What goes on in the body when you are practicing your asanas? Most of us realize that yoga increases and maintains flexibility, strengthens muscles and increases one's stamina. All forms of yoga invite the participant to attend to their breath and notice the inward quieting. Most individuals who participate sense uniqueness in this movement form. Many of us are satisfied with just sensing this, leaving an explanation of how it affects our bodies and spirit to the realm of the mystical.
What effect does yoga have on one's physicality? When one practices and holds a yoga posture, the act of stretching and bending at the joints facilitates feedback to the central nervous system. This is done by means of beds of proprioceptive nerve endings located within the joints and muscles. Proprioceptors provide information about position, direction and rate of movement as well as the amount of muscle tension in a locality. Yoga causes the central nervous system to respond with appropriate self-regulatory measures by promoting proper bio- mechanical use.
Self-regulation and self-healing are the physiological responses of the living body. The central nervous system takes the input from the proprioceptive nerve endings and by relaxing and tightening muscles in an organized fashion allows one to hold that posture. Changing balance of any one portion of the spine requires compensatory adjustments throughout it. Muscles respond automatically to stimuli from the nervous system which controls and integrates the activity of the whole body. Flexibility is the proper and full range of motion within the joints of the body. This is brought about by the coordination of muscle tension and muscle relaxation via the nervous system.
Slowly moving into a proper postural stance and holding it provides for proprioceptive feedback that allows the nervous system to coordinate muscle action. Stretching slowly protects muscle fibers and their tendons from strain while resistance set up by holding the posture increases muscle strength. Improved muscle strength and stretch provides stability, flexibility and protection to the joints. Stimulating the proprioceptive system or massaging the nervous system is but one of yoga's benefits. The encouragement and development of proper structural alignment reduces strain on muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Proper alignment allows for better functioning of the organ systems.
Structure determines function. If one’s body cavities are distorted, so too are the contents within. Distortion caused by poor posture changes the relationship of tissues within organs, leading a dysfunctional system. Stress, a product of the distortion, reduces circulation throughout the area. By improving posture, yoga supports the proper functioning of internal organs by maintaining structural integrity of these systems. Proper position and relaxation of tension improves circulation. Nutrition to the whole system is encouraged by the changing internal pressures generated by the different asanas. This fluctuation in pressure enhances cellular diffusion and osmosis.
Simply put, motion is life! By moving us through bio-mechanically sound postures, yoga promotes a healthier life. To say that yoga only affects us physically would be denying the larger reality of our existence. However, it is the profound effect that it has on our physicality which frees us to experience the depths of our existence.
You may have heard of the term chakras if you practice yoga on a regular basis. Chakras are based on ancient Hindu texts and refer to energy centers that run from the top of the head to the base of the spine. The first chakra, called the root chakra, can be found at the bottom of the spine and anal area. It is related to feelings of being grounded and secure financially, physically and mentally. Blockages in this chakra may occur if you consistently feel stressed about money or health issues. You can help to unblock the first chakra by engaging in these yoga poses at home.
A forward fold, or standing uttanasana, is a yoga pose intended to stretch the hamstrings in the backs of the legs. This exercise can help to unblock the first chakra by increasing flexibility of the legs to help ground you. Tight muscles indicate to the body that you are always in flight mode and ready to run away. This infers a sense of insecurity and instability which can lead to nervousness, anxiety and fear. Ground yourself by doing a standing forward bend a few times a day: Stand tall with feet about hip-width apart and arms overhead. Keeping the back straight, extend the arms in front of you as you bend from the waist to lower hands to the floor. Keep the abdominal muscles actively engaged throughout the bend to help support the lower back. Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds before slowly returning to standing position.
The head-to-knee pose, also referred to as Janu Sirsasana in yogic terms, helps ground the body to unblock the root chakra. According to "Yoga Journal," this pose can instill calmness and the ability to slow down and root oneself in one place. This can be particularly helpful if you are constantly rushing, unable to make a decision or recently endured a physical move that you are unsettled about. Do this pose at home by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Sit on a small cushion if you feel any low back pain or have excessive tightness in the hips. Inhale as you bend the left knee to bring the left foot in towards your perineum to touch the right inner thigh. Keeping your back straight, raise your arms overhead and slowly reach towards your right lower leg to try and reach your right ankle. Don't worry if you are unable to reach your foot; rather, stretch as far as you comfortably can. Hold this stretch for approximately 20 to 30 seconds before rising and repeat on the opposite leg.
Child's pose is a grounding pose that can bring a sense of peace and calmness to your body and mind. Execute this exercise whenever you feel restless, stressed, tired or at the end of a long day. Begin by kneeling on the floor with your legs tucked underneath your body so that you are sitting on your heels. The big toes of your feet should be touching. Spread your knees slightly wider than hip-width apart while keeping your feet in the same position under your buttocks. Bend your forehead to the ground as you extend your arms in front of your body. Alternatively, you can rest your arms behind you at your sides. Inhale and exhale deeply in this pose for five to 10 breaths or as long as you need to feel relaxed.
Savasana, also known as corpse pose, is a restorative posture typically done at the beginning and end of a yoga session to center the mind and body. You can do this exercise at home regularly to unblock the first chakra and help bring a sense of security and peace to your life. Simply lie on a mat on the floor with palms facing up, legs about a couple feet apart and fingers and toes relaxed. Close your eyes as you progressively tense and then relax all the muscles in your body starting from the feet up to your head. As you contract your muscles, picture squeezing all the negative energy and thoughts inside of you. When you relax, envision letting all of that negative energy out into the universe. Stay relaxed in savasana pose for five to 10 minutes to completely relax and shut out outside problems.
Kurmasana, or tortoise pose, in all it’s variations provides the opportunity to withdraw from external distractions and pull deeply inward physically, mentally and even emotionally.
"After completing this pose, one feels refreshed, as though one had woken up from a long undisturbed sleep." -B.K.S. Iyengar
Whenever we start something new we may have a certain feeling of anxiety and uncertainty about the unknown and, in most cases, this fear is completely unfounded–we continue on with things quickly and easily. Still, sometimes this fear isn't unfounded and a simple little thing can cause us to have an entirely negative first impression and perhaps even dissuade us from ever wanting to try that activity again. Yoga has so many health benefits, on both a physical and spiritual level, that it would be a tragedy for anyone to miss out on them because they made an avoidable mistake on their first day.
By avoiding these three common mistakes, the new yoga student will be sure to do well with their practice.
Mistake #1: Feeling Unclear About What You Want From Your Yoga Practice
There are numerous different styles and forms of yoga and each has its different attractions. Ask yourself what it is about yoga in general that attracts you and then investigate a style that caters more specifically to that. You also may like to set goals: be they physical, mental or spiritual. If you do, then it's a good idea to discuss them with the instructor before the class begins. Yoga instructors are usually very approachable and happy to talk about their passion. They will be able to talk to you about your goals for the class and let you know if you are being realistic, aiming too high or too low. Make sure your goal includes a timeframe so it becomes something that is measurable.
Mistake #2: Jumping in Feet First
Having decided to give yoga a try, many people take a running leap and jump into a twelve month stage-by-stage class. These classes usually have an upfront payment arrangement, and progress from one level to the next as the week’s progress. They are a fantastic way to learn and become very good at yoga, but it's also very easy to choose a class that's just not ideal for you. The best way around this is to join a beginner's yoga class, also known as a drop-in class.
Attend one of these classes for a few weeks, and you will notice a high turnover of students as new people join and regular students move on. These classes are designed to give you a very broad feel for the different types of yoga. The level of the students in the class usually varies greatly, so you can expect the instructor to keep the classes the same.
The other key benefit of this is that the classes are pay as you go. This means that, while you decide what type and style of yoga suits you best, you won't be hit with a big financial cost. You're also not obligated to attend every class. With the longer courses you can fall behind quickly if you miss a week or two in a row. With the pay as you go classes, you will find that, while each class is different, the instruction remains the same for the benefit of the newer students joining in.
Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Teacher
Traditionally a yogi had to be an apprentice to a skilled Guru for many years before he could teach even the simplest of yoga techniques. These days, a three-day course over a long weekend is considered enough by some people. What you will be able to achieve as a student will largely depend on the skills and abilities of the person teaching you. Many mistakes happen when a yoga teacher is not quite qualified enough to teach, and therefore causes undue injuries to the new yoga student. It’s a good idea to check your instructor’s background and qualifications before you begin practicing with them.
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