by Dr Supriya Mahajan Sardana, MD (In the picture: Sharanya Narayanan; photo by Vinod Ravindranathan)
The word ‘yog(a)’ denotes the union between Jivaatma and Parmaatma (the individual soul and supreme soul, respectively). The science which teaches how to realise this marriage is called Yoga shastra.
Wise sages had formulated yogasanas as a gateway to spiritual culture and preservation of a high standard of health and vitality— not as the weight reduction programme or slimming fad as some perceive it to be today. Ordinary physical exercises develop the muscles of the body, increase stamina, circulation, etc, and award us a fleeting sense of well being but that is exactly what they are and will remain—mere physical exercises.
Rigorous physical exercise draws the ‘prana’ (life) out. Asanas send the ‘prana’ in and distribute it evenly through the body
On the other hand, ‘Asanas’ or yogic postures are intended for the thorough massage and exercise of the internal organs and the important ductless hormone secreting glands of the body called endocrine glands (ex, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pituitary, hypothalamus and pineal glands), which are integral in maintaining metabolism, as well as, in structure, growth and nutrition of different kinds of tissues of the body.
People spend money on outdoor games and sporting goods and club and gym memberships believing they are good for them, notwithstanding the wear and tear the body has to endure in these pursuits. Sports were meant to instil discipline but nothing more. Swimming is wonderful for health but not in overchlorinated, stagnant water, choked with people and germs.
No expense is required for the practice of asanas after an initial investment of time, effort and perhaps a little money in learning from an expert. Rigorous physical exercise draws the ‘prana’ (life) out. Asanas send the ‘prana’ in and distribute it evenly through the body.
Mindful walking and running with awareness help in grounding and open up our lower ‘chakras’* but asanas work on all seven energy centres in our body. They energise digestion, invigorate the nerves, strengthen the subtle nadis (energy channels), and thus help a long way in controlling the senses, the mind and the body.
Everyone should select a set of asanas to suit their temperament, capacity, convenience, leisure and requirement. Practice for a few months will render rigid tendons, muscles and joints flexible. In all schools, regular and devoted practice of yogic postures should be incorporated after the age of 10 in order to instil discipline and flexibility in our young ones. As for adults, the body is an instrument for self realisation so we can make asanas and pranayama part of our daily devotional or spiritual practice, as they help our inner beings evolve.
*Chakras: Each of the seven centres of spiritual power in the human body
The author is a consultant dermatologist based in Delhi NCR and is also a keen yoga enthusiast