The five principles of yoga form the foundation of the practice for many yoga practitioners, for both veteran and newcomers. They are the building blocks upon which a sound mind and a sound body are achieved, through which all benefits of yoga flow. By studying and adhering to the five principles of yoga, practitioners reach a level of understanding that manifests itself in every aspect of their lives.
According to Ayurveda, which is the ancient Indian science of health, longevity and life, each of the five principles of yoga should be performed individually and according to specific seasons to properly promote and restore health.
So what are the five principles? Simply put, the five principles of yoga are proper exercise, proper relaxation, proper breathing, proper diet and medication. Let’s examine each one.
Proper exercise is based on the idea that our bodies require exercise and movement to achieve a healthy state. To maintain good health, the body must be put through special yoga asanas, or postures, that are designed to strengthen and maintain all parts of the body by enhancing flexibility, toning the muscles and improving circulation. In addition, the proper exercise also improves mental functions as well by relaxes the body and improves the performance of the systems within. By utilizing the proper exercise, the body and mind are taught to work in harmony.
Next, proper breathing (also known as Pranayama) teaches the body to maintain control of the prana, or life force, and in turn control its mental condition. Learning proper breathing techniques teaches you how to use your lungs to their capacity as you take slow, deep, rhythmic breaths, which increase your energy and mental clarity. Learning proper breathing can also allow a yoga practitioner to refresh their body and remove stress at times when tension may be high. In short, proper breathing can help created a more rested and focused mind.
Proper relaxation (Shavasana) involves teaching the muscles of the body to relax to alleviate stress and refresh the nervous system, leaving you relaxed and with a renewed sense of inner peace. This feeling of inner peace can have an impact on your entire life, as you learn to release tension more easily and eliminate the chance of wasting energy. Proper relaxation does not involve only the muscles, but the mind and spirit as well.
A proper diet can help achieve purity of body and mind and yoga promotes a pure or “satvic” diet that is comprised of food that is easily digestible, is pure and promotes health in the body and mind. Natural or organic food (grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and dairy) are the most common components of a yoga diet and vegetarianism is not uncommon. For many yoga instructors and practitioners, the eating of meat and meat products can make the body slow and listless, thanks to the energy needed to digest meat, which they feel unnecessarily takes energy away from the body. Eating in moderation is also part of a proper diet to yoga practitioners, as well as eating only when one is hungry. In short, eating is another part of the process of maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit.
Proper meditation is the final principle of yoga and it is considered, by many, to be the most important of the principles. The mind controls all aspects of the human body and keeping it in top condition means practicing exercises that keep it at peace and relaxed. It may only involve a few minutes a day or regular 20-minute weekly sessions, but clearing your mind of stress by means of meditation is important to reaching a state of well-being and peace.
When combined into a complete yoga lifestyle, each of these principles can help the practitioner reach a state of mental and physical well-being that can have a positive affect on one’s entire life. The five principles are the building blocks of a life of peace and harmony.
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