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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 tamed.'

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 accident.'

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 Vanda Scaravelli.

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 under articles.

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?
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