Yoga and You
Yoga – it’s everywhere these days. And its popularity is ever increasing with a huge variety of classes available on the market. You can find hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga, power yoga, naked yoga, laughter yoga, even beer yoga is on the menu these days! So what’s all the fuss about and what are the benefits of this ancient practice?
The system of Yoga was derived from the Vedic tradition of India, more than 5000 years ago and is the sister science to Ayurveda. While each has its own place in the Vedic system, they are not separate, but related healing disciplines which overlap. Ayurveda was developed specifically for healing purposes, addressing the physical and psychological side of disease, while yoga is a practice which develops our spirituality, freeing us from emotional and mental suffering.
How can yoga help me?
The Sanskrit word Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’. So anything that makes us feel a conscious connection with something, is a form of yoga. The system of yoga is one of wellbeing, designed to help us to connect with something higher than ourselves, be it the highest truth, the universe, the supreme, God or whatever you wish to call it. As we practice yoga an awareness of self is created which allows us to make this connection. Our modern day lives see us spend so much time in the external world, looking for happiness in material possessions, job promotions, approval from others, social media and so on. Yoga, on the other hand is an internal practice, it forces us to look at ourselves on a deeper level, and it is here where we discover our true nature. Put simply yoga is a process of becoming more aware of who we are.
Choose my path
With the ultimate goal being union of mind, body, and spirit, yoga recognises there are many pathways to facilitate this connection. There are hundreds of yoga’s, practices, and techniques which can be catergorised under 4 main paths. They are; Bhakti yoga – the path of devotion; Karma yoga – the path of selfless service; Jnana yoga – the path of intellect and wisdom; and Raja yoga – the path of self-control and self-mastery.
So where does our humble yoga class fit in to all this? Well, yoga in the West mostly comes in the form of yoga postures, known as Asana. Your typical yoga class will include some breathing techniques (pranayama), a series of yoga postures (asana), and relaxation (savasana) to finish. This systematic form of yoga comes under the Raja yoga path where the main practice is meditation, with the goal being mind control. The theory is, by practising asana and connecting with your breath the mind begins to slow down and become still, bringing you into a state of meditation. By stilling the mind, clarity is formed and the ego falls away, allowing us to connect to a higher source.
Benefits of yoga
So we know yoga is about discovering our true self but what are some of the benefits we receive along the way? Of course there are the physical benefits of improved flexibility, muscle strength, and posture. Practicing yoga postures gets our blood flowing, improving circulation and strengthening our heart. It helps with drainage of lymph which boosts our immune system. Yoga also relaxes our body, relieving tension in the muscles. It can even assist in lowering blood pressure. But while the practice of yoga is often seen as something physical, more importantly there is a transformation that occurs in the mind. One of the first things people notice when starting a yoga practice is their stress levels decrease. Yoga encourages us to relax, slow our breath and to focus on the present moment. As we do this, our heart rate comes down and we shift from fight, flight or freeze mode - the sympathetic nervous system to the calming parasympathetic nervous system. The result – we feel relaxed, calm and less anxious. Yoga makes us happier people. Through the practice of asana and awareness of breath, yoga continually brings us back to the present moment, and it is here, in the present moment where feelings of anxiety, depression, jealously, anger, frustration fall away and we start to experience true peace, love, joy and happiness. Yoga makes us more authentic people, as we start to understand ourselves better, our actions and thoughts come more from our heart not our head and we begin to speak our truth.
What yoga is not
Yoga isn’t about tying yourself in knots like a pretzel, touching your toes, doing headstands, or the latest yoga pants. Ultimately yoga is about awareness. When we practice anything with awareness, we are practicing yoga.
5 Tips for a mindful yoga practice
Remember your breath – it’s your anchor to the present moment. If you find yourself drifting off during your yoga class, bring your focus back to your breath. This will help keep you in the present moment.
2. Do not compare yourself to others
Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their journey. Focus on yourself and don’t worry what others are thinking or doing – yoga is not a competition.
3. Let go of any expectations
Expectation can only lead to disappointment. You never know what’s going to pop up during your practice, so let of expectations and go with the flow.
4. Listen to your body
Know when to rest or modify a pose. Tune in to your body, it has all the answers. If you need a break take child’s pose or take the easier variation of the pose that’s offered.
5.Remember to rest
Don’t skip savasana at the end of class. Savasana is a time for total body /mind relaxation. It’s where all the good work you’ve just done in class sinks into the memory of the body, and it makes us feel amazing. Plus, when else do take time to rest and do absolutely nothing?!