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Excerpt from "Advanced Hatha Yoga: Classic Methods of Physical Education and Concentration"

Chapter Two: Fundamentals of Yoga Exercise

by Shyam Sundar Goswami


In Yoga the meaning of exercise has been extended and its application broadened, as the body is looked upon in a more comprehensive manner. It is based on the broader conception of man--his goals, his activities, his meaning in this world, everything. According to Yoga the material body, which is a compound of tissues, is the last stage of the body--an elaboration of the internal body necessary for the full expression of man while on the earth plane.

Static-Dynamic Aspects of Man

From the history of the body we understand that two fundamental factors are related to man. Sakti (consciousness in the form of radiant energy) remaining static, becomes dynamic. In all stages of the dynamic existence of man there is always the static background. We can, therefore, say that man is a center of static-dynamic powers. In the dynamic aspect are all his changes, motions, limits, world consciousness, world experiences. At the back of all this is something more positive. It is his static aspect. In that lies his eternal, nonmoving, indestructible principle, conscious radiant energy in a quiescent state. Conscious radiant energy in the nonmanifested state is one and the same as Supreme Consciousness. There is no separate entity. Only when a stress comes, when the radiant energy is about to manifest it appears as something else. Something dynamic is forced on this static state.

The dynamic aspect of man is expressed in action and the static one is realizable through contemplation. In the lowest order of mental life the contemplative side is almost completely hidden and the active side is either semiparalyzed or uncontrolled. In the higher order, the contemplative side is well developed and the dynamic side is fully controlled. Exercise from the Yogic point of view is intimately related to both aspects of man, contemplative and motional.

Exercise Defined
When exercise is considered in relation to the physical body, it is a systematized method of movements of muscles done purposefully for the development of the material body. But in Yoga, exercise has been used in a broader sense. Exercise as it is understood in Yoga aims not merely at the body (material) isolated from the rest nor the mind similarly isolated, but at the whole man for his full development, which culminates in the attainment of the spiritual goal. It is a means leading straight to his goal. This is why it is called Sadhana.

The exercise is sevenfold. By the application of the sevenfold exercise the whole man is influenced. It consists of purificatory exercise, posture exercise, control exercise, breath-control exercise, sensory-control exercise, and Dhyana and Samadhi (concentration exercise). To these may be added contraction exercise and Dharana (the first stage of concentration exercise). To make the exercise most successful all these factors should be applied simultaneously and harmoniously. This, in short, is the whole picture of exercise in Yoga.

13 Spinal Posture Exercise

Posture exercise is of two types: dynamic and static. It is not necessary to consider each type of exercise separately except for a few folded-leg postures. It is more convenient to consider each exercise from both standpoints.

Spinal Posture Exercise Defined and Classified

Spinal posture exercise consists of four forms of exercise: posterior trunk-bend posture exercise, anterior trunk-bend posture exercise, lateral trunk-bend posture exercise, and trunk-twist posture exercise. The thoracic and the lumbar regions of the spine are principally involved in these exercises. The cervical spine needs special exercise, which is termed neck posture exercise.

Anterior Trunk-bend Posture Exercise

The exercises listed in this section cause contraction of the abdominal muscles and stretching of the spinal muscles. The mind should be concentrated upon the abdominal muscles during these exercises.

Head-knee Posture
1. Sit with the right heel pressed against the perineum, the left leg fully extended forward, the arms bent at the elbows and held at the level of the shoulders, the forearms and fingers extended forward, and the body erect.

2. Bend the body forward and downward and simultaneously extend the arms forward and grasp with both hands the big toe or all the toes of the left foot. Finally, bend the head until the forehead touches the left knee. The extended leg should be kept perfectly straight throughout the exercise. Maintain the final attitude for a few seconds.

3. Return to step 1.

Breathing: Exhale during step 2 and inhale during step 3.

Concentration: Concentrate on the abdominal muscles.

Dynamic Application: Execute steps 2 and 3 alternately.

Static Application: Maintain the final attitude (step 2) as per instruction.

Relaxation: After completion of the exercise, dynamic or static, relax in the sitting position with the legs extended forward and the arms by the sides.

Points of Note: This exercise relaxes and stretches the hamstring muscles and helps in securing full flexion at the hip joints. The exercise should also be performed with the right leg extended.

Forward Body-bend Posture
1. Sit with the legs extended sideward, the body erect, the arms stretched overhead.

2. Bend the body forward and downward until the trunk, head, and arms touch the ground.
Maintain the final attitude for a few seconds.

3. Return to stage 1.

Breathing: Exhale during step 2 and inhale during step 3.

Concentration: Concentrate on the abdominal muscles.

Dynamic Application: Execute steps 2 and 3 alternately.

Static Application: Maintain the final attitude (step 2) as per instruction.

Relaxation: After completion of the exercise, dynamic or static, relax in the sitting position with the legs extended forward and the arms by the sides.

Points of Note: This is an advanced exercise. It requires extraordinary relaxation of the hamstring muscles and full flexibility at the hip joints to be able to extend the legs sideward. The beginner should try to go as far as possible

Shyam Sundar Goswami (1891-1978) was the founder of the Goswami Institute of Yoga in Sweden, the first Indian institution of its kind in that country. He was a disciple of the great yoga master Balak Bharati and also wrote Hatha Yoga: An Advanced Method of Physical Education and Concentration.

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Advanced Hatha Yoga: Classic Methods of Physical Education and Concentration by Shyam Sundar Goswami (1891-1978) © 2012 Inner Traditions. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.


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