Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yoga for Everyone


"True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn't care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga its essence must be embodied. "  A. Palkhivala



Yoga is a movement based therapy that offers benefits of stress reduction, increased strength, balance, and flexibility. The sanskrit word, "yoga" is defined as "to yoke", "draw together", or "unite". Yoga combines and coordinates breath with movement. There are many different types of yoga to explore, finding a specific style of yoga that suits your needs is personal preference. Take the time to read the details of a specific class, arrive early to meet the teacher, and ask questions as yoga classes can vary in levels. A beginner class is gentle on the body, and can offer specific instruction for alignment and safety. A basic flow class is low impact, informative and energizing. Intermediate or vigorous can be challenging, postures build upon each other to strengthen and balance the body. Many teachers and studios offer private yoga classes to help you get started. Yoga is for everyone. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It's non-competitive and adaptable. Yoga harnesses the power of your breath, elevating and empowering your potential, strength, and confidence.


Yoga helps to create the mind, body, breath connection. 


The mind can be a complicated, layered and chaotic place to be. Time travel is alive and well in the mind as we move from the past, present, and future within our thoughts. We all have responsibilities in our lives to fulfill, and the lists of things to remember and accomplish can get long. With an awake mind we can begin to concentrate, focus more clearly and bring space and balance into a busy mind. Mindfulness is the active awareness of what is happening to us and in us moment to moment. It is an access point to which we can begin to explore the interior landscape of ourselves without judgment. Utilizing the breath as an anchor, we can gently begin to stay present with all aspects of the breath. We are always in transition. Change is constant, our bodies teach us this everyday.


The breath is essential to life. 


Learning to breathe consciously can help restore balance in the mind and body. Some benefits observed are reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, blood pressure stabilization, increased energy levels and relaxation. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts can be influenced by our breath. Physiologically, the stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system which prepares your body for perceived danger, rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure. When you consciously breathe deeply, slowly, and with awareness, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This can help bring a sense of confidence, control and calm into the mind which assists in slowing down the breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.


"Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together." B.K.S Iyengar



A purposeful and attentive yoga practice has been my focus over the last 12 years. A slow flow yoga class emphasizes mindful breathing, being, and moving of the body. Deliberate movements coordinated with breath gently increase circulation within the body, adds fluidity to the joints, provides strength, balance, and mobility in the extremities and spine.

As we become more connected to what is happening while moving and breathing, physical sensation is explored. Engaging and experiencing slower movement is about learning how to stay in the present moment, to let superfluous thoughts go, and start to craft non-judgmental emotions towards ourselves, to find contentment, healing and well being in mind and body.  Just as every experience has the potential to teach us, moving the body slowly with purpose, while keeping the mind awakened to the breath builds a greater whole body awareness.

~Addendum~

On January 12, 2017, I had the privilege to host a workshop introducing and discussing the benefits of yoga for a group of people looking to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The information I have written for this blog post was the foundation for the presentation, but an instinctive need to embody the experience of yoga persisted. At the heart of the discussion and the practice was the breath, as it continues to be the spark, the greatest connection of mind and body. Perhaps it was the auspicious nature of the full moon that evening that allowed such an open, honest flow of conversation and insights. I would like to take this opportunity to further explore some of the amazing questions that were asked that evening. Expanding on the concept of creating an imaginary tool box filled with unique ways of coping with the ordinary stress of life, and assisting in the process of positive lifestyle change.

1. What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a term used to describe a more attentive way of being. Staying focused on the present moment, staying aware of one task at a time, consciously noticing, watching, and observing what is happening to us and in us without judgment or reaction. There are so many distractions in today's society, the immediate access of information can be a blessing and a curse. Mindfulness helps to break down what is important moment to moment. What can wait? What can be deleted from our "to do" list? What is necessary in this moment? Subtle questions to ask to keep us on track, a reminder of what our goal or goals may be. Synergistically, the term Mindfulness works easily with meditation. Meditation is a quiet practice of sitting or lying down where the focus is to go inside and explore the layers of the mind, the sensations of the body, and the inflation and deflation of the breath. During my yoga training at the Kripalu Center of Yoga and Health, I was taught the Practice of Being Present, which included 5 principles to help stay on track. "BRFWA" is an acronym for Breathe ~ Relax ~ Feel ~ Watch ~ Allow, a simple technique for being present with our moment to moment experience.

The Practice of Being Present

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

2. How does yoga help me to stay healthy?

As described above, yoga is an exercise that guides the body to move in conjunction with the breath. Moving the body burns calories, improves circulation, builds strength, balance and assists in the process of becoming more flexible. Stretching muscles, tendons, ligaments and massaging inner organs are the key intentions of a yoga practice. Breathing in and out with awareness, and moving the physical body helps to keep the mind focused on the present moment. In life we must have balance. Most of us have to work and that is different for everyone. Sitting, standing, lifting, or driving, work can offer may hazards to the body. Making choices over meals that bring us energy may or may not be that easily accessible due to time or financial constraints. Practicing yoga or any exercise can help keep us healthy by increasing our heart, and working out the body in different ways than our profession or job position allows. The practice of yoga can help us make better choices about what will truly nourish and benefit the mental and physical body. A yoga practice helps to gently guide how we can listen to our bodies. We are encouraged to find our "edge", a place where your body feels challenged. Yoga is an effort and it is also easeful. Being guided by comfort and breath, we rest when needed. Yoga teaches discipline, with a regular practice of showing up on your mat, and showing up for yourself. Yoga opens space for kindness and gratitude that what you are doing is enough in this moment. At the end of a class, thankfulness and appreciation is a closing intention. Try your first free yoga class with me every Wednesday evening 730-9p in Winchester, MA at Yoga Mandala.
3. What does connecting to the breath mean?

In a normal busy day we breathe quick and shallow, it becomes automatic. The breath is a necessity of life, the body knows this, and helps us out by doing it for us. When we take the time to regain control and focus over our breath we bring back a powerful tool to help rebalance our mind and body. Connecting to breath means noticing, watching, becoming aware of how it feels to breathe deeper, causing an expansion of the upper chest and rib cage and fullness into the lower abdomen. Filling up our lungs with breath increases the availability of oxygen to our bodies, actively exhaling, releasing the breath from the body, helps to create a sense of calm and peace in mind and body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the MGH Mind Body Institute wrote a book in 1975 called, 'The Relaxation Response.' His research, studies, and published articles discuss the body's response to stress. The findings discuss how the relaxation response alleviates symptoms of anxiety, and also affects factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and brain activity. The body interacts with the breath at a specific point in the breathing cycle, the exhale. The moment the breath is completely out of the body is the exhale. This conscious pause has a great effect on our ability to learn new information, to take control, and to refocus. Acknowledging the breath, and its subtle changes, helps to change the way we think, opening up possibilities of behavior modification.

It was a pleasure and a humbling experience to engage such a wonderful group of people. I look forward to the next workshop on March 14, 2017!

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