I believe I might have mentioned to you in my earlier posts that I am an avid yoga fan. I’m on the mat almost every day and on some days I even plunge into a double session (mostly a flow class followed by a yin practice) at my local yoga studio (InYoga). One of the main benefits of yoga in my life is the absence of that nagging lower back pain that I used to feel constantly.
The United Nations declared June 21st World yoga day – it’s only fitting that I share a few examples of how yoga changed my life and why I recommend it.
Origins of yoga
Yoga literally means ‘union’ and it refers to predominantly the union between the body and mind. It’s a 5,000 year old practice that began in India which involves postures, breathing and meditation. In recent years it’s been recognised by Western science as a powerful tool for promoting mental and physical well being. Although yoga sometimes interweaves philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism, it is not a religious practice.
Yoga is for everyone
When you walk into most yoga studios these days you can find classes that are open for all generations and fitness levels. What I love about the community is that the energy most people bring to the classes is so friendly and accepting of everyone. Yoga is not a sport whereby you compete – the beauty of the practice is that you are in control of choosing the level of engagement each time in each pose.
The teachers are very knowledgeable and always provide options for each pose whilst gently encouraging participants to listen to their bodies and go along the principle of ‘equal amount of effort and ease’.
It’s no secret that with regular practice come the physiological benefits of flexibility, endurance, strength and improved posture. What’s often overlooked however are the amazing psychological advantages of a regular yoga practice. These may include:
+ increased self-awareness
+ stress reduction
+ helps de-clutter the mind
+ less anxiety and depression
+ improved self confidence
+ improved sleep
+ greater clarity and creativity
+ improved learning ability and memory
+ increased emotional stability
Strength training and flexibility
The strengthening of your body in yoga takes place from the inside out, which means you will not only look good in your body but also feel good. I attended a vinyasa basics workshop recently and learned that fundamentally every posture in yoga is based around the so called ‘mountain pose’ whereby you are constantly engaging your core and the muscles wrapped around your spine to allow for a supportive posture. When the core is engaged it supports the body and the flow of the movements thus alleviating back, shoulder and neck pain.
The relevance of breathing
Pranayama, which literally means ‘to extend the vital life force’, focuses on breathing techniques whereby you move the ‘chi’ energy through your body by embracing breathing. There are many different ways to play around with the breath and I would encourage you to do that with an experienced teacher but you can start on some deep inhalations and open mouth exhalations to manage your thoughts and quiet the mind. It’s that simple – there is a reason why people recommend deep breaths when you are upset or frustrated as it calms your nervous system and reduces stress and anxiety.
It is very important to follow a steady and regular breathing rhythm as you go through your ‘asanas’ or yoga postures as each movement requires oxygen to calibrate the muscles and help you transition. If you ever find yourself in a ‘tricky’ posture where you stopped breathing then it is too advanced for you to stay in it – you are better off opting for the simplified version of the pose to get the full benefit.
When I look back, in recent years I really struggled adopting a lasting meditation practice. As a comparison, these days I meditate twice a day for 20 minutes each time and it’s part of my lifestyle. So how did I do it you might ask? It was always an extension of my yoga practice in the studio and what I’ve noticed is that the inward looking concentration coupled with deep breathing techniques just melted away my thoughts. I would be walking home feeling really happy, relaxed and worry free. So I made a conscious decision that wanting more freedom from my thoughts and worries deserved some time in my daily routine and that’s how waking up 20 minutes earlier these days is not a big deal because I look forward to meditating. It just changes the dynamic of my day – just like that. Magic…
One of my deepest desires is connection – with other people, with nature, with myself, with my body and mind and of course greater meaning and purpose. Practicing yoga and meditation in a room filled with divine humans and like minded people is simply spectacular. I’ve met some amazing people through my yoga studio and everytime I come to practice I feel welcomed and embraced for who I am. There is nothing more meaningful and beautiful than being yourself and celebrating that with others and through others.
I feel incredibly blessed and humbled that yoga entered my life and transformed me into someone who embraces the ever changing nature of life and appreciates the ‘now’ for what it is. The sense of being rather than longing.
Love and light,
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