General Classification of Yogic Practices
People generally ignore Yamas and Niyamas in practice considering them to be part of conduct but they should also be practised. Taking into account Ashtanga Yoga, the Yogic practices may be classified as (i) Yamas (ii) Niyamas (iii) Asanas (iv) Pranayamas (v) Bandhas and Mudras (vi) Kriyas (vii) Meditation and (viii) Attitude training practices. Each one of these classification consists of a group of several practices. These practices are briefly discussed as below:-
The practice of Yama paves way to increase the power of concentration, mental purity and steadiness. The following are the Yamas:
Ahimsa – not to harm others
Satya – to be truthful
Asteya – not to steal
Brahmacharya – celibacy
Aparigraha – not to possess beyond actual needs
There are five Niyamas:
Souch – external and internal purification
Santosh – contentment
Tapa – to make right efforts to achieve goals
Swadhyaya – to study authentic texts and religious scriptures to acquire correct knowledge of self
and the supreme divinity
Ishwar Pranidhan – complete surrender to the divine will
Surya Namaskar is the most useful and popular mode of Yogic exercise, which briefly bestows the benefits of Asanas, Pranayamas and Mudras altogether. It consists of a series of 12 postures, which are performed early in the morning facing the rising Sun. Surya Namaskar energises the entire neuro-glandular and neuro- muscular system of the body and its regular practice ensures a balanced supply of oxygenated blood and perfect harmony to all the systems of the body, thus invigorating the entire psychosomatic system of human constitution.
These are special patterns of postures that stabilise the mind and the body through static stretching. Their aim is to establish proper system in the neuromuscular tonic impulses and improve the general muscle tone. Two basic principles governing the performance of asanas are stability and comfort. This suggests that the nature of asanas is psycho-neurophysical and not only physical. Every asana should be performed effortlessly and maintained for a comfortable time. There should be no jerks and the performance of asana should not lead to undue fatigue.
Asanas may be classified as
(2) Cultural, and
1. Meditative Asanas are sitting postures, which maintain the body in a steady and comfortable condition. By various arrangements of legs and hands, different Meditative Asanas viz. Siddhasana, Swastikasana, Padmasana, Vajrasana, Bhadrarau, Muktasana and Sukhasana are performed. The characteristic feature of the Meditative Asana is, however, keeping the head, neck and trunk erect.
2. Cultural Asanas involve static stretching, which bring about proper tone of muscles. They contribute to the flexibility of the spine and render the back and spinal muscles stronger. They also stimulate proper working of the vital organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. There are innumerable varieties of Cultural Asanas, which are performed through sitting, lying and standing position Pavan Muktasana, Naukasana, Viparita Karni, Sarvangasana, Matsyasana, Halasana, Chakrasana etc.
3. Relaxative Asanas are few in numbers like Shavasana, Makarasana, Balasana etc. They are performed in the lying position and are meant for giving rest to the body and mind.
These practices bring control over the respiratory impulses, which form one of the channels of the flow of autonomic nerve impulses. Holding of the breath for a prolonged and comfortable time is an essential technique of Pranayama. The expiratory phase is so controlled that the following inspiratory phase is not affected in its slow and controlled inspiration. The main purpose of Pranayama is to gain control over the autonomic nervous system. It is useful in higher Yogic practices like meditation.
Bandhas and Mudras
These are locks and holds of the semi voluntary and involuntary muscles in the body. They decongest the vital organs, improve circulation and nutrition by pressure manipulations and contribute to general health and emotional stability. A difference is made between the Bandhas and Mudras on the basis of their use in Pranayama. Mudras that are used in Pranayama are usually called Bandhas because they bind and channelise a particular nervous activity in a particular place or direction. Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Moola are important Bandhas. Some Asanas are called Mudras because of their specific effects and channels through which the effects are brought about.
These are purificatory processes usually classified into six divisions and therefore they are often called Shatkriyas. These are Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka, Nauli and Kapalbhati, each one of which consists of many sub-sections. They increase the range of adaptability of the tissues forming various organs and systems and raise the threshold of their reactivity. Kriyas bring control on different reflexes and establish psycho-physiological balance. The modes of purification in the Kriyas are air, water, friction and manipulating movement. The regions of cleansing involved in various Kriyas are Naso-pharyngeal, Otocranial, Gastro-oesophageal, ano-rectal and intestinal.
This is the practice involving control of the mental functions, which start from the initial
withdrawal of the senses from external objects to the complete oblivion of the external environment. There are several techniques of meditation. It is a process of absorption in which the individual tries to turn his attention to dwell upon a single object, sound, concept or experience. It is not always safer to start one’s practice in meditation without preparing adequately through Asanas and Pranayama. The basic principle of Meditation is to develop internal awareness.