Yoga is a science of life that developed over thousands of years based on the experiences of its practitioners. Yoga is, therefore, a very practical system that aims to promote one’s health and happiness by working on the mind, body and spirit. Yoga originated in India, and has spread all around the world. It is not a religion. Yoga deals with universal truths and is therefore compatible with all faiths and none.
We humans are more than material beings. We are, in fact, spiritual beings as well. The only way that we can experience our spiritual selves is by means of our material bodies. The Sanskrit word "yoga" means "union." The ancient yoga texts tell us that this union is the reconnecting of our material and spiritual selves. They go on to tell us that union, or yoga, is brought about by the quieting of the mental noise that goes on constantly in our heads. A very practical way of fostering the conditions that lead to this quieting, are the yoga postures, or asanas of hatha yoga, and breathing exercises, pranayama. Most hatha yoga classes include periods of relaxation and meditation.
In our contemporary materialistic culture where quantifiable results are highly valued, the main benefits stressed are the strengthening of joints, increased flexibility, the reduction of stress and the improved sense of well being felt by yoga’s practitioners. While these are real and worthy outcomes of yoga, they certainly are not the only, or the most important ones. The inner peace, harmony, and balance are more highly valued by those who practice regularly over a longer period.
A couple of suggestions to the new practitioner: It is important to realize that yoga is non-competitive. Everyone works at his or her own level and without strain. A good yoga motto is "gain without pain." If there is pain, dizziness or nausea STOP and come gently out of the posture. Work smoothly with the breath and with concentration and awareness. Your teacher will give general safety advice for postures, but you must take responsibility for your own safety by listening to your body, respecting it and working within your limits. If you have any doubts about your health in relation to practicing yoga, discuss this with your teacher and consult your doctor.
Martial Arts Martial Arts can be divided into two major categories, the internal arts and the external arts.
The internal martial arts are ones that focus on the strengthening of the internal energy and how to move this energy in a concise and precise way. It is then the internal energy that moves the body. The physical changes such as increased muscle strength, flexibility, and balance that come from practice are a secondary effect from improving the flow and amount of energy. This energy is gathered and focused through practiced relaxed (not limp) movements. The internal arts can be used for physical healing, improving mental clarity, and spiritual development as well as used in a martial context. Examples of internal martial arts are Tai chi (Taiji), qigong (chi gung), ba gua, and hsing-i. An example of Japanese internal martial art is aikido. Internal arts commonly focus on slow, circular movements.
An external martial art is one that focuses on the external movements. Movements are often more linear and rely on muscle strength to deliver the desired affect. Common external martial arts include karate, kick boxing, kung fu, jujitsu and tae kwon do. External martial arts practices tend to be fast and attract the younger person who wants to learn defensive and/or fighting techniques. The possibility of having an injury is greater with the practice of external martial arts. So it is very important one finds a well trained instructor.
What is Qigong?
Qigong (pronounced "chee-gung") is an ancient Chinese exercise system combining meditation and slow, gentle movements to promote health and relaxation. The qigong student learns to visualize an invisible energy field known as qi ("life force") and move it through the body to balance and heal dysfunction.
Mentioned as early as 3,000 years ago in The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, qigong, or "energy work", has been considered one of the main pillars of Chinese medicine along with acupuncture, herbal treatment, massage and diet.
Qigong is the forebear of exercises like tai chi. Qigong is considered an effective therapy for a host of chronic illnesses that are considered difficult to treat with Western medicine, including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and chronic pain. In Chinese medicine, all disease stems from an imbalance in the qi as it moves through twelve "meridians" or channels of the body. These energy channels cannot be seen with the human eye like the circulatory system, but they can be detected and manipulated using acupuncture points along the meridians. A principle of qigong is that "the mind leads the qi, and the qi leads the blood". This means that one uses the mind to guide and enhance the flow of qi through the body.