Camel Pose (Ustrasana) is a backbend that stretches the whole front of the body. It’s the deepest backbend and is frequently incorporated into vinyasa practices with several different modifications. Camel Pose, and backbends like it, can be physically challenging and beneficial. Ustrasana is a great, deep backbend that is accessible for most students because it requires less strength and more spinal flexibility.
Known as a “heart opening” yoga pose, Ustrasana stimulates and balances both the fourth and fifth chakras, located at the heart and throat centers. For many yoga practitioners, the heart and throat centers are often closed off and protected; some examples of this would be slouching and poor posture. For this reason, practicing Ustrasana can sometimes stir up emotions more than other poses. It is important to keep a calm awareness of your feelings when practicing this pose; fear of your emotions can create stiffness in the body and may lead to injury.
*Caution: Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, insomnia, or a migraine. Also avoid this pose if you have any neck injuries. Never to force your body into the pose. Practice a modified version until you have increased flexibility and strength you need to safely go deeper. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. Always talk with your doctor before starting any yoga regimen.
At BookYogaRetreats.com, they conducted a survey to help us get to know yoga practitioners a little better. They were curious to know how yogis perceive the practice and how they relate yoga to spirituality and religion.
The results got us thinking… Is there any connection between yoga and religion and what exactly makes up a yoga lifestyle? There is certainly plenty of room for debate, but for now, we thought you might like to sneak a peek at the results of our survey on yoga and spirituality.
As 69 percent of our respondents agree, yoga is a practice that connects the body, mind and soul. If you consider yoga to be nothing more than a physical practice, then you’re missing out on its essential aspects. There’s no denying that yoga and spirituality have a deep connection. You might not realize it, but with each pose that you maintain you are training your mind to be present regardless of what is happening around you at the moment and in your life in general. That does inevitably lead to spiritual upliftment. Each of us understands spirituality differently, and there lies the beauty of it – it all comes down to perception.
Octavia Drughi is a travel writer for BookYogaRetreats.com. A wanderer, yogi and adventure lover, Octavia’s number one addiction is rock climbing, which she embraces as a form of self-expression. To her, climbing and yoga are the dance of life itself.
Research shows that yoga is very beneficial when it comes to alleviating stress and controlling the effects of high blood pressure (hypertension). Some doctors actually encourage patients to practice yoga as a preventative measure. Yoga provides a holistic approach to dealing with constant worry and stress, which enables you to alleviate its harmful side effects. The practice of yoga stretches, postures and poses help relieve tension and pain throughout your entire body. With focus, guided meditation practices and basic breathing exercises you can train yourself to still your mind, thus relieving stress.
The best things about the practice of yoga is that you can stretch and relax your body at anytime you our feeling overwhelmed by stress. It helps you become aware of what is going on inside your body. The more you practice the easier it becomes to achieve balance and harmony.
Another great thing about yoga is that you can practice certain breathing and relaxation techniques anytime you are feeling anxious, worried or under pressure; all you have to do is take a break, sit down, relax your shoulders, take a long steady breath in and slowly exhale. By repeating this practice three to five times, you will notice that you feel calmer, less stressed and energized.
When it comes to controlling high blood pressure, there are two effective yoga exercises that have been proven to help lower blood pressure:
Inverted yoga reverses the action of gravity on the body. The most profound changes brought about by Inverted Yoga is better circulation. In inverted poses, legs and abdomen are placed higher than the heart. Perform this pose by lengthening up through the legs and keep them very active so your spine opens and the entire body becomes involved in the pose. One of the reasons for this is the force of gravity is reversed and the rate of blood flow back to the heart (venous return) becomes significantly greater.
During inverted poses, gravity causes the blood to flow easily back through the veins and this brings the blood pressure in the feet to a minimum. This in effect gives skeletal muscles a chance to rest. This drainage of blood and waste from the lower body back towards the heart helps alleviate other symptoms, such as varicose veins and swollen ankles as well.
Did you know the simple act of breathing, inhaling and exhaling has the power to nourish the body, calm the mind and ultimately reduce stress?
However, not just any breathing will do the trick. If you're like most people, you take short, shallow breaths, pulling your stomach in as you inhale and never emptying your lungs of carbon dioxide when you exhale; but what most people don't know is that long, slow breaths are more efficient and beneficial than short, fast ones.
To take in a good breath, your lungs must first be completely empty. the key to efficient breathing lies in exhaling completely. A full exhalation begins with the upper chest, proceeds to the middle chest and finishes with tightening the abdominal muscles. Only after a good exhalation can you draw in a good lung full of the oxygen-rich air your
blood needs to nourish your cells.
The practice of rhythmic breathing can help harmonize the body, mind and emotions. This unique breathing technique eliminates stress as well as, fatigue and negative emotions such as anger, frustration and depression, leaving you calm and relaxed.
One good thing about yoga is that it can be practiced almost anywhere, at any time of day by all people of all ages. Most people prior to beginning any sort of yoga practice often wonder what type of yoga equipment they need. You don’t need anything hi-tech or fancy to start practicing yoga. All you need is the desire and a good attitude to get started. But this doesn't eliminate the need for some yoga equipment, especially if it helps you do your postures properly.
Most yoga equipment is built to help you achieve proper alignment and balance as well as make the pose a bit easier to do, especially for beginners. Here are a few ways yoga equipment can help those who are beginners or those who have prior injuries or mobility issues:
- It lessens the stress and strain on your body from doing
certain yoga positions.
- It helps support your muscles and protects you from injury.
- It helps save energy by exerting less effort on a pose.
Here are some of the more basic types of yoga equipment:
While opinions vary when it comes to the proper yoga attire ultimately the choice is up to you, however it's a good idea not to wear tight fitting clothes. Loose-fitting, comfortable and easy to move in clothing will make your practice much more enjoyable.
A good yoga mat provides cushioning on a hard floor, this is especially needed if your yoga studio floor is made of cement or hard wood, it can also provide traction for your hands and feet thus preventing you from slipping or sliding when you’re doing your postures.
There are special towels that are made for yoga. You may find super- absorbent towels that will be quite helpful if you sweat. You can also buy a skid-less towel that you can use on your mat to help absorb sweat.
If you buy a lot of yoga accessories or want to carry with you your cell phone, a water bottle, or a yoga towel, you may want to buy a special bag to carry them. They look like duffel bags, and are often made of nylon. They can range in size and price, so make sure to find one that fits your specific needs.
They provide support for your spine, abdomen and legs in several different poses. Yoga bolsters can help you achieve better results overall.
Like blankets, yoga blocks are props that help you make yourself more comfortable and improve your alignment. Blocks are great for standing poses in which your hands don't reach the floor. Blocks can be made of foam bricks, bamboo, cork or wood. These also vary in price.
Yoga wedges can be used in many ways to add support and length for many different postures, especially under your heels, tail bone, or knees when practicing downward-facing dog to make it easier to place your hands flat on the floor without compromising correct form and posture.
They can help you feel relaxed and comfortable which is essential in the practice of yoga. Not only do they help keep the chill off, the folded blankets can be used as props or to sit and lie on during class, especially at the end of class for Savasana.
These are most commonly made from cotton or nylon and allow you to grasp body part which you cannot reach effectively. Yoga straps also give you added flexibility and help you hold your poses a little bit longer. They are particularly useful for bound poses if your hands do not reach each other, and for poses where you need to hold onto your feet but cannot reach them.
For beginning yoga students, a yoga kit may be the solution to all their problems. A basic yoga kit contains everything you need to get started practicing the art of yoga right away. A good kit can help you avoid confusion and the extra expense often spent on individual and unnecessary items.
For the most part yoga equipment is made to provide support to help you feel relaxed and move deeper into the poses. Tomorrow, I will be talking about how yoga can be used to help control your blood pressure and relieve stress.
Yoga helps promote good balance by elongating, and aligning your spine as well as the muscles in your back. It also strengthens other parts of your body, including your abdominal muscles, which helps guard you back from injury. Good yoga posture teaches every part of your body to bear its own weight as an alternative of relying on other muscles to carry the load.
Yoga poses function and perform differently. Each pose is designed to develop one’s flexibility and strength. Here are some common yoga poses to practice:
Standing is one of the important yoga poses. This type of pose is helpful in aligning your body and your feet. This is also very useful in improving and maintaining a good posture. It is an advantage because if you have a bad posture, your backbones can be stretched and straightened without noticing it. Standing poses helps in giving strength to your legs and at the same time increase elasticity in your legs and hips because they are all connected to each other.
These types of yoga poses increase your lower back and hip’s flexibility. This also strengthens your back. This adds suppleness to your knees, groin, ankle and most especially your spine. Another advantage is that it helps you to breathe in deep which gives you that calm and peaceful feeling.
This type helps you in stretching the hamstrings and your lower back also strengthening it. This lessens the tension found in your neck, shoulder, back and increase flexibility in your spine. Calmness is also achieved in this type of pose.
Back bends like bridge pose are amazingly helpful in opening your chest, hips and even the rib cage. This is helpful in strengthening and making your arms shoulders stronger. At the same time, it simultaneously increases your flexibility and elasticity in your shoulders. The great thing is that it helps to relieve the tension from the front of your body up to your hips and it
increases your spinal ability. Your spinal cord is one thing that is important in your body so you need to take good care of it.
Balance poses are very challenging because they require leg strength and upper body flexibility in addition to the ability to balance on one leg. The real challenge comes as you move from pose to pose while keeping one leg lifted off the floor the entire time. Tough but worth it!
By practicing these basic poses on a regular basis, it will help you build strength, flexibility and stamina. Don't worry if you can't perform them correctly at first, just keep trying and as your strength increases you will be available to perform them more easily.
Tomorrow, I will be talking about some of the different types of yoga equipment and what it can do for you.
With so many different types of yoga to choose from it can be a little bit confusing for beginners. Before deciding on which type of yoga is best for you it's a good idea to consider the different types of yoga, your level of fitness, physical and spiritual goals, as well as, your overall health condition.
Below are the most common types of yoga to help you determine which type will work best for your lifestyle.
Iyengar yoga is considered one of the most common types of yoga focuses on alignment, breathing and performing precise poses. This type of yoga often incorporates props such as straps or blocks to help beginners. Props help new students relax and become more comfortable while holding various positions.
Ashtanga yoga is known for its powerful movements which focus on building stamina and strength, as well as, coordinating the breath with movement. This challenging form of yoga builds better balance and concentration.
Bhakti Yoga is a more spiritual form of yoga that teaches its practitioners respect for life nature and creation as well as the importance of treating others with kindness and generosity.
Hatha Yoga, another common form of yoga especially in the United States emphasizes physical postures or exercises, known as asanas, with the goal of creating balance in one's life.
Jnana Yoga, involves the practice of deep contemplation and a quest for wisdom through meditation. With the goal of being one with God.
Karma Yoga, is based on the philosophy that "yesterday's actions determine today's circumstances." Practitioners of Karma yoga make a conscious decision to perform selfless acts of kindness. By making today's actions positive, they hope they can improve tomorrow's circumstances for both themselves and others.
Raja Yoga, known in India as road to reintegration, blends the four layers of self; the body, individual consciousness, individual sub consciousness, and the universal infinite consciousness. The focus of this type of yoga is on the mind and spirit with emphasis on meditation.
Tantra Yoga, like Hatha yoga involves practitioners to seek balance in their lives and to break free from the six enemies; physical longing, anger, greed, vanity, obsession, jealousy as well as the eight fetters; hatred, apprehension, fear, shyness, hypocrisy, pride of ancestry, vanity of culture, egotism, by using discipline, training, and
Bikram yoga, often referred to as hot yoga, involves practicing yoga postures in rooms heated to over 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius). The belief behind this type of yoga is that postures are easier to attain and hold. Another benefit is that warm muscles help reduce the risk of injury. If you have a health condition, be sure to check with your health-care provider before attempting this form of yoga.
Kundalini yoga, the premise behind this type of yoga is that becoming aware of your breath is a key. Practitioners learn to use their breathing abilities in different ways, along with chants, meditation, and postures designed to awaken energy at your spine’s base and drawing it upward through the seven chakras.
Viniyoga, this is perhaps the most individualized form of yoga, and involves working closely with an instructor, who will customize your yoga practice based upon your needs.
Regardless of what type of yoga you decide to practice, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider first to see if there are any special considerations or restrictions you should follow. For example, people who suffer from hypertension may need to avoid certain poses, while women who are pregnant may have other limitations.
Tomorrow, I will be talking about the practice of good yoga posture.
Welcome to a five-part series of Why Yoga Matters. Each day you will learn about yoga, its health benefits and how the practice of yoga can enrich your life. In this part, we are going to talk briefly about the history of yoga as well as its physical and emotional benefits.
According to the World English Dictionary the definition of yoga is:
“Any method by which such awareness and tranquility are attained, esp. course of related exercises and postures designed to promote physical and spiritual wellbeing.”
Ultimately, the practice of Yoga is meant to connect body, breath, and mind to create balance and energy. It includes physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health and well-being. While there is still some debate about the actual origins of Yoga, the majority consensus concludes that it began in India three to four thousand years ago. The word yoga originates from Sanskrit which literally means of "yoke" or to join. While yoga is often considered a spiritual practice, it has never actually been viewed as a religion.
Approximately 5 million people in the United States alone practice some type of yoga, whether it be in the form of dance, stretching exercise or even martial arts classes which usually have postures and poses that come originate from yoga.
There are many types of yoga, including; Integral, Bhakti, Ananda, Hatha and many more that we will discuss in Part 2 tomorrow.
Hatha Yoga is the one of the most practiced forms of yoga. It emphasizes physical postures known as asanas. During these exercises, flexing is followed by extension, a rounded back is followed by an arched back, and physical exercise is then followed by some form of meditation.
Benefits of Yoga
The practice of Yoga has numerous benefits including increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Combined with breathing exercises and meditation it works remarkably well to help promote overall physical and mental well-being. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of yoga it has also been proven as an excellent way to reduce stress, ease panic attacks, lower blood pressure, help alleviate back pain, arthritis pain, depression, mental fog and reduce the risk of many other common health problems.
Here is a quick list of yoga benefits:
- It is known to increase flexibility with postures that trigger the different joints of the body that are not normally affected in most regular exercises routines.
- It can improve the function and lubrication of joints, ligaments and tendons, helping to alleviate pain and increase flexibility.
- Yoga is perhaps the only exercise that can be beneficial to your internal organs which hardly ever get externally stimulated during other forms of exercise. This stimulation and massage of the organs can even help prevent disease.
- Yoga increases circulation and offers a complete detoxification of the body. As it gently stretches the muscles, joints as well as well as massaging the various organs of the body it is ensuring optimum blood supply and good health.
This helps in by flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny of your body as well as providing proper nourishment to yourselves, which can promote optimum energy and a sense of well-being. it can also help delay the aging process.
These are just a few of the physical benefits associated with yoga. Yoga combined with meditation harmonizes the body and mind in a way that can only be fully understood by people who practice it. So, what are you waiting for? Why not start taking part in this age-old practice and enjoy the benefits for yourself. There's no better day, than today!
Tomorrow I will be talking about some of the more common types of yoga and their benefits.
Hand balances are a common part of yoga practice. We move from chaturanga, to downward facing dog, to upward facing dog several times during practice. Thus causing the joints of the hand, elbow and shoulder to be at risk of injury. Injuries from yoga are common. The causes of joint injury may include: stiffness, hyper-mobility, muscle weakness, or performing hand balances improperly. We should not underestimate the importance the elbow joint has in the safety of practice. The elbows are situated between two mobile joints and are prone to strain.
Like the knee, the elbow is also a complex hinge joint. Like a hinge to a door, this type of joint allows primarily one plane of motion. In the elbow, there are 4 joints (3 bones) that enable not only bending and straightening (flexion and extension), but also rotating the hand up and down. The elbow joint is designed to be stable. In addition to ligaments, there are 16 muscles that control movement in the elbow, wrist and hand. Seven muscles that cross the elbow control the elbow specifically, and the other nine control the wrist and hand. When we lack stability in the elbow joint itself through injury, we rely more heavily on muscle groups to provide the stability we lack.
If we maintain proper alignment during hand balances, it will give the muscles the advantage they need to function most effectively. As we move from plank pose to chaturanga to upward facing dog, a tremendous amount of strain is placed on the joints if they are not aligned properly. With the hands placed firmly on the ground, you are immobilizing your wrists. The pressure of your hands against the ground provides the joints stability as the muscles attempt to flex against a solid surface. However, this action may be more difficult if our wrists our wrists are stiff and tight. Not being able to achieve a solid grip or hand placement on the floor,leaves one feeling unstable through the wrists and elbows, creating strain on the joints. In chaturanga for example, we need adequate flexibility to get the hands back far enough by the rib-cage so that the elbows are at an optimal 90 degrees. This position also requires shoulder flexibility to keep the elbows close to the body and scapula firm on the rib cage so the shoulders don’t come forward. Therefore, it may be necessary to modify this pose to avoid unnecessary strain to the joints. Building strength to support our weight takes work and practice. Modifying poses like plank and chaturanga by putting the knees on the mat is a great way to build strength over time.
Following these safety tips will prevent unnecessary injuries during yoga, creating a more enjoyable practice.
If you've ever bееn to a yoga class that ended in Om chants, chances are you've used a mantra. Meant as a way tо increase life energy, increase personal power and calm the mind, mantras have bееn used for thousands of years as part of Hindu and Buddhist meditation. There are many mantras throughout Eastern religious texts, but you can make up your own. Thе repetition of the syllables can enhance your meditation by aurally stimulating your chakras and producing vibrations that help stir up your energies.
Thе most famous mantra is Om, the root of all mantras and the primordial vibration manifestation of Brahma. Pronounced correctly, the mouth begins in an open, round shape and gradually closes like an iris to produce the buzzing "mmmm" sound at the end. Thе open "ooohhh" sound sends a vibration into the external space, and the "mmmm" sound retains the vibrations inside. The "ooohhh" sound is usually a single count, while the "mmmm" sound is sustained as long as the breath holds out.
Om is not a shortened version of Om mani padme hum, contrary tо popular belief. Om is an ancient Hindu mantra, while Om mani padme hum is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra associated with the Dalai Lama and popularized in the U.S. during the 1970's. Om mani padme hum is an effective mantra in its own right, used as a chant for compassion, but it is not the root оf аll mantras like the original Om.
Gods and Goddesses
Mantras can also be used tо commune with a particular deity during your meditation session. Both Hindu and Buddhist mantras feature specific chants said tо connect with a particular deity/aspect. Om Namah Shivayah is the chant to Shiva, and Om Namo Narayanaya is the chant fоr Vishnu. All of the major Hindu gods and goddesses have their own mantras, so consult the Lakshmi Tantra, Parasurama Kalpa Sutra and Prapanchasara for specific chants.
Hindus also have longer mantras that are more like prayers. They are chanted in the same monotone, measured voice, but they are directed more specifically toward аn action rather than a deity. Here's an example:
Sarveśām Svastir Bhavatu / Sarveśām Sāntir Bhavatu / Sarveśām Pūrnam Bhavatu / Sarveśām Mangalam Bhavatu
May good befall all, / May there be peace for аll / May all be fit for perfection, / May all experience that which is auspicious.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Buddha is all - simply represented in different aspects rather than entirely separate deities. As such, the salutation-type mantras of Buddhism are all addressed to Buddha, but zone in more specifically on whichever aspect you are hoping to reach. Om wagishwari hum honors Buddha’s wisdom aspect, and the aforementioned Om mani padme hum honors his compassion aspect. There is a mantra for each aspect of Buddha, plus the most important figures in Buddhism, so consult your favorite Buddhist Sutra. Om tare tuttare ture svaha is a chant to the Mother оf Buddhas, and is considered one of the world’s most powerful chants, possessing tremendous purifying and healing properties.
Create Your Own
If established mantras aren’t for you, make up your own. After аll, a mantra can only bе effective if it connects with you on a very basic level. When planning your new mantra, it may be best to play around with sounds until you hit on something that produces vibrations that move you - they don’t necessarily have to be words at all. What matters is the intent and the vibration, because those are the things that affect the chakras.
Don’t make the mistake of turning mantras into wish-fulfillment. Don’t just recite your goals to yourself over and over - that would bе an affirmation, not a mantra. Although affirmations can be useful in building confidence and reinforcing willpower, they won’t have a deeper, more meaningful effect because stringing words together into a sentence rarely creates the textural feel оf the sound necessary to assist meditation.
With over 84,000 poses in yoga to choose from for practice, yoga enthusiasts and practitioners might be left confused on just which ones are the most important. With our daily demands and commitments, most of us might not have the time to perform so many poses, for that reason it’s a good idea to focus on the one that is considered most beneficial for daily practice and that is Savangasana (Shoulderstand). It is one of my favorite inverted poses.
Inverted yoga poses reverse the action of gravity on the body. Instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. On emotional a level Shoulderstand turns everything upside down throwing a new light on old habit patterns of behavior. Shoulderstand improves health, reduces stress and anxiety, increases mental power and also increases self-confidence. In addition, the abdominal organs; liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys and pancreas receive a powerful massage helping them work better.
In Sanskrit, Sarvanga means all parts so as the name suggests, it affects all the bodily organs. It stimulates the thyroid gland, balancing the circulatory, digestive, nervous, reproductive and endocrine systems. It is indeed a panacea, a cure all. Obesity and corpulence are alleviated by this pose as well as constipation and enlargement of the liver and the spleen.
It is best practiced with its counter poses in specific durations for maximal efficiency and when planned correctly, the whole sequence takes less than 6 minutes to practice, depending on your schedule. Personally, I practice this pose daily as part of the Ashtanga primary series placing the most emphasis on this pose for all the benefits stated above.
So next time when you are unsure of which pose you should include in your yoga practice when you are short on time, make it a point to go for the Shoulder-Stand. Your body will thank you for it.
Modifications & Variations
Shoulderstand can bring many benefits to your mind, body, and spirit when practiced regularly and with correct alignment. Be sure to make whatever changes you need to reduce discomfort when practicing it. Here are a few suggestions:
For extra shoulder support, place a folded, firm blanket beneath your shoulders before coming into the pose. Your head and neck should be off the blanket. This extra support can also help prevent neck injury.
Only lift both legs at the same time if your abdominal muscles are strong enough. Do not struggle to lift both legs together. If it is too difficult, lift one leg at a time.
Practice Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) as a modification for those with neck injuries and for women who are menstruating. *See above picture*
As with all inversions, it’s crucial to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your neck. Be sure to take it slowly and make whatever adjustments you need to reduce discomfort.
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