Yoga for Mind, Body and Spirit
Why all of a sudden has yoga become the next big craze? Is it the new ‘on trend’ exercise regime? Is it suddenly fashionable to be strolling down the street in your new yoga pants, coffee in one hand and yoga mat rolled up in the other?
I found myself asking the question why suddenly has yoga become so popular?
I think because for some strange reason Yoga is simply not just Yoga! When you sign up for yoga you generally end up being brought on some kind of a spiritual journey. You begin to awaken thoughts, emotions and feelings that may have been suppressed or hidden for years. You, in effect end up getting a lot more for your dollar than you may have first expected!
I believe the why is all in its benefits. When you begin to fully embrace the practice and really begin to FEEL its transformative effects, not just in body, but in mind and soul – that’s when you know you have started your spiritual journey, that’s when you know you’ve been bitten by the magical yoga bug, that’s the why. That’s my why.
For me, personally, and for many of my students, it took a while to really get into the whole meaning behind yoga. Instead of seeing it as ‘gentle movement’ I used to perceive it as some form of passive or easy exercise, how could it really benefit me? Sometimes I wouldn’t even break a sweat in the class! How could a bunch of stretching and breathing really make me fit or healthy?
It wasn’t until I began to understand that yoga goes FAR FAR beyond the physical that I really became enthralled by its magic.
Yoga Benefits Beyond the Physical – MIND, BODY, SOUL CONNECTION
Yoga does much more than burn calories and tone muscles. It’s a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing, meditation and relaxation.
Workout fads come and go, but virtually no other exercise program is as enduring as yoga. It’s been around for thousands and thousands of years.
There are more than 100 different forms of yoga. Some are fast-paced and intense. Others are gentle and relaxing. I like to combine both in my practice and tailor it to the energy levels of the group on that particular day.
The word Yoga itself means UNION. The unity of mind with body and body with soul. It’s the practice of connecting all parts of ourselves; the good – the bad, the dark – the light, the love – the anger, the joy – the sorrow, the peace – the pain, the sun – the moon, the yin – the yang, the male – the female, the mind and the body.
In yoga, we use the prayer symbol quite often which is very symbolic. It symbolises peace and unity within. It refers to the struggle that we face to try and bring all the splits in our lives and in our personalities back together. In today’s world, we often get pulled and dragged in so many opposing directions and as a result we sometimes don’t know what’s real or what’s not. All the diversions and distractions of social media, work, emails, traffic etc. can pull us so far away from our core, from our centre, from our truth that we end up getting lost or overwhelmed in this frantic fast paced world.
In yoga, we come onto the mat to stop. To feel. To get some stillness in a world that is often so chaotic. We get on the mat to re-connect back to ourselves, to centre ourselves and to in effect ground ourselves. When we are off centre, our life can become unbalanced. We can end up doing or saying things that aren’t congruent to our true self. We can make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our real self. We can end up living a life that isn’t our own, or isn’t fuelling or fulfilling us.
Yoga gifts people the time and space to get off the thread mill of life for a while. Yoga doesn’t take time, it actually gives time. It’s a form of therapy for most! It gives people the license to go within, to hear all the noise that we create in our minds, to feel the stresses or tensions we are carrying. It reminds people to breathe and to explore the freedom of just being.
What is it that brings people to the mat in the first place? For a newcomer to yoga you might find that explanations like “It increases the flow of prana” or “It brings energy up your spine” fall on deaf or sceptical ears!
For some it may be recommended by their Physio for rehabilitation, it may part of a sports recovery programme or it may just be for the physical benefits that yoga gives which are many. But to truly understand yoga and reap its overall benefits is to engage the connection between mind and body. To not only release tightness and tensions from the muscles but also from our mind, our emotions and our thoughts.
How does yoga do this? It does so physically through the postures (asanas), mentally through the breath work (pranayama) and emotionally through relaxation and meditation (yoga nidra)
Physical Benefits of Yoga;
Physically yoga helps to increase flexibility, stability and mobility as well as providing strength and stamina. It mobilises and loosens out the body and it creates space in the joints where we may once have felt stuck. It increases muscle tone, engages the abdominals and creates strength in the core. It also massages our internal organs through various twisting and squeezing postures and thus brings fresh blood flow to our internal organs helping to balance our hormonal and endocrine systems as well as stimulating our immune system and energy levels.
Yoga postures (asana) or yoga flow sequences like your standard sun salutation are excellent ways to mobilise and stretch the body – a moving meditation as such. Simple Yoga flows can incorporate postures like planks, Downward dogs, warrior poses, high and low lunges, twist lunges, abdominal twists, reverse twists, cobra pose, and some backbends like camel and bow pose to open up the heart space and release old pent up emotions.
Physically the asanas are strengthening, challenging and they increase vitality, balance, focus and concentration.
Some of the yoga poses will have you twisted up like a knot and holding on as hard as you can not to fall over. When you unwind, you’ll find that it’s not just your body that feels untangled, but your mind and spirit as well. The asanas have wonderful holistic benefits by stimulating the immune system, encouraging balance, and aligning the chakras. Some balancing postures like eagle pose and tree pose encourage stability and balance in our lives. During these poses, we need to physically concentrate on one point of focus – which we call our dristi. But we also need to find balance on another level, too. While you are standing steady in the pose, you are also balancing the two sides of your body by practicing equally on both legs. The body is said to hold masculine energy on the right side and feminine energy on the left. If one of these sides is out of balance, you may find yourself feeling overly sensitive (feminine) or overly aggressive (masculine). Squeezing the two sides together, and then unwinding them, encourages a calming, harmonious effect that brings balance.
Practicing yoga flows brings flow into our lives. When we focus on going with the flow of our body and the flow of our mind, without resistance or retaliation life can begin to flow more easily and the stagnation or flatness or fog we can often feel begins to lift.
Breathing, Meditation and Pranayama:
A big part of yoga involves deep breathing, breath work (pranayama) and meditation and relaxation (yoga nidra).
At the end of class during savasana you are invited to come to a place of stillness through guided meditation and relaxation. It is during this time that any pent-up emotions that may have been released during the class can bubble up to the surface and come into your awareness. A great time to gain insights and clarity.
Emotional awareness and benefits of Yoga:
Emotionally yoga teaches us how to be loving toward ourselves. How to be compassionate to ourselves, because human beings have self-defeating and self-limiting tendencies. We are our own worst critics. Practicing yoga brings the content of our beings to the surface so we can see it. Inside the muscles, we hold the memories of every emotion we’ve ever experienced: sadness, fear, anger, love etc. Through the asanas, we can tap into these memories and process our pasts. It’s the asanas that release the emotions out of the body. Practicing yoga really means engaging in the process of healing: mentally, physically and emotionally. It helps us learn how to accept all the parts of ourselves and to embrace our authenticity and real selves.
Mental benefits of Yoga;
One of the many things I love about yoga is that you can literally take it anywhere. You can jump into a yoga flow at any time in any place. I find it a great way to unwind, destress and untangle all those gazillion million trillion thoughts that can clutter your mind field. It gives you the time and space to cultivate some self-care, compassion, acceptance, gratitude and peace. And not to mind all the twisting and turning that activates the internal organs and the toning for the external body!
In order to be the light you want to be, you’ve got to start living the life you want to live, and to live the life you want to live you’ve got to start by listening, honouring and accepting your thoughts as the determining factors that will either execute your dreams or destruct your reality.
“Be still like a river, and feel the flowing depth of your internal world. It’s sings, it cries and it longs to be heard” – Miriam
For me yoga is all about Practice and Patience.
It’s a slow process to correct alignment and remain strong and balanced yet calm and graceful all at the same time.
Just like in life, we must learn to accept where we are, and know that every journey begins with one single step, and it’s in the learning along the way that creates the richer exploration.
Remember nothing changes over night but with constant practice and patience – slowly but surely, we begin to release the old and welcome the new. We begin to find ourselves again, and come back to living our truth and living a life of patience, acceptance and gratitude.
If yoga is a new concept to you I hope you can embrace it with an openness and a willingness and enjoy the journey it takes you on.
In love, light and blessings,