stretch at all.
- downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)
- A classic yoga pose, with fantastic benefits. There are two main areas which can be well stretched in this pose, depending on how you take it. If the heels are firmly placed on the floor, most people (with tighter hamstrings) will feel the stretch in the back of the legs, calves, etc.
However, if the heels are allowed to rise, the knees bent (taking the stress off the hamstrings).
- chakrasana (wheel pose)
- A great pose for the entire spine especially the lower-middle, and upper-lower back areas. As the student opens up into this pose, they realise the height of the wheel depends on three things: Firstly, the ability to lift the hips high, using the aforementioned back areas, secondly, the strength in the shoulders, chest, triceps, forearms, and hands, and thirdly, the supporting power of the thighs (and less so the calves).
- purvottanasana (front stretch)
- This posture is very relaxing and relieving in its own way. The entire front face of the body is given a good stretch when this pose is done correctly. This helps to release tension caught up in the chest, abdomen, legs, and feet, and when the practitioner comes down, there is a sense of freedom. As you can see, lots of work is taken on the wrists as the hands are turned away.
- matsyendrasana (named after one of the foremost yoga exponents)
- This posture really works into the middle back when taken correctly. It is a deep releasing stretch which goes diagonally across the back of the ribs slicing through the tension in the middle back muscles.
- garudasana (eagle posture)
- This is a beautiful pose when done correctly. Clearly a balancing pose, it demands exceptional composure because the limbs are twisting against each other right throughout the body. In the legs, the standing thigh and calf strength is developed because they are supporting the entire body.
- mrigasana (deer pose)
- A gentle, but beautiful pose. The practitioner gets a stretch in the thighs, lower back, and feet sitting down in the base of this posture. And blood flow is improved to the head as the forehead touches the floor here.
- lolasana (swing pose)
- This advanced pose first requires the practitioner to be able to lock the legs in Padmasana (Lotus pose). Lotus pose itself is great for mediation and unlocking the power of the spiritual energy in the body, but in this pose it serves a different purpose.
- padma sarvagasana (lotus in shoulderstand)
- Really, the benefits here are of the shoulderstand, the lotus position being held is mainly beneficial in meditation, and is also excellent for leg flexibility. But it is the observation on the shoulderstand here that is important. Shoulderstand works on the thyroid because most of the body's weight is placed squarely on the neck and shoulders.
- karna pidasana (a variation on halasana / plough pose)
- This plough variation, like all plough poses, is strong for the neck / shoulders, entire spine, and hamstrings (although this variation comes up a little easier on the hamstrings because the knees are bent).
- kukkutasana (crow pose)
- This is a precise balancing posture. Even thought it seems like the body is being carried by the hands, when the body is balanced properly, the weight is transferred into the ground via the wrists.
- kukkutasana 2 (crow pose 2)
- In this variation both knees are steadily placed on one elbow and the body is lifted.
- kukkutasana 3 (crow pose 3)
- This pose has the same benefits of crow pose 1, except that with the extending of a single leg to the rear, more pressure is placed on the lower abdomen. You would think it is the leg carrying themselves, but upon trying this pose, you find out how strong the abdomen has to be. Needless to say, it is excellent for lower body strength.
- mayurasana (peacock pose)
- Here, the body is balanced on the reversed hands. There is a lot of work on the wrist when the hands are turned in this manner. There are variations where the hands are pointing forward, but they are not necessarily any easier to do!