Yoga can be transformative, and though the advanced yoga postures are in fact difficult to the beginner, the changes that yoga can bring into one’s life belie the apparent simplicity of just stretching muscles. After all, we stretch muscles at the gym during a warm up. So, what is the difference between yoga and regular workouts? Yoga integrates the breath with movement and consciousness with physical stretches as a way of strengthening the internal muscles of the body; particularly the pelvic floor.
In yoga, through the breath, and focusing on it within our body, we come to a greater understanding of both our body and ourselves. We begin a more conscious relationship with our individuality. We meet that unique expression of ourselves expressing physically in that moment. We can begin a process of changing that which is blocking the vital flow of our energy.
That is why it doesn’t matter what state we are in when we begin practicing yoga. We might not be flexible, or perhaps we are in pain, or distracted. It is a journey of discovery, not of trying to fit ourselves into an external idea, even if that idea is represented in that moment by the yoga posture we are trying to do. T.K.V. Desikachar (son of the great yoga master Sri Krishnamacharya ) wrote that the body can “only gradually accept an asana”. We should not strain ourselves, or judge ourselves, if we cannot fit into that posture. That posture is a possible outcome, yes, but what we do in our practice of yoga is to take the journey.
T.K.V. Desikachar makes another important point: “We should remain flexible so that we are still able to react to changes in our expectations and old ideas. The more distanced we are from the fruits of our labors, the better we can do this… Paying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us – this is the meaning of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering. ”
The asanas are a way of preparing us to more fully meet the challenges of life in a way that does not throw us off balance, but increases our capacity to adapt to those changes that are inherent in life. They allow us to be more sensitive and aware to what is really going on inside and in life itself. This growing self-knowledge then provides us with a complete picture in which our responses to whatever situations confront us more accurately reflects what is truly present. There is a deeper engagement that goes beyond the wandering of the mind, the self-doubt, the domination of our preconceptions and expectations, or our need for something to be a certain way.
When we are distracted or preoccupied with doubt, worry, fear, and even hope that is attached to an outcome (need), the vital energy of our whole being is leaking, diffused. Through yoga practice, we can clear the debris, to redirect our subtle energy within, to sit within the body, our being, again. This is an energetic aspect of self-mastery. Integral to this is the knowledge of oneself as whole, and simultaneously a part of the wholeness that is within everything.
References: The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar
You may be wondering, how does yoga help with glowing skin? When you practice yoga, the blood circulation in your body is enhanced. This means more oxygen and less free radicals. The fresh blood from a yoga practice also imparts a warm “glow” to the cheeks. Apart from this, toxins are flushed out, and the body is toned, adding to the beauty dynamic. Yoga also helps in regulating the digestive and excretory system that helps the internal purification system to work in a better way.
Both men and women alike want to have healthy and glowing skin, however, this may be hard to achieve given the number of pollutants, UV rays, harsh weather conditions, and toxins in the air, they can all take a toll on one's skin. Yoga is a more natural solution to help achieve that glow we all desire. So roll out your yoga mat, and try the above yoga poses daily for glowing skin.
Finding balance in yoga can be challenging. Even though you’ve created a space on your mat to be present, there can still be a lot of distractions that make balancing on one foot with the opposite leg extended pretty difficult! If Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) has you feeling a bit un-balanced (pun intended),then these five tips will help you find your balance.
Find Your Drishti
If you've taken a yoga class or practiced with yoga videos at home then I’m sure you’ve heard the yoga teacher say to find your drishti, or focus, in practice. When you concentrate on an object or a gazing point in front of you, you minimize distractions or negative thoughts that might come up in a balancing posture.
Clear your mind and shift your focus on the breath. With so many other things to concentrate on in a balancing pose, it’s easy to lose your breath. This only makes it harder! Use your breath as a way to focus, and a way to find your fullest expression.
Focus on Alignment
Maintaining proper alignment is integral in balancing postures. Stacking your joints, relaxing your shoulders down your back and keeping your core engaged will not only ensure you keep a solid foundation and focus, but it will also help you strengthen your muscle memory.
Have a Solid Foundation
Establishing a solid foundation is one of the most important steps in finding balance. When you stand on one foot, the standing leg is basically doing the work of two feet. Keeping this is mind, set up for balancing poses by rooting down your energy first. Make sure your “roots” (your footing) is on solid and stable ground. You can’t grow your tree without roots!
It’s Okay to Fall
Even those who have been practicing yoga for many years fall. Falling is a sign of exploration! Accepting that you might fall will automatically relax your mind, the most powerful element in balancing postures. When you inevitably wobble, get back up and try again. Acceptance and perseverance are both part of a growing yoga practice.
Yoga can sometimes be challenging. We all face challenges in our yoga practice. Challenges on the yoga mat aren’t usually as hard as the everyday challenges we face in life. What do you do when you tell yourself you can’t do something? How does it make you feel and what do you do about it?
So, what if you can’t touch your toes, stand on your head or bind your hands together in an asana? Or perhaps the challenge is getting on your mat consistently?
It doesn’t matter if you can do fancy yoga poses. What matters is how you learn to embrace what seems impossible. Can you work at something again and again that you tell yourself you can’t do? If you can manifest this attitude on your yoga mat, you can bring this new skill into your life. Imagine how much more you can achieve! You will find that the willingness to step into the space of what you thought was impossible, gradually, yet consistently, gives life more meaning and possibilities. Yoga has taught me patience and perseverance and sometimes I feel unstoppable.
How can you meet the difficulties on your yoga mat? Here are some tips:
As challenging as some yoga postures may seem, the key is perseverance. Listen to your body and safely explore your limitations, don't get overwhelmed, figure out where the challenges lie, don't take yourself too seriously and don't let resistance overpower you. Accept yoga as a lifestyle that needs to be learned and practiced with gratitude and patience.
Yoga can be a spiritual as well as a physical practice and therefore is beneficial at any time of the day. However, there times that are better for our own practice depending upon schedule, body and personality type. A morning person may need the stimulating effects of certain asanas to start the day, while someone who is slow to wake may be warmed up and ready to practice by sunset.
Early morning before sunrise is considered a spiritually charged time of the day in the Vedic tradition and is therefore ideal for yoga. Morning yoga will ease you into gentle movements shortly after you awaken in the morning. Sun Salutations are great for waking up the body, and after lots of movement and balancing, you can ease into some gentle inversions and heart openers. If your hips and spine are feeling open at this point – dive into the heart openers, like camel, bridge and wheel. These postures will leave you feeling awake and rejuvenated – maybe even more than your morning cup of coffee! Also, indulge in an extra-long headstand or shoulder stand to send fresh oxygen into your head. This will also allow you to feel ready to face your day.
Yoga before bed can be relaxing and contribute to a restful sleep. The perfect evening yoga practice should soothe and relax you after a long day. If you’re practicing later in the evening however (within a few hours of going to bed), you’ll want to resist moving into big heart openers and energizing inversions. You may want to practice soothing surrender postures like half pigeon and seated forward fold. Twists are also incredibly relaxing in the evening as well. Focus on breathing in positions such as Child’s pose, which stretches the back muscles and aids digestion. Just be aware how you feel and what you need.
There is no time of day that is “perfect” for everyone when it comes to yoga practice. The best rule to follow is the one of no distraction. Choose to practice at a time when you are least likely to be interrupted, whether it be early morning or late at night. The most benefits are yielded when fully conscious of each movement.
Consistency is also key in yoga practice perhaps even more than when you choose to practice. The more you do the same poses regularly, the more you will notice how your practice is producing change within your body and your life. The time of day we practice yoga should determine what postures we practice, and being aware of which postures are energizing and which ones are soothing.
Pay attention to which postures affect your energy levels at which time of day, and this will empower you to practice exactly when your body needs it. Remember – you are your best teacher!
Bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit word bhaj, which means – loving service. Bhakti-yoga means to connect to the Supreme by means of loving devotional service. Bhakti yoga deals with devotion to God and achieving the union with Him. This style of yoga teaches the relation between the devotee and the divine. It does not involve any technical or complicated procedures. There is no need of any intellectual capacity to master this yoga. It has appealed to the common man because it gives him a feeling security and develops a kind of reliance and dependence on the object of his devotion.
The path of bhakti-yoga is developed through a variety of activities. These include mantra meditation, or the chanting of the names of God. The chanting is done either individually on beads (japa) or in a community by chanting mantras accompanied by music (kirtan). The study of sacred texts such as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, associating with like-minded spiritual postulants, eating blessed vegetarian food, and living in a way that upholds the principles of truthfulness, mercy, austerity, and cleanliness, are all core practices for a follower of bhakti.
Bhakti yoga assumes that there is a higher power that has created the universe and is all-powerful. This power has the capacity to confer grace and mercy thus protecting the believer from all the harms and evils. The devotee or bhakta is expected to make themselves fit for receiving this divine grace. For this, one should practice devotion and virtue. The goal should be to unite with this divine power and rest eternally in happiness and peace. The devotee surrenders all motives and acts to the Divine Power. They renounce all responsibilities towards the good or bad consequences of all their actions and ascribes it to the will of the Supreme.
Devotion and faith play a vital role in this branch of yoga. The devotee or bhakta should be highly religious, should adopt a friendly stance towards all the other living beings including animals, read religious texts, concentrate on the symbol of the Divine, think and wish well for others etc. The beauty of this yoga lies in its simplicity. This has made it one of the most appealing of all the yoga types. Following this yoga develops the peace of mind in an individual. A peaceful individual will always think happy and prosperous thoughts and will thus lead a happy life.
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.
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