What is yoga? Is it standing on your head or sitting cross
legged for many hours contemplating your naval? It can be,
but it can also be learning to breathe correctly to help
de-stress the body. It can be having a laugh and relaxing.
It can be correcting bad postural habits learned through
years of coping with stress and negative thoughts. We
carry around all our problems and that shows in a
defensive foetal posture, with the shoulders hunched and
forward, chest collapsed and chin jutted forward. The
lower back and hips will be tight. A person in this
condition cannot feel better until they have straightened
out their body and taught it a correct manner of being.
The Yoga taught at Yoga with Jackie in the Ruislip and
Ickenham areas is based on the approach pioneered by Vanda
Scaravelli, an Italian aristocrat, who worked originally
with Mr Iyengar, but went on to develop a more subtle
approach. Following this method the student will learn to
undo the spine. How can we undo something like the spine?
Simply with a lot of attention; starting off with feeling
the effects of the breath on the spine, then feeling how
the exhalation wakes up the deep postural muscles
connected to the diaphragm. With even more attention we
can take this now ‘Awakened spine” into into the Yoga
asanas. The postures then take on a new life. They lose
the rigidity often associated with them and the body uses
the asana and not the other way round.
Yoga and meditation - there is no such thing as emptying
the mind. You have to put something else in. There are
many techniques. The Buddhists concentrate on noticing
their thoughts. The mind does not like to be watched and
eventually the thoughts become less and less. Focussing on
the breath and feeling the spine move is another
technique. A student can have a ‘daydream’. Whatever is
used the ultimate is that the body is in a state of
thoughtlessness and deep sensation into consciousness. The
mind is the problem. These lines are from the Svetsvatara
Upanishad. 'And when the body is in silent steadiness,
breathe rhythmically through the nostrils with a peaceful
ebbing and flowing of breath. The chariot of the mind is
drawn by wild horses, and those wild horses have to be
There are several paths of Yoga, with the main four
being:- Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Hatha
Yoga. When most people talk of Yoga they mean Hatha Yoga,
which is in reality very much a preliminary stage. In the
ancient writings the words 'harmony' and 'steadiness'
occur many times.
Archaeologists say that Yoga is at least 6,000 years old
and was widespread across the Middle East from Egypt to
India. Jnana is the Yoga of Knowledge and was thought to
have originated with the Vedic culture in Forest Schools,
from 1500 to 600BC. Wandering sages who went around naked
marked their bodies with orange dust of the Indian soil.
They later adopted orange robes, which have remained the
traditional attire of Buddhist monks.
Karma Yoga comes from the word Kri which means to do or to
act and is defined as work of selfless service without
thought of gain or reward. The law of Karma is, 'as you
sow so shall you reap and that nothing happens by
Bhakti Yoga comes from the root Bhaji which means to share
in love. It is the total devotion to the Divine, whoever
you believe him to be. The great majority of believers in
all the world's major religions are practising Bhakti Yoga
or so we hope.
Hatha Yoga comes from 'ha' meaning sun or heat and 'tha'
meaning moon or cold. The aim is to join the two
opposites. It is the Yoga of movement and coordination
with the breath. Hatha Yoga brings into play every muscle
group and in particular the very deep postural muscles. It
is designed to activate the major organs and glands. It
exercises the diaphragm encouraging a deeper breath and
warding off fatigue. Well exercised lungs increase the
body's ability to resist colds and reduce strain on the
heart and blood vessels.
There are many different schools of Hatha Yoga and I name
a few:- Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa (power yoga), Sivananda,
Viniyoga, Bihar School, Kundalini and the Yoga inspired by
It is considered by some schools that the aim of Hatha
Yoga is to allow the student to sit in lotus for long
periods in order to meditate. It is only then that the
student will have attained the aim which is Raja Yoga, the
yoga of meditation. Hatha is thought to have been
developed by the Nath Yogis who lived in Northern India
between the 10th and 12th centuries. The earliest book on
the teachings of the Nath Yogis was compiled by Swami
Svatmarama in the 15th century and called the Hatha Yoga
Pradipika. Interestingly it lists only 15 asanas. There
are no standing, sidebending or inverted postures and the
majority are sitting. Breath control comes next and
includes the kriyas, which are cleansing practices.
How then did Hatha Yoga acquire the enormous amount of
postures seen today in any book? It is thought that this
happened quite recently in our lifetime. Certainly,
Iyengar methods are very recent and nothing much seems to
have been written prior, leaving an enormous gap from the
15th century to modern day Hatha Yoga. The wide legged
standing postures appeared around 1935 and are thought to
have originated in India at Mysore Palace. See Trikonasana
Yoga as we know it is a modern phenomenon and it is not
written in stone. It will evolve as things which are
constantly worked on will always evolve. It is important
that we remember that as students and do not become tied
down and dictated to by one method. The wide legged
standing postures have their place and uses, but at the
end of the day, we must ask ourselves ’Why’? Why am I
doing this position. What is it doing for me? How do I
feel? Can I move freely in it, or am I just tying myself
up in knots because someone has told me to?