“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – The Bhagavad Gita
Yoga is for Every Body. It’s not about reaching your toes, mastering a handstand, or getting into a picture perfect pose. It’s about processing your thoughts and letting go of the outside world while tuning in to the natural rhythm of your breath, through movement. It is a moving meditation. Some of its physical benefits include increased strength, energy, circulation and cardiac function. It can heal chronic neck and back pain, aid in digestion, increase bone density, lower blood pressure, lower anxiety and boost cognitive function. And it is a science! Every expansion can lengthen muscles, increase oxygen or open your heart, every twist and fold can relieve stiffness, stimulate glands and organs, or detox, every balance can strengthen your core, legs or arms, and every inversion has a purpose like relieving stress and pain, reducing insomnia, increasing circulation, or creating calm and bliss. As a yoga teacher, I get to witness shoulders melt along with facial tension, hear people exhale joy when a pose feels good on their body, and see students settle into peaceful stillness. And in every class, a small community builds as we move and breathe together. Union is created in mind, body and soul, and union is created within the students and teacher. I also teach fitness classes, and love the bonds that form in them through challenging work. But the union created in yoga is quite unique from other forms of exercise.
In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the father of modern yoga, named Patanjali. Patanjali described an 8-Limbed Yoga Path that is the root of many styles we now practice today. If you missed the first blog, these eight “limbs” are key to achieving yoga’s true goal - enlightenment. Within them are ethical, moral, and spiritual virtues, meditation, breath work (pranayama) and of course the physical postures (asanas). Asanas are the third of these eight limbs. In a yoga class, (unless it is yin) we begin with standing (Yang) postures designed to strengthen, stretch, detox and realign. We end with seated (Yin) postures, which are long-held stretches that also lengthen muscles and go beyond them to repair connective tissue. The standing postures are continuous movements that heat the body up, and yin stretches cool the body down to prepare it for that final resting pose – Savasana. This is where you get to lie or sit quietly and give your entire mind and body rest. You reap the benefits of work, soothe the nervous system, and make space for peace.
Think of those Yang and Yin postures like the Sun and Moon of each day. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite blessings:
“May the sun bring you new energy by day, May the moon softly restore you at night.” – Apache Blessing
Yoga is a systematic approach designed to allow your body and mind to function together properly. Along the way, benefits like improved balance, increased strength, relief from arthritis and of course weight loss will be felt and seen. But these benefits pale in comparison to the mental. Again, many people come to yoga classes before they start a regular meditation practice. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Each is a gateway to the other. But when the physical practice comes first, those tiny moments of meditation inside classes lead to more outside of class. You may start tuning into your breath off the mat, or making a point to stop and gaze at the beautiful, dusky sky more often. You may cease hurrying through day-to-day duties, or slow down while eating to savor each bite. You may find yourself being less reactive, making better decisions and becoming more patient. This is where the intertwining of yoga’s physical and mental path begins. It’s beautiful because the positive impacts are endless. And yes, it really can change your life.
“When you practice yoga once a week, you change your mind. When you practice twice a week, you change your body. When you practice every day, it will change your life.” - Unknown