WHAT IS YOGA? Do you even know? What would you, as a student, hope to gain from studying it? Knowing the power of this ancient art and its effect can be a pursuit spanning many lives its wonder and mystery never ceasing to amaze the aspirant.

An unexpected surprise, however, is the fact that many students who practice yoga seem to be unaware of its meaning, what it is about and more important, what to do with it. Yoga seems to be the latest fad and qualifications for the instruction of this art many times seem to stop with a mere certification.

Yoga, however, is not a certification, it is a lifestyle. It is an attitude and it is an art. There is more to this ancient system than simply stretching and getting into odd positions, and breathing in a certain way. This is only the beginning. Ultimately, yoga leads to untold mysteries.

Yoga, like love, is a many splendered thing and is constantly changing as your awareness increases. If done intelligently, which is to say correctly, with reverence, a sense of purpose and a positive attitude, the results will be like the creative source; endless and unlimited. You will discover in time, that your limitations lie wholly within your imagination.

In Sanskrit, Yoga means two things yoke and "the joining A yoke is a bow shaped bar for joining draft animals like an ox so they can be guided and controlled for obvious purposes. We are the draft animals of our source and through yoga, we realize this and allow ourselves to be guided for obvious purposes, or we are still slaves to our lower selves and are trying to exercise our "little wills" and be in control of our five sensory world.

In either case, yoga becomes the yolk of self where we, through the postures and breathing, take control of our selves and become the idea that we wish to be. A primary concern of yoga is, of course, self control; self control through staying in the postures and breathing (asana and pranayama). The theory goes something like this: If you hold the poses and focus on the breath, you will learn self control over the body. The next step is control of attitude and mental states.

Yoga also means "the joining." The obvious question is the joining of what? The primary concept is the joining of body and mind so that the two are in harmony. This means that you are not out of control; that your mind commands your body. Somewhere along this path, students realize that "the joining" means so much more and is in fact the joining of self with The Big Mind, The Great Spirit, God, the creative source from whence we all come, to which we all go. This is the stuff for which meditators strive. After a certain stage Yoga is meditation.

Yoga is about waking up from our dream to realize that we are indeed dreaming, is the fastest lane on the developmental path, is about connecting your positive pole to your negative pole, is about charging and "opening" all of your chakras. These things maximize your potential and enable you to channel higher energy drawing upon greater resources to accomplish more for yourself and humanity. It is necessary to be in good shape because it requires great strength to channel positive energy over negative energy.

Sometimes it is unclear to beginning Yoga students what they hope to achieve through their practice of Yoga. Some good answers are: increased strength, flexibility and endurance, but it doesn't stop there. Use of the mind to channel energy cannot be ignored. Specific energy like will power, strength, endurance, love and other high ideals is not out of reach even for the beginner.

An important practice in Yoga about which many people appear to be unclear is the mysterious Yogic breathing. I have had new students approach me after class telling me they have studied Yoga for a while and Yogic breathing is something they still don't quite understand.

Yogic breathing is deep diaphragmatic breathing, designed to pull the energy up from the Muladhara to Vishnu (positive and negative poles) igniting the chakras along the way. As each chakra is consciously ignited and brought into use, one vibrates at a higher energy level which in turn gives you access to higher levels of consciousness. This translates to higher levels of information tapped from the creative source. The result is increased awareness and creativity.

All breathing is done through the nose. As you exhale and let all the air out of your lungs, suck in your stomach. As you inhale and exhale, continue to keep your stomach sucked in. Practice this frequently, breath like this all the time, breath like this now. As you practice your Yogic breathing, relax the rest of your body; you should feel your breath coming up from your diaphragm. Feel the breath (or energy) inside of your thorax. The first indication is pressure. Do not allow the energy to be released through your abdomen, but channel it still further up from your diaphragm through your chest cavity and into your head and out your top chakra.

It is important to visualize the flow of energy through your body as you breath and even more important to make that leap of faith and know that it is there. You will become more aware of your life force and what to do with it as you practice.

There are four main benefits behind Yogic breathing: the massage, as a result of the breathing technique and your abdominal muscles, stimulates your internal organs and, combined with diet and exercise, aids in their maintenance. Through Yogic breathing, one learns to channel the prana energy through the body. Once this is learned and realized, amazing things can be done with the energy. Yogic breathing tones the stomach muscles and through controlling the stomach muscles, one learns the very beginnings of self control, and eventually control of the mind.

It is important that yoga students not forget about "the transformation" that comes in time. Yoga students should know that an actual cellular molecular change takes place with higher thought. Yoga brings about this transformation at a much increased rate. With this information, yoga students need no longer wonder about some of the gifts that Yoga brings, and they may purposefully make their upward climb towards greater awareness.

Always remember that it is not enough to merely practice yoga once or twice a week the Yogi and Yogini proves his or her truth by showing us the way. As Yoga increases your awareness and improves your life, the people around you will take notice and this is how you show the way and impact your world. So go deep within, notice the effects, and find the buried treasure.

David Namhie currently teaches Yoga at the West Hollywood Yoga Center, located at 1067Fairfax Blvd. in West Hollywood, CA.

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