On the physical level, one could argue that yoga is like other forms of exercise. Yogis however, will naturally affirm that yoga has something extra to offer as a practice of physical exercises alone.
Physical culture promotes muscular growth and strength. Its exercise routines - including resistance training, stretching and posture correction - develop body muscles, but in the process encourage violent movements of the muscles. Rapid movement causes strain on the heart, fatigue, muscle stiffness and injury. The development of muscular body in competitive sports doesn't always mean a healthy body and mind.
Yoga is a way of life that lasts for life. Unlike competitive sports - which usually become too demanding with age - in yoga there is no rivals or competition, and one doesn’t compete with oneself. The yoga approach and practice differ from physical culture by whole-hearted attention that is given to the postures without straining, forcing, frowning or teeth clenching present in competitive sports.
Not only can yoga practice cultivate muscle strength and the mental abilities of the mind, but it also helps to relieve muscular tension. A yogi can develop control over the involuntary muscles of his body.
In yoga, all movements are calm and gradual, including proper breathing and relaxation. This allows the practitioner to understand his or her body and, by mindfully focusing on the movements to quieten the busy mind.
Any excess carbon dioxide produced by working muscles stimulates the heart to beat more strongly without straining. Yogic exercises resist violent muscle movements because they produce a lot of lactic acid in the muscle fibers, causing fatigue. Unlike tiredness in physical culture, relaxation and alertness at the same time, are the products of an effective, correct yoga practice.
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The following sitting postures are fundamental because they prepare the body for various other poses, as well as meditation. They are also exercises in their own right.
Their benefits include:
Limbering the legs, hips and pelvis
Strengthening the back muscles and improving posture
They are ideal for practicing Pranayama as they make deep breathing easy. Once mastered and held with ease, they are most suitable for meditation.
Easy Posture (Sukhasana)
This is the popular cross-legged posture. The ankles are crossed and the knees are taken down towards the ground. The head, neck and spine are in a straight line.
Perfect Posture (Siddhasana)
The right leg is folded and the heel is resting against the perineum. The left leg is also bent and the sole of the left leg is placed between the calf and thigh of the right leg.
Lotus Posture (Padmasana), also called the Buddha Pose
Sitting with your back straight and your legs extended in front, bend your right leg and gently bring the top of your right foot to the top of your left thigh, as close to your left groin as possible. Bend your left leg and gently bring the top of your left foot to the top of your right thigh, as close to your right groin as possible. Rest your wrists on your knees in Jnana mudra (with the tip of your thumb and index finger touching, and the remaining fingers extended).
Stay in the pose for as long as it is comfortable. Extend the time with experience - from a few seconds to a minute or longer. Breathe slowly and evenly.
Change the position of the legs by crossing the left foot over the right thigh and the right foot over the left thigh. To come up, gradually straighten the legs out in front.
Yoga Posture (Yogasana)
From Lotus Posture, exhale and bend forward to lower your forehead towards the floor.
Thunderbolt Posture (Vajrasana)
Kneeling on the floor, sit between your feet, toes together, heels apart, palms on the knees, back and neck straight.
Hidden Posture (Guptasana)
Similar to Siddhasana, except that the lower foot is resting against the opposite thigh not the perineum. The ankles are crossed and the upper heel rests against the pubis.
Prosperous Posture (Swastikasana)
Also called the Ankle Lock Posture; the ankles are crossed so that each foot is placed between the thigh and calf of the opposite leg.
Egyptian or Chair Posture
This posture is easier than Sukhasana, and is only to be used if it is difficult to sit in Easy Posture. It consists in sitting on a chair with the head, spine and neck in a vertical line, with feet and knees together and the palms flat on the thighs.