Balance poses, in general, offer a calming effect on the body because of the focus (or drishti) that is needed. In order to maintain your balance, the recommendations are to focus on a non-moving, eye-level (or above) spot, and to breathe steadily. In my opinion, Tree Pose (vrik-SHAHS-anna) is a great pose to start with because of the options for modifying which develop balance and concentration. As the different variations are explored, legs and feet are strengthened providing increased flexibility in the hips. Exploring arm placement can lead to an opening of the chest and toning of the shoulder muscles. I like to practice this while doing the dishes or brushing my teeth at night, in addition to incorporating it into my regular practice.
There are a few things that I find myself repeating to people interested in yoga or to new students. The first thing people say to me is “I’m not flexible.” My answer to that is you don’t have to be flexible, it’s about becoming flexible. Closely related to that is “I can’t do ____ (fill in with any yoga pose).” Again, it’s not about that. I choose not to do a lot of the “tricky” poses for reasons that will be discussed later. Lastly, I hear that the teacher had them do something they didn’t like or that hurt. My response is that you don’t have to do every single pose the teacher offers. It’s your body and your practice; you know what you are comfortable doing. I tell my students they don’t get extra points for doing everything I say, except when it comes to safe alignment; outside of that, take care of your own body.
Yoga is a lifestyle practice that has been around for many, many years. There is great wisdom behind the philosophy that is not learned overnight. I do my best to explain my experience below based on my current understanding of what I have learned as I continue to study yoga.
Photo courtesy of Chicks with Cameras
Coloring with my non-dominant hand.
It was not easy. It took multiple days because my hand would cramp or I would get frustrated because it was taking longer than I wanted.
I call it yoga for the brain because it forced me to be present in the activity I was doing. It was a safe way to explore those uncomfortable feelings of frustration, cramping, and awkwardness.
On a day when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.
Today is such a day.
-Rumi, “Love Poems from God,” pg. 79
Your breath is a powerful tool. Your breath communicates what is happening in your body. What is your body telling you? What does your breath feel like? Take a minute or two to watch your breath and notice the transformation that happens. Do the following:
1) sit tall in a comfortable position.
2) feel the connection of your sit bones on your chair/ground/etc.
3) begin to find a steady, easy breath, guiding it through the nose
4) close your eyes and continue to breathe. As you breathe in notice, that you are breathing in; as you breathe out, notice you are breathing out.
What transformation did you experience?
Yoga is more than your physical practice (aka asana). Yoga is not a religion. It is a journey to oneself, connecting the Higher Power (whatever name you give). It is a spiritual practice. Yoga gives you the tools to move from a place of imbalance to balance.
If your yoga practice expands you and gives you joy, then it is the right yoga practice for you. The best yoga practice is when it is integrated into your life. Namaste!
Yoga gives you the tools to move from a place of imbalance to balance.
Yoga, or actually asana, doesn’t mean you HAVE to wrap yourself into a pretzel, or look like the models on the front of the yoga magazine (any magazine for that matter) or eat a certain diet. It’s about surrender. It’s about love and life. It’s about taking time for yourself. It’s about calming the body and mind. It’s about doing what feels good in YOUR body. Ultimately, it’s about preparing yourself for meditation and being with your true self, bowing down to your higher self. Balasana (BAH-las-anna), or child’s pose, is a basic kneeling forward bend, bowing and surrendering.
I always tell my students that you will have a love/hate relationship with Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana ‘AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna’). As a beginner, you will hate it. It is considered a resting pose, but won’t feel like one until you build up strength in your shoulders and core. The love relationship will come when you realize how it lengthens, strengthens and stretches the whole body, especially the back part of the body: ankles, calves, hamstrings, upper back and shoulders.
Why practice yoga? What benefits do you get? There are the physical benefits, strength & flexibility, stress relief and weight loss. On a deeper level, you learn to be with your thoughts & breath, learn to be with yourself, even learn to love yourself. You become a better version of yourself each time you spend time on your mat.
When experiencing moments of stress, taking a few deep breath’s in a forward fold (Uttanasana ‘OOT-tan-AHS-anna’) will help calm the mind and body. Forward folds give the hamstrings and lumbar spine a deep stretch. By hanging upside down, fresh blood is brought to the brain and gives a refresh sense of well-being.