Interesting Reads

FEBRUARY 27, 2014

The Tiny Hatha Yoga Philosophy

Posted by Dorothy under Community Interests, Interesting Reads, Philosophy, Wellnessno responses

Shannon Frances is a freelance technical writer who is currently living in Nibong Tebal, Penang, Malaysia. She is a yoga enthusiast who has decided to write and publish ‘The Tiny Hatha Yoga Philosophy’. Below is a snippet of the contents of her book which can be bought at www.lulu.com

Is Buddhism a kind of yoga?

Before becoming the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama studied yoga with at least two yoga masters, who apparently emphasized extreme self-discipline of tapas (see “What are the eight limbs of Patanjali yoga?”). He eventually abandoned these yoga practices as being too harsh and damaging to the mind and body. Instead he developed his own method, referred to as the Middle Way, which avoids the extremes of over-indulgence and intense asceticism. Although Buddhism was eventually driven out of India, the teachings and methods of Gautama Buddha influenced the subsequent development of yogic philosophy and practice, particularly with respect to meditation. In fact, many scholars speculate that Patanjali’s eight-limbed path was based on the Buddha’s eight-fold path. As Buddhism is based on yoga and has influenced the development of yoga, it is considered by many to be a kind of yoga. Notably, yogachara is a Buddhist philosophy that emphasizes meditation and other yogic practices. Some have argued that current yoga practices are more similar to the teachings of the Buddha than to the kind of yoga practiced in India at the time he lived.

Buddhism was driven out of India, in part, as a result of the teaching of Adi Shankara (800 CE), who argued that any religion not based on the Vedas should be abandoned. In contrast, Gautama Buddha implored his followers not to blindly follow any teaching but instead urged them to investigate his methods and determine their validity directly. Both of these trends — following scriptural tradition and relying on personal experimentation — have been very important to the development of modern yoga practices. How do you respond to each approach? Do you favor one? Can you embrace both?Compare the eight limbs of Patanjali (see “What are the eight limbs of Patanjali yoga?”) and the Buddha’s eight-fold path (right understanding, right thought, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right mental attitude or effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). Do they describe the same things in different language? Or are they fundamentally different? Which would be more effective for you to follow?

Is yoga a religion?

Yoga practitioners are not required to hold any beliefs. Thus, yoga can be practiced as a religion, as a supportive activity to a specific religion or as a completely non-religious activity. Yoga is currently being practiced by members of many religions (including Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Rastafarians) as well as agnostics, atheists and people who do not care one way or the other.

The goal of yoga is often described as union with the absolute. Depending on the school, the absolute can be the one true God, a specific god or any divine aspect of the universe, including absolute consciousness, nature, etc.

Although some Veda-based religions (Hinduism) have narrow and restricted definitions of the absolute, most are astonishingly inclusive. For example, many contemporary sects consider Jesus as a Hindu saint. The absolute may be described as vastly as the universe and all its contents, real and unreal.

Many religious sects that practice yoga generally embrace both monotheism (belief in one god) and polytheism (belief in many gods) simultaneously by explaining that all gods are aspects of the one God and the one God can be understood only through a multitude of gods. Some even go as far as claiming that everything is God (pantheism) and it is only delusion that prevents us from realizing this.

However, many contemporary hatha yoga schools conceive of a yogic union that does not concern the divine or the supernatural. For example, some schools teach that yogic union is the attainment of your highest self, in other words, being the best you can be. Others teach that yogic union is the state of respecting all life or is simply a desired state of mind — a neurological phenomena that does not extend beyond the encasement of the skull.

While specific sects and schools may accept only limited definitions of yogic union, the practices of yoga do not. Thus, religious and non-religious practice of yoga is equally valid.

What is your opinion of religious and non-religious schools of yoga? Are you attracted or repelled by spiritual teaching? Does it matter to you if your teacher and fellow students have different beliefs than you?Some people feel that taking yoga out of its cultural and religious context dilutes it and, in fact, renders useless thousands of years of valuable teaching. Others feel that a modern approach to yoga must free it from superstition, racism, social injustice and sexism. Where do you stand on this issue?In 1893, Swami Vivekananda argued at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago that Hinduism (and, by extension, spiritual yoga) should be considered a world religion with the same status as Christianity and Buddhism. His passion for this argument was fueled by his strong nationalistic and ideological feelings. Some have argued that modern yoga is more or less a product of the Indian nationalism that culminated in the partition of British India. How does this opinion agree with your own beliefs about yoga? Is it relevant?

Can people of non-Hindu religions practice yoga?

As most religions encourage yoga-like practices, such as prayer, meditation, chanting and ritual movements, there are many opportunities for religious people to incorporate the specifics of their religion into their yoga practices.

For example, many forms of prayer and ritual include specialized movements, such as kneeling, making the sign of the cross, symbolically holding the Qur’an, bringing palms together at the forehead, symbolically washing smoke over the head or kissing a piece of cloth. According to some teachers, when these movements are united with the breath and performed mindfully, they constitute a yoga practice as well as a religious one.

Classical yoga requires study of the scriptures, stipulating no limitation on the scriptures that can be studied. Any study that inquires into the nature of God or the individual soul is yoga.

Mantras and chants can be modified to include religious words and phrases. For example, OM can be replaced with “Allah,” “The One Who Can Not Be Named,” “Jesus,” “Jah,” or other names of God.

Many members of theistic religions have used yoga to enhance their other religious practices and several groups are dedicated to exploring this synthesis. If you are interested in using yoga in your own faith, you might search the Internet or at your local library to see if such a group is available in your town.

If you belong to a religion that prohibits acknowledgement or signs of respect to gods of other religions, talk to your yoga teacher about any images or texts that he or she uses that might be in violation of your faith. Help sensitize the people you practice with to your issues and cultivate tolerance and understanding within the group.

Can atheists practice yoga?

The concept of yogic union does not require a belief in God. Many atheists choose to recognize the absolute in non-theistic terms, such as nature, higher power, love or realized consciousness. The spiritual aspect of yoga can be honored as an historical component of the practice without requiring that it be embraced personally. Most religious images and texts can be interpreted or replaced with secular concepts. For example, many yoga studios contain images or statues of various Hindu gods or spiritual leaders. These are often considered representations of desirable qualities, such as generosity, creativity and compassion.

Of course, hatha yoga is currently practiced primarily as a form of exercise, without reference to religion or spirituality. Yoga practitioners can validly focus strictly on the physiological and psychological benefits of any yoga practice, including postures, meditation, chanting and gestures.

If you practice with a teacher or group that uses religious images or texts that you are resistant to, you can make them aware of your issues and explain why you wish to interpret them differently. Help sensitize the people you practice with to your issues and cultivate tolerance and understanding within the group.

Copyright Shannon Frances, 2014


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DECEMBER 28, 2013

A few yoga laughs to usher in 2014…

Posted by Dorothy under Interesting Readsno responses

 

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NOVEMBER 28, 2013

Force Coupling Of The Hips

Posted by Dorothy under Community Interests, Interesting Reads, Wellnessno responses

 

 

A force couple relationship in simple term is where muscle groups around a joint move together to produce force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. This in turn ensures muscle balance with proper lenght and strength of each muscle around a joint. However, for various reasons in life, some of us go through changes in structural alignment, neuromuscular control and movement patterns, contributing to bad posture due to overactive and underactive muscles.

One of the most common scenario of muscular imbalance is around the lumbo-pelvic-hip region, aka  the “core”.  It is important to acknowledge that what goes on at the  pelvis affects the entire body. Imbalances around the pelvic region can easily be noticed with the pelvis being anteriorly (images 3 and 4) or posteriorly tilted (images 1 and 2).

A neutral pelvis can be seen in image 5. The muscles of the posterior region:  the erector spinae, gluteus and hamstrings and anterior region: rectus abdominis and hip flexors in a neutral scenario produces equal force and hence works efficiently and will not be prone to injuries. When these muscles are imbalanced, some will shorten and some lengthen. Shortened muscles will need to be stretched,whereby lengthened muscles need to be strengthened.

An anteriorly tilted pelvis in images 3 and 4 can in simple terms be described as ‘chest and butt sticking out’, resulting in an overarching of the lower back. In such a position, the rectus abdominis, gluteus and hamstrings are lengthened and therefore needs to be strengthened. Whereas the hip flexors and erector spinae are shortened therefore requires stretching.

When the pelvis is posteriorly tilted as shown in images 1 and 2, resulting in a flat back, the rectus abdominis, gluteus and hamstrings are shortened and requires stretching. On the other hand, the hip flexors and erector spine which are lengthened will need strengthening.

Yoga poses which can be of help to neutralise an anteriorly tilted pelvis are:
a) To strengthen rectus abdominis, gluteus or hamstrings
1)  Utthita hasta padangusthanasana
2) Utkatasana and Garudasana

b) To stretch hip flexors or erector spinae
1) Virabadhrasana  1
2) Setu bandha sarvangasana
3) Urdhva Dhanurasana

Yoga poses which can benefit a posteriorly tilted pelvis are:
a) To strengthen hip flexors or erector spinae
1) Bhujangasana
2) Matsyasana with arms and legs lifted off the ground

b) To stretch rectus abdominis, gluteus or hamstrings
1) Karnapidasana
2) Supta Virasana
3) Natarajasana

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