The benefits of yoga practice
In my expeience 90% of people who attend yoga classes do so for stress related reasons. This can be stress from their occupation, from health concerns, family pressures or even a combination of all three. Some attend because they wnat to try something new, because they have an injury or health condition that their GP has recommended yoga as a help. One lady once said she was taking up yoga because she wanted to be a better business women. In fcat yoga can be helpful in any of these areas of life, Some people also start yoga for spiritual reasons. They are seeking other realities or wanting to transcend consciousness or discover their true inner Self. Whatever your objectives it is said yoga can meet you wherever you are at this moment in your life and will bring you benefits. It's even okay to have preconcieved ideas of outcomes from your yoga practice but also be prepared for other benefits that you may not have anticipated. We shall also see later that it is possible to directly or indirectly apply techniques that will influence outcomes.
Yogas Physical Benefits
Most yoga classes in the West are deemed asana classes or classes where you practcie posturing and this suggests something physical because it is to do with bodily shapes. So yes asana or psoturing can make us more flexible, more toned and stronger. On this last one people sometimes seem surprised because yoga can often be associated with gentle stretching, squeezing and twisting. In actual fact some of the yoga core strength asanas can be very challenging. Of course you can always start with milder core strength work and lead up the to more challenging ones!
So the physical side of yoga often attracts aspirants in their initial curiosity and the postures are often easier as a starting point to get your head around yoga as a concept. Upon further practice and investigation however, you soon discover that there is a lot more to yoga than mere physical improvement. This is what makes yoga stand apart from many other physical exercise regimes. It is the mental and emotional elements that give it an extra quality.
The great thing about yoga postures is that they try and get to all parts of the body in each and every pose. So if you only have a brief time to practice one day each posture can be almost be a complete practice in itself.
To get the most from yoga physically, liten to your teacher and also listen to your body. That is importanat because no teacher can feel for YOU so you have to always be listening to yourself. Just stretch, squeeze or twist to your working edge or that place where you can feel sensations but without too much discomfort and certainly no electrical pain. Achiness can be okay as when we do any physical exercise we have to agree to have some discomfort to help improve our bodies.
You will also soon come to realize that the breath is an important part of yoga postural practice. When we exercise the body we have to stress it to some extent to gain the improvement we want and this has to create some potential tension. Correct yoga breathing can help smooth out this tension so helping to leave us more calm and comfortable as well as toned and flexed. A good teacher wont just remind you when but also how to breath. This referes to both the tempo and the direction of the breath. Breathing through the nose is the best practice and depending on the pose slow deep and comfortable breaths and directing the breath to an appropriate part of the body. So for example when in a seated forward bend it can be useful to breath into the lower ribs of lower back. This more deliberate and directional breathing both in static and moving posture can help strengthen our muscles of respiration and improve the efficiency of our breathing.
Mental and Emotional Benefits of asana and breathing
After we have persevered with yoga practice for a while we begin to drop or sink deeper into postures using the nourishment of our rhythmic breath to smooth out physical tensions and thus relaxing our bodies more.Then our experience becomes a different one. We begin to realize that the physical effort we make in yoga posturing ultimately has less tension and so we end up with a more satisfying and calming outcome when we leave the yoga room.
Working regularly with our body and breath can help strengthen our powers of concentration not only for the time we are in practice but this power also translates over into everyday lfe. With release of tensions we also lose those mental and physical blocks that impede us and we begin to enjoy our lives on a higher level. We begin to notice that our anxieties have less of a hold on us and we can deal with whatever life throws at us with a renewed strength.
We can eventually become experts in relaxation. By sinking more deeply into our bodily sensations whilst in asana and using the breath deeply and comfortabley we can immerse ourselves into a profound feeling stroking the body with the healing efficacy of the breath's naturally and nourishing action. This practice then makes simply lying or reclining relaxation easier to achieve. Allowing the body to sink into stillness while we focus our attention on something simple such as the breath itself or some point in the body such as the eyebrow centre or the heart centre. The latter is not easy to do for a prolonged period as it is passive and of little interest to the mind so it tends to wander. By constantly and gently returning to that point of focus while relaxing we gradually over time create longer spaces between distractions and begin to prolong our moments of peace and calm.
Setting yourself an Intention or resolve.
Once you are settling down into your regular weekly practice setting an intention for each coming practice can be a very powerful way of achieving a desired outcome. This can be something you want physically, psychologically or emotionally. For example "I will feel more toned and flexible" or " By the close of this practice I will feel calm and relaxed" If you have the opportunity just before the start of your class or home practice simply relax for a few momenets and then think of your desired outcome. Say it in your mind but say it with clarity, emphasis and even some emotion three times. This will help embed the idea in your subconscious mind so even if you dont think about it again during the practice it can still stay with you and bring about the outcome you want.
Have a great practice!
Barry Todd (HathaYogaMan)