"...[T]here is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques aimed at producing what might, for the lack of a suitable technical term in English, be referred to as 'altered states of consciousness'. In the technical vocabulary of Indian religious texts such states come to be termed 'meditations' ([Skt.:] dhyāna / [Pali:] jhāna) or 'concentrations' (samādhi); the attainment of such states of consciousness was generally regarded as bringing the practitioner to deeper knowledge and experience of the nature of the world." (Gethin, 1998, p. 10.)
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Description of an early form of yoga called nirodhayoga (yoga of cessation) is contained in the Mokshadharma section of the 12th chapter (Shanti Parva) of the Mahabharata (third century BCE).[109] Nirodhayoga emphasizes progressive withdrawal from the contents of empirical consciousness such as thoughts, sensations etc. until purusha (Self) is realized. Terms like vichara (subtle reflection), viveka (discrimination) and others which are similar to Patanjali's terminology are mentioned, but not described.[110] There is no uniform goal of yoga mentioned in the Mahabharata. Separation of self from matter, perceiving Brahman everywhere, entering into Brahman etc. are all described as goals of yoga. Samkhya and yoga are conflated together and some verses describe them as being identical.[111] Mokshadharma also describes an early practice of elemental meditation.[112] Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of uniting the individual ātman with the universal Brahman that pervades all things.[111]
According to Pāṇini, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau ("to concentrate").[26] In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.[27] In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras,[28] states that yoga means samādhi (concentration).[29]
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One of the earliest and most influential sub-traditions of Vedanta, is Advaita Vedanta, which posits nondualistic monism. This tradition emphasizes Jñāna yoga (yoga of knowledge), which is aimed at realizing the identity of one's atman (soul, individual consciousness) with Brahman (the Absolute consciousness).[258][259] The most influential thinker of this school is Adi Shankara (8th century), who wrote various commentaries and original works which teach Jñāna yoga. In Advaita Vedanta, Jñāna is attained on the basis of scripture (sruti) and one's guru and through a process of listening (sravana) to teachings, thinking and reflecting on them (manana) and finally meditating on these teachings (nididhyāsana) in order to realize their truth.[260] It is also important to develop qualities such as discrimination (viveka), renunciation (virāga), tranquility, temperance, dispassion, endurance, faith, attention and a longing for knowledge and freedom ('mumukṣutva).'[261] Yoga in Advaita is ultimately a "meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness".[262]
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Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.[note 9] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic asanas.[59] Early Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as munis, the keśin, and vratyas.[67] Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda.[59][72] Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 10]
If the meaning of yoga is understood as the practice of nirodha (mental control), then its goal is "the unqualified state of niruddha (the perfection of that process)",[147] according to Baba Hari Dass. In that context, "yoga (union) implies duality (as in joining of two things or principles); the result of yoga is the nondual state", and "as the union of the lower self and higher Self. The nondual state is characterized by the absence of individuality; it can be described as eternal peace, pure love, Self-realization, or liberation."[148]
Similarly, Brahma sutras – the foundational text of the Vedanta school of Hinduism, discusses yoga in its sutra 2.1.3, 2.1.223 and others.[121] Brahma sutras are estimated to have been complete in the surviving form sometime between 450 BCE to 200 CE,[122][123] and its sutras assert that yoga is a means to gain "subtlety of body" and other powers.[121] The Nyaya sutras – the foundational text of the Nyaya school, variously estimated to have been composed between the 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE,[124][125] discusses yoga in sutras 4.2.38–50. This ancient text of the Nyaya school includes a discussion of yogic ethics, dhyana (meditation), samadhi, and among other things remarks that debate and philosophy is a form of yoga.[126][127][128]
The chronology of completion of these yoga-related Early Buddhist Texts, however, is unclear, just like ancient Hindu texts.[85][86] Early known Buddhist sources like the Majjhima Nikāya mention meditation, while the Anguttara Nikāya describes Jhāyins (meditators) that resemble early Hindu descriptions of Muni, Kesins and meditating ascetics,[87] but these meditation-practices are not called yoga in these texts.[88] The earliest known specific discussion of yoga in the Buddhist literature, as understood in modern context are from the later Buddhist Yogācāra and Theravada schools.[88]
According to Pāṇini, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau ("to concentrate").[26] In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.[27] In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras,[28] states that yoga means samādhi (concentration).[29]

Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.[note 9] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic asanas.[59] Early Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as munis, the keśin, and vratyas.[67] Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda.[59][72] Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 10]

The earliest references to hatha yoga are in Buddhist works dating from the eighth century.[200] The earliest definition of hatha yoga is found in the 11th century Buddhist text Vimalaprabha, which defines it in relation to the center channel, bindu etc.[201] Hatha yoga synthesizes elements of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with posture and breathing exercises.[202] It marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body 'postures' now in popular usage[186] and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today.[203]
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^ * Wynne states that "The Nasadiyasukta, one of the earliest and most important cosmogonic tracts in the early Brahminic literature, contains evidence suggesting it was closely related to a tradition of early Brahminic contemplation. A close reading of this text suggests that it was closely related to a tradition of early Brahminic contemplation. The poem may have been composed by contemplatives, but even if not, an argument can be made that it marks the beginning of the contemplative/meditative trend in Indian thought."[73]
In Iran, as of May 2014, according to its Yoga Association, there were approximately 200 yoga centres in the country, a quarter of them in the capital Tehran, where groups can often be seen practising in parks. This has been met by opposition among conservatives.[306] In May 2009, Turkey's head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Bardakoğlu, discounted personal development techniques such as reiki and yoga as commercial ventures that could lead to extremism. His comments were made in the context of reiki and yoga possibly being a form of proselytization at the expense of Islam.[307]
The spiritual sense of the word yoga first arises in Epic Sanskrit, in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, and is associated with the philosophical system presented in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with the chief aim of "uniting" the human spirit with the Divine.[24] The term kriyāyoga has a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras (2.1), designating the "practical" aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the "union with the supreme" due to performance of duties in everyday life.[25]
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