Science of Yoga
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THE PSYCHOPHYSICAL SCIENCE OF YOGA

By Amit Ray 

©Amit Ray 2009 - 2011

                                                                                                                                                              ITALIANO

ITEMS DISCUSSED BELOW

INTRODUCTION

VARIOUS CONCEPTS OF YOGA

UNDERSTANDING MEDITATION

HOW TO PRACTISE MEDITATION

ASANAS (YOGIC POSTURES) & PRANAYAMA (CONTROL OF BREATH)

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASANAS AND PHYSICAL EXERCISES

YOGA AND STRESS

YOGA AND HARMONY

 


INTRODUCTION

 

Away from India, during my 33 years of living abroad, in different countries, it has been quite interesting for me to see how our age-old YOGA system has been evolving outside India since the time Swami Vivekananda (www.sriramakrishna.org) introduced Indian Philosophy (Vedanta and Yoga) to the USA and Europe in the late 19th century.

 

The purpose of my article is to explain our Yoga philosophy as a universal system accessible to everyone irrespective of age, social status, belief or religion.

 

I, educated as a graduate mechanical engineer, was fortunate enough to come from an environment of both Indian and Western philosophy. My great grand father was a Pundit (Mahamohopadhaya) in Logic (Naya Shastra – one of the six systems of Indian Philosophy); my father, who also was a Pundit in Sanskrit literatures, was a professor of Western philosophy and logic; and author of books on Psychology, Symbolic Logic and Metalogic (Theory of Logic). My sister is the head of department of logic and philosophy at a college under Calcutta University, and also an author of a book on logic

 

           

I, Amit Ray at the age of 7                      Initiation to Brahminism

This family background, strengthened by a regular discourse for the last 5 years on our spiritual philosophy given by Swami Amarananda of Vedantique Centre in Switzerland, has helped me to develop an insight to our otherwise complex philosophy.

In the west, yoga means physical postures, bending and twisting. It has become popular as it fits into the western culture of body fitness. They have embraced only the physical part of the Yoga system, and that is why we hear new western names like POWER YOGA, STEAM YOGA, etc. 

Many people have used and still are using Yoga for their own interest as a business enterprise by giving it a physical dimension to go with the physical culture of the west. I am not going to argue but will consider this physical exercise good if they feel good inside even if people call it by any name of yoga.

I have been practising yoga since my childhood. To the Indians in general, yoga in simple term means inner development, it means meditation on a spiritual object; and practice of asanas or yogic postures and Pranayama, the control of breath are enjoined to keep our body fit, for the body houses the mind.

Indian Philosophy is essentially spiritual and it is a very complicated subject even to the Indian academicians.

In Sanskrit, our philosophy is called DARSANA, literally meaning viewing OR seeing. Darsana is divided into six schools of thoughts – SHANKHYA, VAISESISKA, NYAYA, YOGA, MIMAMSA, and VEDANTA. Swami Vivekananda gave a new dimension to our philosophy and today, according to his teaching, Vedanta, meaning the end of the Vedas, became our spiritual philosophy and religion, now commonly known as Hindu religion combined with the Patanjali’s Yoga Philosophy. 

I have chosen to study Yoga Philosophy, simply because its concept is relatively easier to comprehend. Any person, irrespective of race and creed can practise Asanas (Yogic postures), Pranayama (The Control of Breath), Dharana (Concentration) and Dhyana (Meditation). I am aware that many religious institutions in the world do not advise their followers to practise yoga. But for me, Yoga is a psychophysical science, a concept that I took from our philosophy, mainly The Upanisads. It is as secular as mathematics and any people irrespective of their origin, religion, and culture can practise Yoga. It is a science to bring about wisdom, a sense of right proportions, positive attitude, patience, self-restraint, and calmness. 

 

It is a methodical effort to attain perfection through the control of different elements of human nature – both physical and psychical.

 

The question is, can we use this Yoga system in the present day scientifically and technologically developed world, which is extremely fast and has become complex, stressed and tensed?

Please allow me to make this bold attempt to explain Yoga that we, Indians learn from our philosophy, and how by practising yoga we can get peace of mind, the beauty of ethically sound society, and lead a balanced life in this stressful world.

 

VARIOUS CONCEPTS OF YOGA

   

 

                                               

  PATANJALI (300 BCE)                                  BUDDHA 566 BCE-486  BCE                            MAHAVIRA 500 BCE (JAINISM)

 

In our literatures, yoga is defined as follows:

 

1. The Upanishad describes Yoga as any discipline or method that UNITES one with the Ultimate Reality.

 

2. According to SANKHYA PHILOSOPHY, one of the six systems of Indian Philosophy, YOGA is SEPARATION or disunion of spirit from matter. This yoga is different from the Upanisadic yoga.

 

3. According to PATANJALI, Yoga is the cessation of the activities of the mind – cittavrittinirodha.

 

NOTE: When yoga is defined as cittavrittinirodha (suppression of the modifications of the mind-stuff), it must be understood not only as the stoppage of the flow of presentations but also as the eradication of those potencies or latent tendencies that generate new streams of thought and new lines of action.  (CHI Vol III, P58)

We also find a very poetic description about Yoga in our literature:

“As a lamp in a place sheltered from the wind does not flicker – that is the figure, employed of a yogin, who, with a subdued mind, practises concentration of the spirit. That in which he knows the boundless joy beyond the reach of the senses and grasped only by the understanding, and that in which when he is established, he never departs from truth; that on gaining which he feels there is no great gain, and that in which he abides and is not moved even by the heaviest of afflictions – let that be known as yoga. It is to be practised with determination and an untiring mind.”

 

There are four kinds of yoga in Indian philosophy:

 

   

 

    1. Karma Yoga  - Yoga of action

    2. Bhakti Yoga - Yoga of devotion

    3. Jnana Yoga - Yoga of knowledge

    4. Raja Yoga – Yoga of Meditation  

 

 

 

 

 

In the UPANISADS, Yoga is union with the Ultimate Reality. 

In Patanjali's Yoga, it is insight into truth. 

In Buddhism it is the attainment of the Bodhisattva condition.  

 

 

The UPANISADS, written 3000 years ago, describe

YOGA METHOD in MAITRI UPANISAD as follows:

 

This is the rule for achieving this oneness,

1.                            REGULATION OF BREATH (Pranayama)

2.                            WITHDRAWAL OF THE SENSES (Pratyaharo)

3.                            CONCENTRATION (Dharana)

4.                            MEDITATION (Dhyanam)

5.                            CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY (Tarka)

6.                            ABSORPTION OR MEDITATIVE TRANCE (Samadhi)

This is said to be the SIX-FOLD YOGA.

 

Patanjali suggested Ashtanga Yoga (Eight Limbs Of Yoga), also called Raja Yoga, and added two more items to the above six:

 

 7. YAMA & NYAMA (Self-restraint and Observances)

  8. ASANAS (Yogic Postures- Hatha Yoga) – control of the physical frame with a view to facilitating the control of the mind. (Yogic Postures- Hatha Yoga) – control of the physical frame with a view to facilitating the control of the mind. (CHI Vol. III P50).

Patanjali says, one has to practice control & culture of the senses together with the withdrawal of the senses.

 YAMA = Moral restrictions: Ahimsa (Non violence), Satya (Truth speaking), Asteya (Non stealing), Brahmacharya (abstention from sexual activity) and Aparigraha (Disowning of possessions / Austerity).

 NIYAMA = Personal discipline: Saucha (Purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Right aspiration / Self discipline), Syadhyaya (Study of philosophic texts / Self study), Ishvara pranidhana (Devotion to God).

 

The aim of the above disciplines was to assist one in the ascent from the narrow view congenial to him/her to the larger vision, which brings freedom with it.  One must overcome the egoistic impulses in us, which are the source of so much evil in the world. (CHI Vol. III P49)

 

 

UNDERSTANDING MEDITATION (DHYANA)

 

                                           1500 BCE

Meditation is a psychological exercise to discipline the mind.

The simple definition of meditation by the English Oxford dictionary is to focus one's mind for a period of time for spiritual purposes or as a method of mental relaxation.

The science of meditation was developed in India for the purpose of supplying the mind with the necessary nourishment and food and for giving it exercise, rest and relaxation.

The term Meditation comes from the Latin meditari, the root of which is linked to mederi, meaning to heal. Here we see a connection with healing and meditation, and, in fact, even today meditation is used in healing both physical and mental problems. (Swami Medhasananda, Japan)

The Indian philosophy since its very beginning, which goes back by 4-5000 years, has been concerned with the human nature, the inner truth and the relation of the individual to the ultimate reality.

The Upanisadic sages gave prominence to the mind as the most important element of the human nature. 

The Vedic poet exclaims, “I do not know what kind of thing I am; mysterious, bound, my mind wanders.” (IP P71)

They realized, unless they could control the flow of thoughts, that carry germs of craving, jealousy, anger, greed, hatred, delusion, arrogance, unless they could stop being slaves to these troubling thoughts, unless they could develop equanimity of the mind, they would never be able to have peace in themselves and realize the TRUTH. 

The Upanisads declared, “Control of thought is liberation”.

 

We are the victims of an unruly mind. The lowest misery is slavery, not of the body, but of the mind, thought.

The Buddha once said to his disciples, “Remember, the only way to become victorious over wrong thoughts is to review from time to time the phases of one’s mind, to reflect upon them, to root out all that is evil and cultivate all that is good.”

 

Meditation is thus a very effective process of cleansing the mind.

 

Meditation helps to concentrate the mind that should remain in solitude and alone, self controlled, free from desires and passions. The inner psychic energy will destroy the impurities inside and will bring about health, sanity, and wholeness of the physical and vital being. One will realize that the slightest conquering of the mind bring comfort and happiness. (IP)

It is the art of mental quiet, a fundamental practice of the inner quest. The practice of mental quiet is not merely the retreat of attention from the world for a few seconds. It means withdrawing with all one’s being, with all one’s heart, with all one’s mind, deeper and deeper until the centre is reached, felt and united with one’s real self. (CHI)

 

The Upanisads wrote,

 

  PHOTO FROM ©FILM BENHUR

            “Understanding or intelligence

              Is the driver of the chariot of the body,

              Driven by the horses of the senses,

              WHICH ARE CONTROLLED BY THE REINS OF THE MIND.”

   

The conception of Yoga derived from the root yuj to yoke, to harness, to join is connected with the symbolism of the chariot and the team. Yoga is the complete control of the different elements of our nature, psychical and physical and harnessing them to the highest end.

The chariot with its sensitive steeds represents the psychophysical vehicle in which the self rides. Mind holds the reins. It may either control or be dragged by the team of the senses. (IP)

 

Meditation is a technique, a psychological exercise, an effort of will, to bring the mind to a calm state by concentrating on one thought or one object (depending on personal tendencies – one may choose a religious symbol – others may concentrate on an image that give them the feeling of love and respect) by throwing away all other thoughts. When that state is obtained, (usually after a considerable long period of practice,) one can reflect upon their inner self.

 

It will be like letting the mud in a muddy pool settle down. When mind settles down, the mind becomes clear and when mind becomes clear, you can explore and find what’s in it. You will be able to monitor your feeling, from moment to moment. In meditation, you can find out what and where your thoughts are and stay calm as you observe them.

 

Just the daily concentration exercises in order to meditate on one object even for a few minutes will strengthen the mind and one will definitely feel that strength in one’s daily life in combating the modern day tensions.  

 

 

HOW TO PRACTISE CONCENTRATION / MEDITATION  

 

 

Choose a room, which is away from the noises. Do not play any music; otherwise your concentration will be divided. Sit down on the floor in a lotus position, or sit on a chair, holding the body firm and steady with the three upper parts (chest, neck and head) erect. It is important whatever position you take, you must feel comfortable in that position for the entire duration of the practice.

 

Now try to focus your mind on one object, an object that arouses love and respect. You can also use a photo or a picture in front of you. Don’t let any other thoughts come to your mind. This process of focusing the mind is called Dharana or Concentration.

 

Initially, you will find an innumerable number of thoughts crowding your mind, making it difficult to focus on the object you have chosen. It is like water flowing into a dam causing a tremendous turbulence. But this turbulence slowly subsides as the water rises to the desired level. Once you are able to hold your mind fixed on the object without letting any other thoughts into the mind, it is called Dhyana or Meditation.

 

MEDITATION will help us to eradicate the complexes in our minds, eliminate agony that we ourselves created.

 

MIND IS REJUVENATED WHEN MIND RESTS.

 

 

ASANAS, PRANAYAMA – HATHA YOGA

   

                  

 

One does of course need a healthy body where mind resides.

  

It is acknowledged that the condition of the body has some hand in determining the state of the mind, and hence instructions cover not only the discipline of the mind, but also the care of the body.

 

BODY HOUSES THE MIND. CARE OF THE BODY IS ESSENTIAL.

 

That the autonomic system could be controlled through the slender connection with the nervous system was a great discovery of the Yoga System and it still retains its title to the sole possession of the technique to bring that about. (CHI Vol. III P80)

 

Asanas and Pranayama are devised to secure control of the physical frame with a view to facilitating the control of the mind.

  

The chief processes of HATHA-YOGA are:

ASANA/MUDRA (FIXED POSTURES) AND

PRANAYAMA (THE CONTROL OF BREATH).

 

Hatha-Yoga gives us helpful principles for mental and physical stability with the help of the practice of asanas, mudras or postures, and Pranayamas or the science of breathing.

 

By its numerous postures, it cures the body of the restlessness and frees it from its impurities; it gives to the body extraordinary health, strength and suppleness. Asanas make the nerves and muscles stronger and keep the spine flexible. Mudras keep glands in health and in proper function.

 

Then comes Pranayama – the control of breath or vital power.

Normally we go on breathing, but when we voluntarily control breathing, it becomes a Pranayama. 

 

Prana means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. Ayama means length, expansion, stretching or restraint.

 

YOGA masters said “the breath is the link between the mind and the body and that if we can control our respiration we can control every aspect of our being.”

 

By practising Pranayama blood is purified. Slumber, laziness, dullness and weakness of body are removed.  

 

Note: One must practise Pranayama under the guidance of a Yoga teacher or as per advice of a doctor.  

 

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOGIC POSTURES AND PHYSICAL EXERCISES

   

                                       male body Stock photo

 

“There is a fundamental difference between Yogic postures and other types of exercises.

 

The common misconception is that Yogic postures are physical exercises.

 

Physical exercises are repetitive movements, whereas Yogic exercises involve very little movement and are only poses, which are to be maintained for a period of time.

 

Yogic postures and breathing exercises unlike physical exercises (isotonic: walking, cycling, swimming, running, jogging, skipping, etc as well as isometric: weight lifting, etc.) do not strain the cardiovascular system and improve physical fitness and endurance. Therefore, they are useful in both health and disease.

 

What really makes yoga different is the mental focus and attention that we bring to bear on the body – the stream of attention we focus as we do the posture. The result is a toning up of both the mind and the body. In adopting and maintaining a posture there is a co-ordination between the nervous system and the muscular system, which set up a kind of tone in the body and influences the physical and mental behaviour.

 

Yogic poses when maintained for a definite period help to conserve energy and give a feeling of relaxation and exhilaration.

 

While yogic postures tone up both the body and the mind, physical exercises affect mainly the body.

 

The mind body experience is what distinguishes yoga from conventional exercises, promoting fitness from inside out. “ (YH)

 

Yoga is more a work-in than a workout.

 

“The most important issue in Hatha Yoga is not flexibility and the ability to do difficult postures, but awareness - awareness of the body and the breath. And from this awareness comes control, and from control comes grace and beauty.  

 

                 

 

You can hold your concentration on breathing, on tissues that are being stretched, on joints that are being stressed, on the speed of your movements, or on the relationships between breathing and stretching.

 

Practising with total attention within the body is advanced yoga, no matter how easy the posture is; practising with your attention scattered is the practice of a beginner, no matter how difficult the posture is.

 

Hatha yoga trains the body as well as the mind, so focus your attention without lapse.” ( YH) .

  

Hatha yoga stretches are a safe and effective way to bring about the lengthening of the muscle and the expansion of the connective tissue within and around the muscle.

 

The yogic postures concentrate on a deep stretching movement. Muscles are given a gentle, controlled stretch, without any strain. They are thus able to extend gradually and safely.

 

A flexible muscle is also a strong, well-toned muscle.

 

Yogic postures take into account the body’s natural movements. They result in static stretching which actually is very effective in removing cramps and preventing soreness.

 

The common purpose of all the poses is to establish a proper tone in the neuromuscular system as a whole.  

             

By practising yogic postures, one can experience the effects of various poses on the body and the mind.

 

Yogic postures invigorate the body and keep the mind healthy and calm.

 

They bring about a feeling of freshness and remove physical lethargy.

 

 

YOGA is a comprehensive system to keep the body fit and the mind alert.

 

If you only have a few minutes to work out and want to burn calories, yoga will disappoint you.  

 

YOGA AND STRESS

   

                     

 

The human mind functions best in a state of relaxation. Relaxation is a breathing space in the rush of daily living. This breathing space is necessary to prepare the body for greater energy and clearer vision. ( YH)  

 

Stress is the physical and mental response of the body to demands made upon it. Stress arises when we are unable to get rid of our negative feelings that pile up as a result of our reactions to the daily events.

 

Different things cause stress in different people. Some of the things are: deadlines, difficulty in organizing work, poor time management, out of control debts, noise, adjusting to life in a new environment, difficulties with personal relationships. Very often stress results from an accumulation of many different pressures, which build up gradually without us noticing.

 

Stress has physical, psychological and emotional effects.  

 

 


Physically -  through the experience of physical symptoms like pain in the back of your neck, tightening sensation between your shoulder blades, tension headaches, etc.

 

Psychologically - through negative behaviour, poor relationship at work or in your personal life, as well as poor lifestyle choices.

 

Stress is really more a psychological factor than a physical, quantifiable one. It has nevertheless become a part of human life.

  

Stress is not only bad for the body and the mind; it also causes us to bury our true nature beneath the debris of tasks, deadlines and worries.

 

The British psychiatrist J.A. Hadfield in his book The Psychology of Power observes “The greater part of the fatigue, which we suffer, is of mental origin. In fact, exhaustion of purely physical origin is rare.”

 

We should remember that it is not hard work that drains our energy but emotional upheaval or unnecessary excitement. It has been scientifically proved that the activities of the brain do not cause fatigue. Mental tiredness is mainly due to attitudes rather than hard work. (MT)

 

So, the solution to the problem of fatigue or mental tension is the ability to relax.  

 

 

Relaxation technique will help in calming the nervous system, controlling excessive emotion, anxiety, impatience and frustration. It will help us in creating a reserve of mental energy.

 

Learning to relax is a key to a physical, emotional and mental health.

 

We function best when we are in a state of relaxation. Relaxation is a breathing space in the rush of daily living. This breathing space is necessary to prepare the body and the mind for greater energy and clearer vision. ( YH)

 

Relaxation lowers blood pressure, respiration and pulse rates, releases muscle tension and eases emotional strains.

Our nerve cells get invigorated because during relaxation they are relieved of their routine burden of working.  ( YH)

 

Don’t you think that 8 to 10 hours of work a day should be followed by a period of relaxation, just like nature has ordained that there shall be sleep after a waking period? ( YH)

 

We who live in the Western world have neither the leisure nor the opportunity, and frequently not even the will, to have the time for relaxation. Our busy life seldom allows us to look inward.

 

“It is wrong to think that we cannot spare time. It is not so much the lack of time as the feeling that there is no need for such relaxation, which is the cause of the mad rush. 

A life of “RUSH RUSH” is a life of tension, nervousness and anxiety.

The problem has to be tackled at the root. 

We must learn to relax. “ ( YH)

 

So how do we MANAGE STRESS?

 

Bertrand Russell in his book "The Conquest of Happiness" wrote:

 

"Emotional or nervous fatigues, worries, are probably most serious in advance communities -

these are, oddly enough, most pronounced among the well to do, business- people and brainworkers. 

These can be prevented by a better philosophy of life and a little more mental discipline -

these can be diminished by realizing the unimportance of the matter, which is causing the anxiety - power of realization by Meditation.

 

The psychologists all over the world and even the brain scientists are of the opinion that Meditation is a most beneficial mental exercise to keep out strain and stress of the world around us.

   

YOGA - consisting of Yogic postures, breathing exercises and Meditation –

is one of the oldest and simplest methods to combat stress in our fast modern life.

 

Yoga helps relieve the stress of the daily routine and teaches us how to relax and release tension.

Meditation is a peaceful pause in an otherwise hectic flow of life. (How to overcome Mental tension by Swami Gokulananda).

Start or end the day with some meditation – yoga postures that you can do in the morning can help energize you to start the day, or in the evening, help calm you and allow your body and mind to be ready for a good restful sleep.

We should breath in purity and breath out impurity, breath in tranquility and breath out tension. (MT)

 

Yoga gives you the opportunity to experience calmness of mind.  Stretching the body and working with the breath engages the body's parasympathetic nervous system - allowing the body to normalize, gradually improving health and posture - defeating fatigue, increasing alertness and leading to improved productivity and feelings of well-being.

 

Yoga helps relieve the stress of the daily routine.

 

You meditate to beat the stress.

 

Experiments have shown that practicing meditation does create a calm state in the brain that results in relaxation of the mind and the body.

 

Meditation therefore helps develop the powers of the mind to combat the day-to-day tensions in our lives.

 

Medical studies have shown what Yoga has known for thousands of years:

 

Meditation is beneficial to the body and the mind. As it is accompanied by deep relaxation, it unstresses the body, causing a feeling of physiological and psychological ease, rejuvenation and heightened vitality.

 

At more advanced levels, the practitioner experiences deep peace and tranquility, which carry over into everyday life.

 

MEDITATION will help you to relax.  

 

 

But don’t meditate on your office project – it will then bring the office stress with it, which you want to get rid of.

 

When your mind rests, it gets exercised; it gets its nourishment. Mind is then invigorated.

You become calmer, you become patient, and you become alert.

 

Yoga will counteract physical and mental fatigue.

It will establish emotional steadiness.

 

A novel process like Yoga derived from the psychophysical wisdom may bring you relief from the constant stress in this world of fast life. The postures and the breathing exercises will help you to change the reaction to stress and thereby minimize the ill effects of stress.

 

It not only exercises the body, but also through the act of breathing it calms down the nervous system, it oxygenates the blood and tissues and it brings changes in the brain functions.

 

Emotional stress causes the back muscles to become tense. Gentle yoga stretches help reduce physical tension directly.

 

When muscles relax, the mind becomes more tranquil.  

 

 

Yogic postures change the reactions of the body to the day-to-day tensions, which are so rampant today.

 

The most important thing is that we should learn the mental discipline that will teach us how to be in harmony with our own selves, our own instincts, emotions, sentiments, and ideas.

 

 

 

YOGA & HARMONY

   

http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/photos/new_zealand_II/pages/lotus%20flower.htm

 

One of the simplest effects of yoga is to create a sense of balance. Once we are connected with our internal centre – an inner harmony will grow.

We can create a perfect harmony between our body, our life and our mind.

 

We can live in amity and concord with our own selves.

 

Yoga will help bring to our life happiness, physical poise, mental peace, intellectual clarity, self confidence, positive self image, better interaction with others, and emotional equanimity, if we really go for it.

 

 

It is an investment that you will make in your life for your own well-being.

 

TOP

1. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by David Coulter (MT)

2. Indian Philosophy by Radhakrishnan (IP)

3. Cultural Heritage of India Vol. 1 - vi (CHI)

4. Yoga and Heart by Dr. K. K. Datey, et al. (YH)