Yoga – An Introduction to Yoga

by Lucy Bremner – Sunflower Retreats Italy

Yoga has been described as the three fold path of development, physical, mental and spiritual. Yoga’s purpose is to bring man and woman to the highest states of development on all these levels.

Yoga is a philosophy a way of life and is said to be at least 6,000 years old. Its roots lie in India.

The word yoga means union or joining, in a spiritual sense this refers to Man and Woman’s ultimate union with their inner nature or Atman which is ultimately perfect and is a reflection of the universal source. In regular western life we tend to externalise, which takes us away from our inner selves. Yoga is a way of bringing our awareness more within. It helps us to find more peace of mind, it helps us become more in harmony with our whole self. Without looking to the external world for our daily happiness we begin to look within, retreat within for the answers in our lives and begin to understand that peace and harmony can be obtained within us. The techniques in yoga are a way of balancing and harmonising the mind, body and emotions.
Within the yoga tradition there are many pathways to reach the inner self and to reach harmony and pure consciousness, also the pathways of yoga can practised together. These are:

  • Jnana Yoga – Union by knowledge
  • Bhakti Yoga – Union by love and devotion
  • Karma Yoga -Union by action and service
  • Mantra Yoga – Union by vision and form
  • Laya and Kundalini Yoga – Union by arousal of psychic nerve force
  • Tantric Yoga – A general term for physiological disciplines also for harnessing sexual energy
  • Hatha Yoga – Union of body and breath mastery
  • Raja Yoga – Union of mental mastery

In the yoga tradition there are physical as well as psychical controls which aims are to make a whole person aware of his or her individual consciousness and move towards union with the universal consciousness. This can be done by the practice of Asana, Pranayama, mudra, banda and meditation and relaxation (Hatha yoga) which for a lot of people these days has become a popular starting point

Try making your own retreat at home by practising Hatha yoga relaxation known as Shavasana:

Hatha yoga Shavasana relaxation session

  • Make a sacred space for yourself in your home, light a candle or burn some of your favourite aromatherapy oils in an oil burner or include some fresh beautiful flowers in your practice area and some soft relaxation music if you like. There are no rigid rules
  • Bring a mat and lay it on the floor. Lie down on the mat with your feet one hip-width apart, your chin gently brought down to your chest and the palms of your hands facing upwards. Use a cushion if you need to support any area of your body that gives you tension so to be comfortable
  • Become aware of your breath. Begin to breathe through your nose, breathe naturally, concentrate on your breath’s natural rhythm and breathe as silently as possible. Any thoughts that come into your mind or feelings that arise just keep bringing your attention back to your breath, or even to the music you are playing. If you hear distractions i.e. noise outside, a dog barking or something, do not see the sound as a distraction – bring it into your yoga practice
  • Begin to feel your whole body relax and begin to soften towards the pull of gravity, relax your feet, your ankles, knees, upper legs, hips lower back, lower abdomen, feel the whole of your back relax, your spine the muscles of your back relax towards the floor or earth. Move your awareness to your upper abdomen, chest, shoulders arms and hands even your fingers and thumbs feel them relax, with each inhalation begin to visualise each breath reaching these areas of your body like a white light and with each out breath just feel as if you are exhaling any tension away towards the earth the pull of gravity
  • Continue to travel up to your head and face relaxing your head and face, visualising each breath in like a healing tonic. Or white light surrounding and tonifying the skin and muscles of your face and each breath out like a way to let go and relax more, relax your jaw and mouth even your tongue. Then begin to relax your mind, focus you attention on your breathing each thought that comes in let it flow in with each inhalation and with each breath out let each thought go with the out breath, detach from the thoughts and concentrate on your breath
  • Then begin to move down your body once again being aware of your face, head, upper body lower body and finally your feet
  • Become aware of the floor, which is supporting you and the space around you, gently roll to your right side and slowly come up in a crossed legged sitting position
  • While sitting in the crossed-legged position repeat the word OM three times, once for your body, once for your mind and finally once for your inner self which is a reflection of the universal source

The word ‘yoga’ really does cover a large area. My feelings are that yoga is harmony, and a deep connection to our inner self and the rest of the natural world, nature as a whole and ultimately the connection and union with the divine within us and within others.