Communication is the key to success. Today, a beautiful soul reminded me to keep sharing my passion for yoga and since many of us are indoors, now is a perfect opportunity to get more in touch with ourselves; feel more connected; more self-aware.
A lot of people have misconstrued views about yoga. Yoga is for hippies; vegetarians; women, you name it! I probably shared some of these same myths before my yoga journey started just over 6 years ago and well, there’s a reason why we should keep an open mind about things – you never know until you try!
Yoga is for everyone; it’s not just for physical fitness, it’s also an inner exercise which can help you to understand yourself better, push boundaries, heal from within and get more clarity in your life.
Ask Google ‘what is yoga good for’ and a myriad of benefits will come up. But let me tell you from my own experience, you need to be patient with it, you need to know why you’re doing it and you need to make it fun and most of all, you won’t regret trying it!
I actually started yoga for the first time because I wanted to do a headstand – Great intentions, right? It took me 4 weeks of daily practice on my own to master a headstand and while I DON’T recommend this to anyone even if I managed it without breaking my neck, knowing that my body was able to do such a pose, spurred me to look a bit deeper and I soon realised that yoga could be good for other things, like anxiety and concentration. So after practicing yoga videos at home for a couple of years, my curiosity got the better of me. Off I went to Goa to do a 200-hour yoga, Yoga Alliance-registered teacher training course and realised my potential to actually teach this stuff! Although it’s not my full-time job, I still find time to learn, teach and share all things I find valuable about yoga. Why? Because if it can help me to be calmer, fitter, more self-aware, more open-minded, more connected, more mindful, then it can definitely help you.
Did you know?
Yoga isn’t a quick-fix for anything, it takes time if you want to see results. I gave up many times along the way as my ego took over. Hey, I’m human. I also don’t rely on yoga as my only tool for fitness – when it comes to fitness and maintaining a healthy, toned body, I like to mix it up (i.e HIIT, Pilates, resistance training…) But did you know that yoga has a set of 8 ‘limbs’ and that ‘yoga poses’ is just one of them?
The ultimate goal of any yoga practice is to attain moksha, meaning liberation or freedom and according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’
The Eight Limbs of Yoga in case you’re interested:
Yama (restraints & moral disciplines)
Niyama (observances or positive duties)
Pranayama (breath control)
Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
Dhyana (meditative absorption)
Samadhi (bliss or enlightenment)
Most of us are more familiar with and start with Asana and Pranayama:
This is the yoga we see everyday and what most people think yoga is limited to.
It is the physical aspect of yoga. Traditionally, it was taught that a posture should be steady and comfortable – not allowing our bodies to be pulled too far, feel pain or restlessness due to an uncomfortable position. Think about that next time you try an advanced pose!
More typically today in yoga, the term ‘asana’ is used for any physical posture of Hatha yoga. Practicing asanas not only offers physical benefits but can also develop emotional and energetic benefits, increase discipline and concentration, and ready the mind for meditation.
Historically, texts and teachers have described different numbers of asanas. The classic texts of Hatha yoga refer to 84 asanas as taught by Lord Shiva.
Other teachers and texts have suggested that there is one for each living creature in the universe. Sri Dharma Mittra, a yoga teacher well-respected by the contemporary schools of Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda yoga, catalogued a list of 1,300 yoga asanas!
It is recommended that asanas are practiced with an empty stomach and without using excessive force or pressure. Asanas can be combined with pranayama (see below) to enhance the benefits of the poses. They should always be practiced with mindful awareness, uniting the body, mind and breath. Specific asanas can be practiced to help alleviate specific health problems or physical issues.
The final asana : Sirvasana/Savasana Pose
By the time you’ve completed a set or sequence of asanas, or postures, your body and mind should be tired enough to be able to relax sufficiently for Sirvasana, a.k.a ‘Final Resting Pose/Corpse Pose. Sirvasana is a practice of gradually relaxing one body part at a time, one muscle at a time, and one thought at a time. While it might look like a nap at the end of your practice, you should be fully conscious in this pose. Breathe naturally, and practice eliminating tension from the body. Ideally, this posture lasts for 10 to 20 minutes. However, even a few minutes of Savasana is said to have powerful benefits.
You’ll find your mind trying to resist this deep relaxation and that’s perfectly normal. Sirvasana is the ultimate act of conscious surrender. It takes practice and patience!
Where to start?
Well don’t go trying to learn 84 asanas, even I don’t know them all! You could start by learning 12 with Surya Namaskar. One of the means of honouring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence called Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation).
The transition from pose to pose is facilitated by either an inhalation or an exhalation. As you move through the sequence, watch your breath closely and always breathe through your nose.
The diagram below illustrates one full cycle of the Sun Salutation exercise. You can do as little as 3 or as many as 12 cycles. It is also a great warm-up for other physical sport or exercise.
The optimal time to perform this exercise is just prior to morning yoga asanas – ideally in the early morning, facing the rising sun. If it is performed at other times during the day, the guideline is: at least 1/2 hour prior to meals or at least 3 hours after meals.
The word Prana refers to ‘energy’ or ‘life source’. (Hello, Prana-listic!) It can be used to describe the very essence that keeps us alive, as well as the energy in the universe around us. Prana also often describes the breath, and by working with the way we breathe, we affect the mind in a very real way. Prana-Yama’ refers to ‘breath control’ or ‘breath restraint’, or it could be understood as ‘freedom of breath’, ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation’.
Pranayama provides various techniques for regulating and channeling one’s breath, which is said to provide a bridge between the individual self and the universal soul.
Iyengar’s take on it:
Iyengar believes that in normal breathing, the brain initiates the action of inhalation and draws energy to itself. This keeps the brain in a state of tension. When the brain is tense, the breath is constricted. But in pranayama, the brain remains passive, and the lungs, bones, and muscles of the torso initiate the inhalation. Rather than suck in air, the lungs, diaphragm, ribs, and abdomen receive the breath. Interesting stuff, right?
By practicing pranayama and regulating the flow of prana with measured observation and distribution of the breath, the mind becomes still. When this happens, we can allow the energy we normally spend engaging with and processing the world to bend inward.
According to Iyengar, asana practice makes the body fit for pranayama, and pranayama practice makes the mind fit for meditation. You see how the 8 limbs all connect!
Iyengar also cautions that if at any time during the practice of pranayama you experience pain in the head or tension in your temples, it means that you are initiating the breath from your brain, not your lungs. If this happens, return to normal breathing and relax.
Where to start?
You can start with a very simple and effective breathing technique called Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique)
Nadi = subtle energy channel; Shodhan = cleaning, purification. Therefore, nadi shodhana is primarily aimed at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind and body.
See demo below. I’ve lost the original vid but I hope this sped-up version gives an idea:
What is it good for?
With regular practice, even at 5 minutes per day, Nadi Shodhana can be very beneficial:
- Infuses the body with oxygen
- Helps to clear and release toxins
- Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system (kicking stress & anxiety)
- Helps to balance hormones
- Supports clear and balanced respiratory channels
- Helps to alleviate respiratory allergies that cause hay fever, sneezing, or wheezing
- Fosters mental clarity
- Enhances the ability to concentrate
- Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- Helps with indigestion & heartburn
What style of Yoga is for you?
Mine is Vinyasa, what’s yours?
Namaste (at home) and stay healthy!