Yoga for life
I’ve been practicing yoga for about a year now and I wish I’d started years ago. The benefits of yoga are better posture, weight loss, improved balance, strength and a real sense of well-being. Yoga connects the mind and body and uses the breath as a focus point. The most important part of yoga is the deep breathing which should be maintained throughout the poses. The word yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit, (the language of ancient India where yoga originated) meaning harmony of mind, body and spirit. CiCi is the name of the yoga teacher at our gym; she is excellent. She pushes us hard, knowing we will feel fantastic afterward. Many people think that yoga is just stretching but (while stretching is certainly involved) yoga is really about creating balance in the body by developing strength and flexibility. This is done through the performance of poses or postures, each of which has specific physical benefits. The type of yoga we practice at my gym is called Vinyasa, where poses are done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement. The poses are a constant but, depending on the tradition in which the teacher has trained, the approach to them varies.
Yoga is also described as direct experience and expression of the vast interrelatedness of all life and of all things’. I always feel very peaceful at the end of a yoga class; not just because I’m exhausted, but because you can feel the natural realignment of your body, which leads to a natural realignment of your perception of life (and of who you are). My favorite part of the lesson is the end when we get to lie down, completely still and relaxed; this is called Shavasana and is the most important ‘pose’ in yoga. The yoga deep breathing and the ability to continue this deep breath throughout the poses, leads to the best experience in Shavasana. After the deeply relaxed state of Shavasana which lasts approximately 10 minutes, we sit in the traditional crossed leg position and sing the ‘Ohm’ together (with CiCi leading) and then wish each other ‘Namaste’ with our hands in the prayer position; Namaste, roughly translated, means I bow to you. (I always look upon it as the yogic way of saying “have a nice day!”
You will need to develop discipline as there is hard work involved (especially when you first begin). Yoga is much more that postural alignment and breathing. If you stay with it long enough, you may discover a ‘spiritual awakening.’ Apparently you can find out more about who you are, not just your body, and not just the conversations in your mind. Through steady practice, you can manifest less ego behaviors; such as material attachment, judgment, intolerance and impatience, and find more capacity for joy and peace. Yoga is about learning from direct experience. You can develop wisdom of how your body works most efficiently. You can learn how the conscious and unconscious mind either supports or harm you, and then hopefully, a deeper wisdom evolves. However, the benefits of yoga only come to those who practice vigilantly.
There are many types of Yoga. That which comes to mind first is Hatha Yoga (an element of Raja yoga) which deals mainly with physical postures and breathing. Karma yoga emphasizes spiritual practice to help the individual unify body, mind, and heart through certain practices in one’s daily life and work. Bhakti Yoga, is a devotional form, generally encompasses chanting, reading of scriptures and worship practices. In general, Yoga is any practice that can turn the practitioner inward to find and experience their spiritual essence and to realize or awaken to his/her spiritual nature.
Anyone can start a yoga practice, even if you don't feel like you are very flexible or very strong. My yoga class lasts 1hour and focuses on the physical benefits of yoga. When I first started yoga over a year ago, I thought there was no way I would be able to consider practicing some of the poses. During the course of last summer, I was able to attend classes three days a week and became able to do almost all the poses, lost 5lbs in weight, lost the aches and pains from a degenerative spine and felt stronger than I’d felt in years. However, I didn’t keep it up; work got in the way! So I rejoined my yoga class two weeks ago (because I had lost my body strength and most of the serenity). I couldn’t believe how difficult I found it! I was exhausted after the class; could barely do any poses and had gained back the 5lbs I had lost. So, I highly recommend regular yoga for people of all ages; it’s a discipline and it takes work and commitment, but the benefits are huge.