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Be a Yoga-tarian: Ashtanga yoga.

Summary: Rediscover the fullest potential on all levels of human consciousness with Ashtanga yoga

Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News By Dr Rupal Merchant, Special to Gulf News

Good health is a divine gift, and it is up to man to make a wholehearted effort to preserve it.

There are millions of people who are suffering. Many of them appear to be strong and healthy but are suffering from physiological complaints. Constant work does not allow us to stop and think how to find a remedy for the harm that we are doing to ourselves. A sedentary lifestyle, over eating, an imbalanced diet (fast food) over work, smoking, drinking, and lack of sleep are the evils of a modern, civilised life.

In spite of all the comforts and conveniences of modern science, man's physical and mental condition is deteriorating every day. Modern man doesn't feel happy because he is dissatisfied with his life. If you dig deeper, we realise that no form of happiness is possible for the individual as long as his physical or mental condition is less than perfect. Material wealth may ensure human well-being up to a point but the real pivot on which life hinges is good health.

As promised last week, we'll look at Ashtanga Yoga-

It is a form of yoga when practiced in its correct sequential order, gradually leads the practitioner to rediscover his or her fullest potential on all levels of human consciousness - physical, psychological and spiritual. Through this practice of correct breathing, postures (asanas), and bandhas (we will discuss this subsequently), we gain control of the senses and a deep awareness of ourselves. By maintaining this discipline with regularity and devotion, one acquires steadiness of body and mind.

Ashtanga literally means eight limbs. They are described by Patanjali, the author of the Yoga sutra or ancient text of yoga as:

* Yama - performing the rules of right social behaviour.

* Niyama - following the rules of right social conduct, right diet and right lifestyle.

* Asana (postures) - performing physical exercise as a daily routine to keep the body toned.

* Pranayama (breath control) - developing control over the basic and vital force of prana or breath.

* Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) - developing self-control over five senses to prevent being impacted by them.

* Dharana (concentration) - exercising intellectual control over mind (emotions)

* Dhyana (meditation) - practising single pointed focus (meditation) and thereby connecting with the spiritual self.

* Samadhi (contemplation) - liberation.

These branches support each other. Asana practice must be established for proper practice of pranayama, and is a key to the development of the yamas and niyamas. Once these four externally oriented limbs are firmly rooted, the last four internally oriented limbs will spontaneously evolve over time.

The various other subsequent texts of yoga says that asana, the third limb, must be practiced first, and only after that can one master the other seven limbs.

Let's look at asanas. In the ancient yoga texts, there is concise definition of yogasana in Sanskrit. This is: STHIRAM SUKHAM AASANAM. It translates into 'position that is comfortable and steady'.

This essentially means a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. So yogasana in this context is practised to develop the ability to sit comfortably in one position for an extended length of time as is necessary during meditation

So you are developing control of body through the asanas, opening the energy channels and psychic centres.

In the ancient yogic texts there are 8,400,000 asanas. Of these, a few hundreds have been modified and are practised today. And many of the asanas reflect movements of animals, as the ancient practitioners took inspiration from Nature.

The body is composed of cells - they represent the smallest unit in the body. Cells vary in size and shapes according to the shape of the organ, to which it belongs. As these cells are always active they should be nourished by proteins, fats, sugar, salt, oxygen and water, so that they are enable to function properly. In addition to that, the endocrine glands should be properly maintained to keep them in perfect condition. This is to eliminate waste products so that the nervous system may function correctly. Asanas help every cell and tissues of all the organs to work at the optimum level. Thus they help all the systems of the body like circulatory, digestive, excretory, muscular and nervous system. Yoga improves your posture as it works on musculoskeletal system, too. All the other forms of exercise takes care of voluntary muscles of the body. Only yoga works on involuntary muscles like cardiac muscles, lungs, liver, and digestive organs.

Asanas are unique as they contract one group of muscles and at the same time stretch the other group of muscles. For example, while practising Bhujangasana or Bow Pose we stretch our abdominal muscles while at the same contracting our back muscles. Muscles need to be contracted and stretched to maintain their force and elasticity.

One should constantly bear in mind that the body should never be forced or fatigued during the execution of postures. Each posture should be performed slowly, carefully, gradually and patiently.

Thus, the advantages of yogic postures are remarkable. Without tiring or exhausting the body, not only it acts on external muscles but acts as unique exercise to massage the internal organs, too.

We keep talking about it but next week we will delve deeper into how yoga actually helps the internal organs of our body.

Editor's Note: The blogger is a homeopath, lifelong vegetarian and high level yoga practitioner. If you have any questions for her, please email them to or post on the Gulf News Facebook page.

Paripurna Matsyendrasana (Complete King of the Fishes Pose) variation

Hoe to do it:

To avoid compression and injury, it's important that you create length in the spine before and during this twist.

Start by sitting on the floor with both legs straight, and bend your right knee, placing the sole of your right foot on the floor outside the left thigh, as close to your thigh as possible. With clasped hands, hold your right shin just below the knee.

Use that action to help lengthen the spine, by extending while sitting firmly. On an inhalation, lift up, keeping the chin parallel to the floor.

Now place your right hand behind your right hip and hug your right knee into your chest with your left arm. Inhale and lengthen the spine, then exhale and draw your navel toward your spine as you begin twisting to the right. Start the rotation deep in your belly so that the navel turns first and the twist gradually moves up the spine. Focus on your spine as the central axis of the pose and imagine the twist spiraling evenly upward. Avoid the common mistake of using your arms to push your body around. Instead, initiate the twist from your core, rotating from the inside out, as you stay grounded through both sitting bones. Don't lead with the head; keep your neck in line with your spine and your chin parallel to the floor. To take yourself deeper into the pose, bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee and press the elbow and knee against each other.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and press down with your right foot as you exhale to spiral deeper. Stay here for three to five slow, deep breaths, then release slowly on an exhalation and repeat on the other side

To move into the full pose, bend your left knee and bring your left heel beside your right hip. Point your right knee toward the ceiling. Interlace your fingers and clasp your right shin just below the knee, using that action to lengthen up through the torso.

When your body has turned sufficiently, bring your left elbow outside your right thigh and use that action to encourage the spine to spiral even deeper.

If flexibility allows, you can clasp your hands behind your back, by moving the left arm through the lifted leg. Stay here for three to five slow, deep breaths, then release slowly on an exhalation and repeat on the other side.

Please do the pose only under the supervision of a qualified yoga practitioner.


Opens the rib cage and chest

Enhances digestion and elimination

Stimulates the liver and kidneys

Energizes the spine

Stretches the shoulders, hips, back, and neck


Spinal injury

Back pain and/or injury


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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 4, 2016
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