Now Yoga – A Guide to Beginning your Practice
Why practice yoga?
You have perhaps asked yourself this question or may feel called to this practice for a variety of health and wellness related reasons. You may have heard of one of the many benefits of yoga or maybe have witnessed changes and improvements in your friends or family members health and overall wellbeing. I believe it is the single most important thing you can do for your health and it is a sustainable practice for people of all ages and abilities.
The most common thing I hear regarding beginning a yoga practice is, “oh but I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga.” However, improving one’s flexibility is a wonderful reason to begin practicing. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible not only in the body but also the mind. Along with flexibility comes strength, balance, coordination, decreased stress levels, improved cardiovascular health and concentration, as well as an enhanced sense of overall wellness.
There are many different forms and lineages of yoga in the modern world, however they typically all have a similar goal, self realization. The word yoga, comes from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often translated as “union”. Yoga is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical yoga is said to be the sage Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras an estimated 2000 years ago. This collection of wisdoms provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body. The Sutras serve as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It outlines eight limbs of yoga to create a holistic lifestyle approach.
These 8 limbs are:
- Yamas (restraints)
- Niyamas (observances)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breathing)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyani (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption)
Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which are the physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
The physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. Even within the physical postures, yoga is unique compared to other forms of exercise in that it connects the movement of the body and the rhythm of our breath to the fluctuations of the mind. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward and to cultivate concentration, clarity and stillness. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns and can practice non-judgement and acceptance. Yoga focuses on being present so that we become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. This is why yoga is referred to as a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be accomplished. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.
Although this practice has been proven effective by direct experience over thousands of years, scientists and medical doctors pursuing yoga-related research are now focusing on its ability to help prevent, heal, or alleviate specific conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, diabetes, and symptoms of menopause, and its benefits as a technique for relieving stress and coping with chronic conditions or disabilities. Beyond the physical body, yoga also focuses on quieting the mind which relieves stress and anxiety, providing a sense of internal peace. Beyond the physical and mental benefits, yoga also opens the energy channels in the body. Most importantly, yoga is a lifestyle and the philosophy behind the practice is a way to get to the source of ourselves, to go deeper into a place of self-inquiry and healing.
Yoga is an amazing practice that can provide many benefits. All you need to begin this practice is your body, breath and an open mind. You will begin to experience the benefits of the practice even if you can only practice once per week. Do not allow unrealistic goals or time restraints to become an obstacle. Start small and consistent. As you begin to realize the benefits and your practice deepens, you may find that you naturally begin practicing more and more. Stay tuned for the launch of our introductory series to help you build a foundation for your practice and to ease into a sustainable yoga journey. We will explore basic yoga asana poses, pranayama breathing exercises and relaxation meditation techniques.