Yoga has been called many things from a complete science to one of the oldest systems of personal development in the world. But yoga is a way of being and the practices of yoga bring us to mindfulness. Mindfulness brings us to being present in each moment which in turn brings us to freedom, joy, independence and calm. Part of the philosophy of yoga is to keep the body in a state of fitness and health and so we have a series of postures called asanas. In our western world, most people are familiar with this aspect of yoga.
The yoga postures are not just exercises and when done correctly they are designed to work all the body’s systems. Many postures have a levelling effect on the endocrine system and the sympathetic and central nervous systems. These postures calm the nerves, reduce respiration and soothe a stressed mind and body.
Generally speaking, the standing postures strengthen the legs, back, shoulders and arms providing good stretches for the hamstrings and inner and outer thigh muscles. They also improve balance, concentration and stamina as well as elongating the spine and opening the chest.
Forward bends are soothing and calming. They stretch the entire back and improve circulation to the lower body massaging abdominal organs as well.
Spinal twists are good for the spine strengthening the small muscles which connect the vertebrae. The can also release stiffness in neck and shoulders.
Backward bends are energizing and exhilarating. They open the chest and the entire front of the body increasing energy and releasing tension in this area as well as strengthening the back muscles.
Inverted or upside-down postures revitalize the entire system and stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands. They soothe the nerves and bring a sense of calm.
The postures combined with breathing techniques give one a sense of well-being, lightness, increased energy and a sense of calm. To practice these postures as separate from other aspects of yoga such as breath control, meditation, self-awareness is not really yoga.
Once you decide to make yoga your path to health and well-being, it requires regular practice to develop your yoga routine and reap the benefits. Any one of any age can start a course of yoga and any posture can be modified to suit individual needs. Some students come to yoga classes and are disheartened to discover just how inflexible their body has become and therefore give up. But yoga is not competitive – everyone works at their own level – no two bodies are alike and with patience and perseverance they will progress.
Yoga is about being aware of your own needs and adjusting the postures accordingly. Many people with chronic or debilitating illnesses and stress related disorders derive great benefit from the practice of yoga. Through relaxation and meditation, another aspect of yoga, one learns the ability to quiet the mind and to focus and concentrate.
In its entirety, yoga gives one a sense of inner calm and the means to cope with life’s stresses and upheavals.
Yoga is for everyone regardless of age, gender, strength or flexibility.
Yoga is never-ending. There is no finish line to cross, no medal to receive. It’s not about winning or achieving, simple doing. And after a time, it becomes not simply doing but simply being.
Yoga is between you and your self. It is a relationship – whatever an individual’s understanding, concepts or abilities may be, it is in being one with yourself during your practice and allowing that to expand within you and without into your life. That is the simplicity of yoga.
Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul:
in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing.
From the Bhagavad Gita.