Guidelines and Approaches in Yoga Education

Interest in Yoga is growing almost all over the world. Yoga Educational and Therapy programs are available in different countries. Research articles are being published in various peer reviewed indexed journals. Articles are classified under the heading of Yoga with different clinical conditions by MedScape, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and other academic and scientific databases.

Concepts and training programs such as Physical Training, Physical Education, Physical Fitness Training, Body Building, Physiotherapy, Psychotherapy, Counseling were conceived and developed in the western hemisphere while the concepts of Yoga, Yoga Education, Yoga Sādhanā were conceived and developed in the eastern hemisphere.

Commonly followed education programs all over the world are essentially career oriented and based on the spirit of competition while traditional Yoga Education programs give importance to “self-realization” (ātma-sākshātkāra), “self-correction or purification” (ātma-shuddhi), and transcending from the state of individual consciousness (I, you, he, she, and other types of dualities) to universal consciousness (non-duality or advaita).

Traditional Yoga systems aim at sensing, monitoring and modifying various external and internal, environmental and psycho-physiological “INPUTS” and “OUTPUTS” involved in developing “self-awareness” (ātma-bhāva). It may give rise to a feeling of joy, happiness, bliss, balance and integration (Samādhi) or disturbance, distraction (vikshepa), pain and suffering (duhkha), depression (daurmanasya), irritation (klesha), etc.

Various groups of practices such as behavioral and attitudinal practices in social, business, and professional services, as well as personal life (Yamās and Niyamās), postures (Āsanās), working with flow of breath and mechanics of breathing (Prānāyāma), remaining aware of certain areas inside the body (Dhāranā), developing and remaining aware of the sensory inputs arising from a particular aspect of the “self” (Dhyāna), recitation of suitable mantra (Mantra Japa), balanced and integrated state of being (Samādhi), appropriate measures required to be taken to come to a balanced state of being, if found disturbed (Samyam), etc.

It is observed that in the physical education teachers, games and sports coaches, physiotherapists and modern yoga experts understand the approaches followed in traditional yoga programs on the basis of psycho-physiology of games, sports and exercises during their first contact with Yoga. Nowadays, we hear and read about new terms like “Yogic Physiotherapy”, ”Yoga Exercises”, “Yoga competitions”, etc. Books and instructions manuals are being published on these lines.

Most of the research studies in Yoga are designed and executed by modern medical professionals who are basically interested to treat various clinical conditions. Similarly, experts from the field of games and sports are taking up studies in Yoga related with the topics of their interest. Research studies with the aims and objectives of traditional Yoga education are relatively very few.

Games, sports and exercises involve working with external objects through contraction-relaxation of various muscle groups, while classical Yoga postures involve passive stretching of the muscles without any external objects. There are no external aims or objectives to achieve in Yoga. On the other hand, the work is carried out inside the body and with one’s psyche.

Working with breath and breathing in physiotherapy is mainly aimed at improving lung ventilation, relaxation of bronchial muscles and opening the airways and postural drainage of secretions from the lungs and the bronchial tree. Breathing exercises aim at increasing the breath holding time. In Yoga, one is expected to work with mechanics of breathing and to correct it, if found to be wrong. This work is based on the concept of Prāna-Apāna-Samāna Vāyus, which can be conveniently translated as Thoracic/Abdominal/Diaphragmatic breathing with a different approach and understanding.

Yoga texts classify neuro-muscular and/or psycho-neuro-muscular activities, which are essentially body movements under five headings, that is, (1) Linear or locomotor movements, (2) Balancing movements, (3) Inspiratory movements, (4) Expiratory movements, and (5) Vertical movements against the force of gravity.

Stopping the movements of arms and legs for assuming a stable, comfortable and relaxed body position (āsana) stabilized linear, balancing and vertical movements of the body as well as the mind by developing proprioceptive awareness. Working in post-absorptive state after empting the bowels and the bladder ensures uniform visceral awareness.

On this background, one starts developing the awareness of the spontaneous, involuntary and natural movements of the trunk (mainly the epigastric region followed by thoracic and hypo-gastric regions) caused by the abdominal pressure changes taking place due to the working of the diaphragmatic and the lower intercostal muscles. It makes one aware of the expanding and the retracting movements of the trunk, which are not present everywhere in a beginner. One is educated to extend these (body) movements related with breathing everywhere with the help of practicing suitable postures (āsanās).

Body movements and internal pressure changes lead to the suction and the expulsion of the air, which we normally call as the “movement of the breath: in-breath (svāsa) and out-breath (prasvāsa)”. One can develop the awareness of the movement of breath through internal touch sensations arising during this process and get guided by the pathway along which the breath seems to move inside the body with certain speed and to some destination.

Most of the Yoga disciplines give lot of importance to working with the flow of breath and the mechanics of breathing. The logic behind these practices and their modus operandi is worthwhile studying and understanding on the lines of modern medical and biological sciences.