The other day I had to visit a doctor because I have been experiencing pain in my hip. When I told the doctor that I practice yoga he said "Yoga? What, like, stretching?" I was surprised that a doctor of medicine, with all his years of education, had such limited knowledge of the yoga practice. I quickly put myself in check, like a good yogini, and decided not to judge him for it. Instead I reminded myself that many people don't have personal experience with yoga. It is a common misconception that yoga is simply stretching and that flexibility is a requirement. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say "I can't do yoga. I'm not flexible." Not true. If you can breathe you can do yoga.
Keep in mind, I am a personal trainer as well as a yoga teacher, so I work with a number of clients who prefer to sweat it out in the gym instead of on the yoga mat. There are many ways to climb a mountain, right? I support any attempt to better one’s self…but I will take this opportunity to share some info and express my love of yoga hoping that others will give it a try and love it too.
There are many ways to define and practice yoga, so I will try not to write a dissertation. I will give you a simple, strait forward description of what yoga is to me. If you want a more in depth explanation I would suggest learning about the 8 limbs of yoga.
The term “yoga” means to yoke, to join, or to unify, as in creating a union between body and mind. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras refer to yoga as “the stilling of the waves of the mind. “ And the Bava Gita calls yoga “skillfulness in action.” To me, yoga is a way to keep my body and mind healthy and happy.
Benefits of Yoga:
Asanas (postures) keep the body strong and healthy. There are thousands of asanas that work every part of the body, inside and out. They strengthen muscles and joints, detoxify, and align. They keep internal organs, glands, and the entire nervous system in tip-top shape. Posture is improved. Endurance is improved. Longevity is increased. Another perk—yoga increases flexibility as it tones the muscles, so the result is a long lean look, free of bulk. That is part of why I love the practice. I would be lying if I said keeping a lean, sculpted body was not part of why I practice yoga, but knowing that it keeps my insides working properly adds to my sense of well being.
Pranayama (breath) keeps the body cleansed and revitalized. Add pranayama deep breathing techniques to your asanas and you will be able to stay focused, alert, and stress free. There are breathing techniques used specifically to cool, warm, energize, relax, and purify the body. Creating awareness of the breath also connects you to the present moment. If you are thinking about your breath you are not living in the past or the future. You tap into the here and now. The best part is that you can breathe deeply on or off the mat. You will often hear me take a deep breath when I am running late, and it really does help, I promise.
Meditation and positive thinking create a sense of happiness and inner peace. This is the aspect of yoga which often gets overlooked. The western way of thinking sends us into the yoga studio with goals that relate to the physical body. We practice the asanas to stay in shape. We breathe because we are told too, but without creating a mind-body connection you don’t get the full benefit of the yoga practice. It’s like memorizing the words of a poem, but not knowing the poem’s meaning. Once you make the mind body connection it you can tap into a deeper understanding of compassion, love, and ultimate enlightenment. To learn more about the benefits of meditation check my previous blog post, Meditation for Beginners.