Floating to stay fit
SD Saxena introduces us to Jal Yoga, in which the practitioner performs various asanas on the water surface. This form of yoga is especially a boon for the disabled and weak.
Yoga is a fusion of body, mind, and soul. The Indian tradition of yoga dates back to almost a millennium and has been a source of tremendous personal and individual growth for human beings living across the Indus river and the region beyond the Himalayan range.
India led a peaceful existence due to the geographical protection and isolation from the rest of the world. This was one of the reasons for the development of the mind-body-spirit culture in India as well as the major growth of human-centric philosophy. It is a matter of great surprise and research to unravel the fact that despite little development of analytical science, Indian philosophers were able to arrive at the concepts of Advaita (the oneness of human souls), superconsciousness, and also the soul being the eternal entity, never to die, and that the death of a body does not signal the end of everything.
Union of body, mind, soul
Yoga is a practical manifestation of that philosophy. For many philosophers of India, physical wellness is driven by the inner well-being of the soul and the mind, and, therefore, requires a fusion of the whole ecosystem of body, mind, soul, and nature. There is a major emphasis on the various forms and stages of yoga defined as Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga, to achieve the higher stages of this fusion of mind, body, and soul.
The Gita describes a lot of these concepts. The attainment of higher stages of this fusion is very difficult to achieve. As you go higher up in Ashtanga Yoga, the numbers of achievers keep declining due to the difficulty of achieving success on the slippery path of practice. Out of a million who achieve an upgrade from stage one to two, the scale keeps reducing the number of achievers and, ultimately, the one who reaches the top is almost one in a trillion.
Difficult to practise
Ashtanga Yoga has eight stages, the ultimate being samadhi, in which the yogi merges with the ultimate and becomes one with the superconsciousness. The practice of yoga, therefore, is a difficult task and attainments are far and few. Nevertheless, the yogis try and pursue this slippery path throughout their lifetime, and one life is not enough to reach the highest goal. In fact, the process may last many life cycles of the practitioners. Mercifully, Indian philosophy and the concept of rebirth grants a practitioner many lifetimes to achieve it.
Kriya Yoga, and more appropriately Hatha Yoga, is the first ladder to achieve the ultimate, but nevertheless an important part of the process which has to be gone through. It is also interesting to note that in the case of a few achievers, the process is much faster compared to others. It is said that Buddha, Krishna, and Jesus attained the highest level of yoga in a comparatively shorter span of one lifetime, whereas many take much longer to achieve it.
Yoga and human consciousness
On a more simplistic plane, yoga, as is being popularised internationally, lays more emphasis on the physical health of the practitioner. Yogic exercises are many and the idea is to activate hormonal activities and the muscular well-being of the body by twisting and turning the muscles. In addition, the practice of pranayama (yogic breathing) is quite unique as it brings out the important aspect of providing fresh air and oxygen to the body and various ways to activate the nervous system, especially the three energy channels (nadis) called Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna in yogic parlance. The science of human breath is very well decoded by the Indian yogis, and they extensively used the techniques developed to perfection over a period of time. There are recorded incidences where yogis have been observed to stop breathing and survive for days together without food and air. In some cases they were buried underground and, later on, when unearthed, were found to be hale and hearty without any loss of well-being. These facts are more along the lines of stories than recorded scientific facts, but it is also true that many yogis are found to live longer and in much better health conditions when compared to people not doing yoga on a regular basis.
Yogic exercises have a lot to do with human consciousness.
Yoga in its ultimate form through meditation brings the experiences of the practitioners quite close to this reality. The stories of many enlightened masters and their control of the events and futuristic predictions are a matter of discussion, but it is also true that the influence of some of these masters on the lives of many foreign students is exemplary. The best example is that of Steve Jobs, who became a disciple of Neem Karoli Baba and was inspired in the art of out-of-the-box thinking. Although it may not be proper to credit India with the ideas he developed for changing the world, it is also a factor which cannot be ignored.
Special considerations for the weak
Doing yoga is a strenuous process. Also, in old age, a lot of complications arise which create complications of the muscles, knees, and heart. Yoga teachers always emphasise these facts as a disclaimer before the beginning of any session of yoga. Special care is taken in those cases where the person is a cardiac patient or is suffering from high blood pressure.
Yoga has many variants, one of which is Jal Yoga practised by many yogis in the past. They found the tranquil surface of a pond or a lake (found in abundance in those days) to be much more convenient to carry out yogic exercises than on a lawn or on the ground. The beauty of the water surface and its buoyancy is that the body loses weight and the yogi is virtually floating. Under such conditions, the turning and twisting of the body becomes a lot easier and far less energy is consumed. However, there is one condition to this exercise: the performer must be able to swim and float on the water surface.
Yogis were especially fond of doing more complex postures, including pranayama, which require special efforts. There are a number of exercises which are practised on the water surface and underwater. In a number of hospitals in Germany, people with muscular injuries are treated in a swimming pool by helping them carry out exercises which they are unable to perform on a hard surface. One of the most famous examples is that of the hockey player Kartar Singh, who was accidentally injured by a policeman in a train compartment. His injuries were such that he was completely written off by the doctors. On being financed by the IHB, he went to Germany and regained his normal health, especially through hydraulic exercises.
Jal Yoga is now becoming a reality as, besides the community swimming pools, many private swimming pools have come up in India, especially in the gated communities. It can also be practised in the rural and semi-urban settings where many waterbodies still exist in these areas. Jal Yoga is a tool to transform the health of senior citizens, the physically handicapped, as well as those who find it difficult to exercise in the normal gravity environment.
Asanas (yogic postures) on the water surface
It is important that the student is not afraid of entering the water and taking a position of flotation and also of diving in the water. The knowledge of swimming is a prerequisite for practising Jal Yoga. The techniques are simple, but first, the practitioner will have to overcome the fear of drowning.
Shava Asana (Corpse Asana)
Itis one of the most important asanas for relaxation. This asana provides tremendous relaxation to body, mind, and spirit. It is used in Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) for attaining quick relaxation of mind and body before going to sleep. It has been reported that good practitioners are able to reduce the sleep span remarkably well by using this asana effectively.
Shava Asana is one of the most useful asanas for the elderly, and if carried out on the surface of still water, can help in achieving remarkable results. It can lift you to a different level of awakening in the yogic realm. It is said that many yoga gurus practised this to attain deep meditation and a very high level of relaxation. This deep asana helps in attaining a state of meditation much faster as well as a higher level of consciousness.
To practise this posture, lie down in the pool with your face towards the sky and keep your arms stretched by the side of the body. Try to breathe normally and to balance your body on the water surface in such a manner that it does not move up and down on the surface. This is easy to achieve once you have mastered the art of floating on the water surface. The body loses its weight and it is a very divine feeling where there is no body left but only the mind and soul. Try to feel the consciousness of the body in various organs starting from the brain to the throat down to the abdomen and to the feet and then reverse the order upto the brain. This helps in achieving a calmness which can only be experienced by the performing of this asana. Sometimes, it so happens that the heartbeat and the breathing sound starts interfering with your calmness and appears a little irritating. Learn to ignore these sounds and concentrate on the body calmness.
Reverse Corpse Asana
In this asana, lie down with your face in the water and observe the bottom of the pool. The blue of the water gives a very soothing effect to your eyes, enhances the vision, and soothes the nerves. This asana can be carried out for a few minutes or as per your capacity, as in this posture, breathing disturbs the calmness of the posture.
This posture is very easily performed on the hard ground. Lie down on the water face up and float easily on the surface of the water. Lift your right leg and hold it above the water surface and keep it up for one minute. Slowly, bring it down, relax, and then do the same with your left leg. This posture requires a little bit of concentration as the body tends to sink below the water surface as the buoyancy decreases.
Another variant of this asana can be the quick movement of both legs which balances the body on the surface of the water, at the same time giving all the advantages of Uttanpada Asana.
This asana is the king of all the asanas and is a mix of many asanas combined. It is difficult to perform on the surface of the water as it requires a hard surface. This is true especially in old age as it requires the bending of knees and under full gravity, it may be harmful.
A modified version of this asana can be performed on the surface of the water by bringing the hands up while standing in the water, bending the hands backward, bringing the hands down, and then holding the boundary of the pool bending the head towards the sky and bending the right knee. This process is repeated in reverse order to complete the cycle of this asana.
It is very easy to perform this asana in the water. Stand upright in the water and lock the fingers of the two hands. Slowly lift the arms up. Keep the feet firmly on the bottom of the pool and try to stand on the toes. In the water, it is very easy to perform as the water buoyancy helps in extending this pose for long. The pose is very useful for the knee joints and for strengthening the calf muscles.
Stand firmly in the water. Stretch the arms above the water surface. Bend the right knee and turn towards the right by bending. Return to the normal standing position. Bend the left knee and turn your face towards the left and bend at the same time turning the left feet in the left direction. Come back to the upright position.
Cycling in the water is a very easy exercise. It can be performed either by holding the wall of the pool and cycling in an upright position or else by cycling while lying down with the face upwards. While cycling, it is essential that the legs are first moving clockwise and then in anticlockwise direction.
There are many other asanas which can be performed on the water surface with amazing results. Jal Asana can be a boon to people with muscular weakness and old age.
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