If you are brand new at Swaha and especially if you are brand new to Yoga, the text bellow will help you get started. Welcome to Swaha and read on!!
Yoga class at Swaha will usually start and finish by chanting the sound OM. Why do we chant OM?
OM, the most important mantra of Yoga pictured above, is the root of all sounds and letters, and thus of all language and thought. It is the primordial sound or vibration from which all other sounds emerge. The vibration of sound “O” is generated deep within the body, and slowly brought upward to join the “M” which then resonates through the entire head. Mantra OM symbolizes levels of consciousness. The longer lower curve represents the dream state. The loop on the right stands for sleep without dreams, the upper curve stands for the waking state. The crescent shape is the veil of illusion, which projects this world we see. Above the veil is the dot that represents the transcendental state, free of all delusion, living in Truth-Consciousness-Bliss. In states of deep meditation, we recognize this state as our true Self, the state of Oneness or Union that we call Yoga. So chanting this mantra is symbolic - we join our voices as one and we are reminded of the intention of our practice. It is also energetic as the sound vibrations are felt both in our body - positively affecting the nervous system, and in the space - creating a soothing atmosphere.
Namaste is the most common greeting used at the end of the class and it means “The Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.”
We can live without food and water for some time, but we cannot live without breathing for more than a few minutes. Proper breathing is the most important aspect of yoga for two reasons: to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to all the vital organs including the brain; and to control and expand Prana, the vital energy. Our natural breathing is diaphragmatic breathing, also called deep breathing, or abdominal breathing. The way we breathe as babies. Belly rises up on inhale and falls down on exhale. This is supposed to happen gently and rhythmically. However, as we get older, due to stress or other factors, we forget how to breathe properly - breath becomes short and shallow. In most people it is just the chest that rises and falls with each breath, not the belly. At the beginning of your yoga journey you will first remember how to breathe again. You can practice by lying on your back with hands on your belly. On inhale watch the belly rise and expand, on exhale fall and contract. Breathing is done through the nose. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing the muscles, massaging the heart and the internal organs, and allowing more oxygen to flow through the body. Once you have “remembered” to breathe correctly, your teacher will introduce various breathing techniques such as ujayi, nadi shodan, kapalabhati, brahmari, etc. that are done either in combination with asana (body postures) or separately.
Asana refers to body postures that we do in yoga, but its original translation is “a comfortable and steady seat or attitude”. We can see the double meaning of the word, referring to both the body and the mind. Yoga asana are designed to keep the body in a state of maximum physical fitness and to maintain optimum mental equilibrium. No two bodies in the world are identical, and not two Yoga poses will ever be the same. Stay in the pose only as long as you are comfortable and be slow and moderate in your movements. Still, even the most important component of an asana is breathing. The length of time that your asana is comfortable will vary from day to day and in yoga we ought to accept and honor that.
Final Relaxation is just as important as the practice of Asana. Being relaxed is our natural state and our birthright, but just as with breathing, the pace of our lives has made us forget. Relaxation is a tonic for the whole system, promoting good health, vitality and piece of mind. At the end of each Asana session there is a final relaxation that is either guided by the teacher or silent. It is actually in this relaxed state that the practices of Asana are being absorbed. Yoga practice will help you be more in touch with your body, more able to recognize tension and relaxation, thus bringing them under your conscious control.
This is all you need to know in the very start. The rest will come with practice. And remember that practice makes perfect! Enjoy your journey home .
“Practice and all is coming”
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
If you are a real big nerd read on
DIFFERENT BRANCHES OF YOGA
HATHA - Hatha Yoga means the Yoga of Sun and Moon. It refers to solar, muscular, active energy and lunar, feminine, receptive energy in our bodies that need to be united for greater physical, emotional and spiritual balance and power. Hatha Yoga combines body postures (Asana) and breathing techniques (Pranayama), to eliminate stress and to strengthen & purify the system, allowing the mind to be more focused and centered. There are many styles of Hatha Yoga, such as Sivananda, Satyananda, Iyengar, Anusara, Astanga, etc.
MANTRA – Mantra Yoga refers to meditation techniques that use the vibration of sound to experience union with the Higher Mind. There are other methods of Meditation, also, using concentration on geometrical figures, such as Yantra Yoga, moving of energy within the body, such as Kundalini Yoga, and using the internal sounds arising within the Yogi’s own body such as Laya Yoga.
KARMA – Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless service. It purifies the heart and sublimates the ego as it teaches to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. One is detached from the fruits of his actions. Karma Yoga can be done every day, in one’s everyday work, it is a service offered with no thought of personal gain. Swami Sivananda, Saint Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, etc. were all Karma Yogis.
BHAKTI – Bhakti Yoga is yoga of devotion. Through prayer, worship and ritual, bhakti yogi surrenders himself to the Divine through unconditional love and devotion. Chanting or singing is a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga. Bhaktas are filled with the Love and Joy and see the Divine in everything. Increasing tolerance, love and acceptance of others is what Bhakti Yoga is built upon.
JNANA – Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge and wisdom. It is the most difficult path, as it requires tremendous strength of will and intellect. Jnana yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature; he discriminates between the reality and meaning behind the illusions and delusions of life. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, one needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths, as selflessness and strong body and mind are the prerequisites for the search of self-realization.
RAJA – Raja Yoga is often called the "royal path" as it offers a complete method for controlling the mind waves. The main practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It is based on Ashtanga (8-limbed) Yoga of Patanjali: Yamas (non-violence, truthfulness, personal continence, non-stealing and non-covetousness), Niyamas (purity, contentment, austerity, scriptural study, surrender of ego), Asana (steady and comfortable pose), Pranayama (control and expansion of the Life force through breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dyhana (meditation), & Samadhi (complete spiritual absorption, union with the Divine).
These are all different paths to the same goal. Yoga is the experience of Union. It begins with harmonizing your body, mind and spirit. Calm, harmonious breathing leads to calm and harmonious mind. When we have connected all parts of ourselves into one being, one entity, we feel more connected to all living things and to the whole universe.
Recommended books on Yoga and Philosophy:
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Yoga for a New Age by Bob Smith and Linda Boudreau
The Sivananda Companion to Yoga by The Sivananda Yoga Center
Kundalini Tantra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda
Meditations and Mantras by Swami Vishnu-devananda
Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda
I Am That talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Who am I? the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Ramana Maharshi
The Power of Now by Echkart Tolle
The New Earth by Echkart Tolle