Most respected Western publishers acknowledge authentic, traditional yoga, this is quite unlike many of the so-called modern and highly competitive yoga teachers and yoga schools.
The following definition of yoga is excerpted from Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia: YOGA (Skt. yuga, “yoke”), one of the six classic systems of Hindu philosophy, distinguished from the others by the marvels of bodily control and the magical powers ascribed to its advanced devotees. Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense, and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. Such union, according to the doctrine, is the only true way of knowing. For most Yogi (those who practice Yoga), the object of knowledge is the universal spirit Brahma. A minority of atheistic Yogi seek perfect self-knowledge instead of knowledge of God….
There are currently two main perceptions of yoga which have recently shifted a great deal in the past century, particularly the past couple decades. Most of this is due to changes made in the Western hemisphere, particularly in the United States, although these shifts are not solely an American phenomenon.
The gist of these shifts can be summarized in two perspectives, one of which is modern and false, and the other of which is ancient and true.
False: Yoga is primarily a physical system with a spiritual component.
True: Yoga is primarily a spiritual system with a physical component.
Unfortunately, the false view that Yoga is primarily a physical exercise program is now the dominant viewpoint. This false view is spreading through many institutions, classes, teachers, books, magazines, and then on to millions of students of modern Yoga. These students often have little or no knowledge (or interest) in the spiritual goals of ancient, authentic, traditional yoga and yoga Meditation.
To understand the recent “devolution” that asserts yoga is only a physical exercise program is an essential step for the modern seeker of authentic Yoga.
Using a common Christian point of view as an example of this devolution; many Christians are of the belief that Yoga is merely attaining and maintaining a higher degree of physical fitness. This is as false as saying that Christian communion is merely drinking wine and eating bread with a meal or that baptism is as simple as taking a shower or bath. Remember, the goal of Yoga is Yoga.
This article will close with another definition of yoga from the Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition, 2001-07) – Yoga: [Skt. = union]: A general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism, and throughout South Asia that are directed toward attaining a higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth. More specifically it is the name of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy. Both Vedic and Buddhist literature discuss the doctrines of wandering ascetics in ancient India who practiced various kinds of austerities and meditation. Also, it’s the basic text of a yoga philosophical school; the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (2nd cent. B.C.), being a systematization of one of these older traditions.
Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 4).”
Muscle conductivity is simply the ability to conduct impulses, either electrical or chemical, along the muscle membrane.
Muscles enable you to move. The muscles in your arms lift and pull. Muscles in your legs help you stand, walk and run. Thumb muscles help you to hold things. Muscles in your chest help you to breathe. You have more than 600 muscles and muscle groups in your body. Muscles help us to move if we don’t have muscles we can’t move of our own free will.
Muscles function in many aspects of the body. There are three basic types of muscles:
1. Skeletal muscles function to move your body during any activity such as walking, etc.
2. Smooth muscle is found in your blood vessels and can regulate blood flow.
3. Cardiac muscle is what your heart is made of and is necessary to pump blood to all of your body.
One purpose of the skeletal muscles is to allow movement of the limbs, whereas the smooth muscles keep the body functions going. Also, the heart is a four chambered cardiac muscle, whose sole purpose is to pump blood round our bodies and keep us alive.
Traditional yoga from the ancient East didn’t emphasize how yoga can sculpt one’s body, but it definitely was all about the mind-body connection. Much of the West has evolved yoga to its own purposes, adapting it to the modern world. Originally, yoga was a way of life and being, rather than a way to look better in clothes. Nonetheless, whenever we look at a typical “yoga-crafted body,” we can’t help but admire their limber physique.
Many now believe that yoga, however, is a more balanced approach to strengthening and toning than resistance training and weight lifting. For one, it trains conscious muscle conductivity and conditions your body to perform things you do every day: walking, sitting, bending, lifting. Your body moves in the way it was designed to move.
As our understanding of the human body as a matrix of electromagnetic and chemical energies deepens, we come to see that the fascia or connective tissue (structuring, sheathing and interconnecting our circulatory system, nervous system, muscular-skeletal system, digestive track, organs and cells) is actually an energetic communication system dependent on conductivity.
The collagen that most of the connective tissue in your body is comprised of is liquid crystalline in nature. Liquid crystals (known to be semi-conductors) are designed to conduct energy in similar way that wiring system in your house conducts electricity. They are also able to send, receive, store and amplify energy signals, almost like your high-speed internet connection.
Because our fascia interconnects every system in the body, it provides a basis for both information and energy transfer beyond purely chemical origins. That is to say; while we’ve traditionally thought of communication in the body as mechanical (where chemical molecules fit into receptors like a key into a lock), we now realize we can open the lock much faster with energy (like remote control devices).
Yoga seeks to open and release the tightest places in our bodies (connective tissue, joints, ligaments and tendons) which routinely become tight and restricted through injuries, repetitive stress, poor postural habits and even emotional trauma. The amount of neural conductivity it takes to do just one simple action is huge, and any movement of the body requires an intense amount of brain power. As we perfect a physical skill, such as yoga asana most of this happens subconsciously. However, yoga can also teach you to have finer control over these movements and you progressively become more skilled.
Yoga helps better tune mind-body connection through conscious conductivity. Ultimately, yoga enhances the way you create motion and move through life. With proper yoga instruction and practice you can train yourself to become more aware and in control of all the physical actions you perform.
Living the life of a yogi doesn’t mean you have to carry your mat with you and roll it out every chance you get. Neither do you need to live in a cave or wear a loincloth; you don’t even have to be all that flexible. There are many misconceptions about how true yogis choose to live their lives and some of the greatest yogis ever might not have even known what a yoga mat is. Here are some commonalities that yogis throughout antiquity shared with those alive today.
Start your day with a sunrise
*Rise and shine. Get up early in the morning and accomplish something, even if it’s just watching the sun come up. Simply watching the sun rise helps you remember that the world is a mysterious place and although it sometimes seems chaotic there is a great sense of harmonious order and you are part of the symphony. Marveling at something beautiful in nature is also an awesome way to start your day. By doing this we learn to appreciate life and all its inter-connectedness and learn to grateful for just being alive. The fact that you are alive today is a miracle in itself. So, yogis think about connection, and appreciate all life.
*Remember to nourish your body well with good food that suits your dosha. The food you eat gets digested and then becomes part of you and you become part of your food. When you choose your food, also consider the amount of energy and work went in to finding and preparing that food. Everything affects the food you eat; the amount of hands that have touched it or the miles it has travelled or maybe the just how the power of the sun created it or made it grow. Regardless of whether you or someone else prepares your food, assure that the food been made with love? A yogi always does their best to make wise choices for their body.
*Get in the habit of spending some quality time every day in contemplation and/or meditation. Don’t fall prey to rushing through life not even considering where you’re going. Set your intention for each day. When you do this your life will naturally become clearer and have more meaning.
*Be kind, exercise empathy. The first commandment of a true yogi’s practice is to be kind. Start by being kind to yourself and then be kind to others. The Dalai Lama has been quotes as saying that his religion was kindness. It is possible for us to be kind all day, every day.
*Look within. Yoga is a journey of the self finding the Self. Even the purpose of the physical aspect of yoga (asana) is not necessarily to make you bend further, but to use the poses (asanas), techniques and sequences to rid yourself of toxins and harmful elements that contaminate your inner, spiritual life and bring you closer to your true benevolence. Self-knowledge is one of the greatest of all spiritual practices. In this practice we learn to trust our own inherent inner wisdom, stop blaming the (outside) world for our situations and ultimately break completely free from our habitual identify with negative thought patterns.
So, start this practice today and begin to live like a true yogi: Be kind, nourish your body, cherish nature, and contemplate yourself and your connection to the world and those around you.
Most people tend to be little too serious about their yoga asana practice, but adding some fun to their routine (or sequences) helps them to relax and lighten up. All across the US, yoga teachers and their studios are now recognizing that a bit of humor can help a yoga businesses thrive, not only by attracting new students but also by keeping them coming back. Students and teachers both to laugh and they soon realize that it helps them relax their muscles, surrender to their practice, and take themselves, and their practice less serious.
There are even scientific studies that show that laughter has the very similar effects as asana practice. They have both proven to lower blood pressure, reduce the production of stress hormones, boost immunity, and reduce pain, plus the actual physical act of laughter can be easily be looked upon as a form of spontaneous Pranayama (yogic breathing).
So, just how can you use humor improve your yoga asana practice? The Sanskrit word for play is leela and when we infuse leela into our yoga sessions we get more creative and broaden our possibilities. Humor helps us laugh off those poses we can’t seem to get right and helps us to take delight in them when we finally do get them right; it also helps us brave asanas that we’ve never approached before.
Whenever we’re laughing, we are present with the moment and leela can also help us achieve one of the core purposes of yoga which is to stay focused on the here and now.
Successful yoga teachers like to spice up their business with an occasional laugh or two and here are some tips that you can use to help your students “enlighten up.”
– When the opportunity presents itself, tell a short joke or relate a funny story, just keep it light easy so doesn’t feel forced.
– Facial expressions can often bring an element of silliness to an otherwise awkward situation.
– When your students arrive, greet them with cheerful smiles and a friendly hello or welcome.
– Add bright and colorful décor to your studio, and watch your students come flocking back for more. Bringing in as much natural light (especially sunshine) as possible makes the space even more cheerful.
– If you see someone is having a hard time with a certain pose, tell them to check in the corner of their mouths, there’s probably a smile hiding there.
– Have your students introduce themselves to their neighbors before the beginning of class and then encourage them to partner-up, both on and off the mat.
– A slight bit of innocent misbehavior and free expression in class often makes practice more fun and playful.
– Don’t forget to laugh at yourself, it nurtures joy in yourself and by showing that you are responsible for your own happiness and healing you’ll be able to transmit that message on through your teaching practice.
Yoga asana practice should be a transformational experience, helping students to achieve calm and balanced minds, while they build strong and flexible bodies. But remember to keep your philosophy simple by reminding yourself that yoga should also be fun!
In addition to regular (active) yoga poses, restorative yoga has its own unique benefits and is quite useful for establishing an overall well balanced yoga practice. There are a variety of static restorative asanas (poses); each one has its own benefits and energizing qualities. Generally speaking, restorative poses relieve anxiety and stress by transporting students to a space where they can experience a deep state of relaxation. They also stimulate and soothe organs, plus they improve concentration. A restorative yoga practice is commonly recommended for calming and grounding.
With the hectic pace of daily life, it is commonplace for our sympathetic nervous systems to be in overdrive, prompting our bodies to remain in a constant state of heightened alert. Our bodies can’t distinguish the difference between the stresses created from work and actual danger such as the threat of a pit-bull attack. In order to restore it normal composure, our body needs to be able to relax and return to its natural dependence on the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative yoga asanas support our muscles, bones and connective tissues with props so that they can relax and release built up tension. As a result of this release of tension, our nervous system sends fewer demands to our brain, our mind quiets down and our body leaves everything to the parasympathetic nervous system. When we encourage this to happen through restorative yoga our heart rate is lowered, blood pressure is reduced and our breath slows down.
Restorative poses can be used to target specific areas and each has its own unique benefits. Forward bends will tend to have a particularly calming effect. An example of a restorative forward bend is supported Child’s Pose (Balasana). The easiest way to feel the calming effects of this pose is simply to try it – all you need is a standard yoga bolster or you can use a large pillow. Position the bolster or pillow length-wise on the floor. Then, beginning with a kneeling position, you place the bolster or pillow directly in front of you between your knees, which are set at hip width apart. Lengthen yourself over the bolster and turn your head to one side and rest it on the bolster or pillow. Remain in the pose for 10-15 minutes switching sides midway through. When you come out of the asana, take note the effects it had on your energy level.
Another effective restorative pose, Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana), opens the front of the body. To prepare for the pose, you’ll need to prop up the bolster on a 4 in. x 6 in. x 9 in. yoga block (set on the 6” height). Position the block about 1/3 down from the top of your bolster, which should create a gentle angle. Sit directly in front of the bolster and slowly lower down to recline, gently arching your back. Place the soles of your feet together and if your knees don’t quite reach the floor, prop them up with blankets or blocks. Some students prefer placing another blanket over their body and/or using an eye pillow to totally relax and fully experience the comfort of the pose. Allow your arms to rest along your sides, palms facing up. This is a pose of surrender, and although you might feel a bit exposed at first, after staying in the pose for just a few minutes you will develop an open and receptive disposition. Hold the pose for 10-15 minutes, then slowly and carefully roll onto your right side and assume a fetal position (if you are pregnant, roll to the left side), and then slowly push yourself up into a comfortable seated position. Again, take note of how this pose has affected your overall energy and your whole body.
Restorative yoga is a good countermeasure to offset the stressful, busy lifestyles that we all lead. Just like you always take time each day to eat and sleep, so you should arrange a 15 minute break to take time to relax with these and other restorative asanas. If you do, you’ll find your muscles will become less tight, your mind calmer and more focused, and the stress and anxiety in your life will be relieved. This is a great compliment to regular (static or dynamic) yoga asana practice.
Would you like to stand straighter or appear taller? Then read on, yoga can help. No matter what your actual height is, by correcting your posture you’ll add the attractiveness of extra elegance and poise. In reality, yoga is not going to make you grow, but it can noticeably lengthen your spine, improve your posture, making you look taller, thinner, and that will surely give you more confidence.
Postural problems are often caused by spending too much time each day slumped at your desk, hunched over a computer terminal at work, or driving a car. Confidently carrying yourself upright and walking with a nice stride, raises your stature in both height and overall appearance. And there are some yoga asanas (poses) that are sure to help you achieve that desired improvement and make you look slimmer, taller and more agile.
Actualizing that near perfect posture with yoga asana…
Certain yoga poses when practiced regularly will not only tend to improve/correct your posture, but they may well be the solution to help you when shedding those extra pounds off your weight chart. Hold each and every asana for a few seconds in the beginning and gradually increase the time to a minute as you progress. The longer you can retain a yoga asana in its correct form (with focused attention and proper breathing), the greater your reward will be.
Here are some asanas to practice for postural improvements…
Paschima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer Pose) – This asana of doing namaskar from the opposite (back) side strengthens the shoulders, shoulder blades, arms all the way down to the frontal finger joints. When you practice this pose regularly your upper back and shoulders become more flexible and strong, lengthening and straightening your spine, as well.
Marjariasana (Cat/Cow Pose) – Based on a cat’s spine stretching exercises, regular practice of Cat/Cow Asana keeps your spine supple and strong, helping to ward off any injury. It relieves any tension in your lower back, purifies the blood and increases its flow to the spine and the internal organs.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose) – This dog-like stretching asana focuses mainly on the upper back. It calms the brain, reducing stress and depression when it’s done regularly. Downward Dog helps to eliminate back pain, insomnia, fatigue and even relieves menopause symptoms. Along strengthening the hands, legs, shoulders and calves this asana has also proven to be therapeutic for asthma, sciatica, and high blood pressure.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Dog Pose) – This asana greatly improves your overall posture while it strengthening your wrists, arms and spine. It energizes your chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen while stimulating your internal organs. Regular practice firms up your buttocks.
Parivrtta parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose with a Twist) – This asana plays an considerable role in healing, stretching and strengthening your legs, ankles, groins, chest, lungs, shoulders, spine and abdomen. Regular practice enhances stamina, improves digestion (eliminates acidity) and restores proper balance.
Purvottanasana (Inclined Plane Pose) – Done on a slanting plank, this pose strengthens your wrists, arms and legs. Furthermore, it works on your chest, shoulders and the front of your ankles. It also works well to offset fatigue.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) – This pose centers on strengthening your wrists, ankles, thighs, groins, shoulders, spine, chest and your stomach. It’s extremely helpful in improving posture; strengthening back muscles, hip flexors and it activates the internal organs in the abdomen.
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, Pilates or worked with a personal trainer you’ve most likely heard about the importance of engaging or strengthening “the core.” And have you noticed how as soon as you tighten or “firm up” your belly, your posture changes in a positive way? That’s just one example of the power of “core strength!”
The Core Muscles – where they’re located & what they do…
Core strength is totally dependent on the core muscles but what exactly are they? The list of muscles that make up the “core” is somewhat arbitrary and different experts include different muscles and muscle groups. A common consensus is there are 29 pairs of muscles that make up the core. But, rather than go into detail about all 29 pairs let’s just say that the core muscles run the length of the torso and spine; they work together to strengthen and stabilize the pelvis, spine and shoulders, maintaining a solid foundation while transferring energy from the center of the body out through limbs.
Some of the most common core muscles that accomplish this task are:
Rectus Abdominis (the “Abs”) – Located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as a “six-pack” due to its appearance in individuals with a well developed musculature. It acts to flex the vertebral column (particularly the lumbar portion), it tenses the anterior abdominal wall assisting in compressing the abdominal contents.
Erector Spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back. It functions to straighten the back and to rotate it to one side or the other.
Multifidus – Located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, one of the smallest yet most “powerful” muscles that extends, rotates and gives support to the spine.
External Obliques – Located on the side and front of the abdomen. They flex the trunk forward, support and contain the abdominal contents, assist the breathing mechanism (particularly exhale) and tilt the pelvis.
Internal Obliques – Located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction. They support the abdominal contents, rotate and flex the spine and play a role in breathing.
Transverse Abdominis (TVA) – Located under the internal obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
Hip Flexors – Located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. They’re several muscles that work together to bring the legs and trunk together allowing you to lift your knees and bend at the waist.
Gluteus medius and minimus – Located at the side of the hip. They function together to pull the thigh away from midline, or “abduct” the thigh.
Gluteus maximus, (hamstring group) – Located in the back of the hip and upper thigh leg. It’s the broad, thick, outermost muscle of the buttocks, involved in the rotation and extension of the thigh.
Hip adductors – Located deep in the inner groin and along the inner thigh. These muscles adduct the hip (pull the thighs together).
Why core strength is considered so important?
Millions of people who share in our modern culture spend a large portion of their day sitting in a work station, in front of a computer screen or just watching TV. Sitting much of the day puts a lot of strain on your lower back and since that’s the part of your body that’s supporting the majority of your weight you need core strength to remain physically functional. When you have a strong core, it protects your body from the harm of remaining seated or inactive most of the day. Sufficient core strength enables you move with more grace, balance and intention, regardless of whether you’re simply walking along, or ascending a flight of stairs.
Why is core strength important during yoga practice?
A strong core works to stabilize your entire body during yoga practice and also outside of the studio, in your regular day to day life. When you neglect to work on maintaining a strengthened core, you increase risk of injury, especially in the lower back. Think specifically about Utkatasana (the Chair Pose). It’s easy to settle into this asana with your “glutes” shifting back, and your stomach area relaxed. After all, there are a lot of things to consider while in this pose (drawing your weight back into your heels, relaxing your shoulders, melting your hips a bit deeper); but think about what happens the moment you suck your belly button in toward your spine, and how this permits your pelvis to become level, which in turn lengthens your lower spine. It even takes just a bit of weight off of your legs and all of a sudden you notice your posture improves in the pose. That’s only one example out of many, so it’s very easy to imagine the impact that a strong core has on every single asana practiced in a power yoga sequence. For instance, a strong core adds grace and stability during the simple transitions from Warrior 2, to extended side angle, and back to reverse Warrior. And that’s nothing when compared to the amount of core strength needed for arm balances and inversions like crow pose, headstand or forearm stand; all asanas that would be virtually impossible without engaging the core!
The next time you’re in a yoga class (or even when practicing at home), think about your core strength during each asana, and each transition, and watch how it transforms your overall experience. And then, continue to think about your core strength after you leave the studio and continue with your daily routine. There’s a good chance this will help you discover more purpose with every movement, even the most simple.
Even if you do not practice yoga regularly (or at all), a health promoting lifestyle can still be very simple, inexpensive, and accessible. While you may (or may not) have heard these 12 tips before, you may (or may not) be actually practicing them.
Try the following list of tips – consider them as basic starting points which will serve as a call to action, enabling you to create sufficient time every day for increased health and wellness…
1. Breathe deeply. No need to wait until later, try it right now and see how you feel. Simply inhale completely until your lungs are full of breath. Now pause for a few seconds. Next, exhale all the way until your lungs are completely empty. Repeat two more times. This is really uncomplicated, but it is challenging nonetheless, and if done with awareness you’ll notice your thoughts often interrupt the process of conscious breathing. These three breaths will calm your nervous system, reduce stress, and move you into a state of relaxation. Take at least three deep conscious breaths every day, and eventually increase to once every hour.
2. Be “mindful” of what you eat and drink. Also remain conscious of why you’re choosing it. A little awareness can go a long way, so just be aware of what you’re putting in your body every time you eat something and then ask yourself; “Is this going to feed my body with the nutrients it really needs?” If your answer is “no,” and you eat it anyway; then ask yourself why you chose to feed your body with anything less than the best.
3. Drink Plenty of Water. You will notice that you feel better on the days that you drink more water (at least eight – 10 ounce glasses) than on the days that you don’t. When you’re properly hydrated you’ll be more awake, more aware, less hungry, and even more energized. Give it a try!
4. Move Your Body. Whether it’s a brisk walk, time spent at the gym, practicing yoga, or any other form of light to heavy exercise; make time to move your body in a conscious way (to the point of increasing your heartbeat and breaking a sweat), at least three times per week. Move your body with the intention of improving your health, not just your looks.
5. Meditate. Take at least five minutes every day to STOP what you are doing, and sit down on a chair, on the floor with your back against a wall, or on a cushion to clear your mind. You do not need to be by the ocean or somewhere pretty to find calm. You can meditate anywhere by visualizing the peaceful spot of your choice. In the beginning, set a timer if you need to and just allow your mind be clear, if intrusive thoughts arise (and they probably will) don’t fight, simply watch them like clouds passing in the sky. Five minutes is really not much time at all, and we have all wasted a lot more time than that doing something less meaningful and productive. As you use meditation to clear your mind, it will help put things in perspective, decrease perceived or anticipated stresses, and greatly improve your focus.
6. Get outside. Take time to commune with nature at least once per week whether it’s in your own backyard, a neighborhood park, by the seashore or in the mountains. Observe the trees, rocks, plants, grass, etc. surrounding you as you take nature in. Immersing yourself in the natural world will invigorate your spirits and remind you of the infinite beauty both on the outside and the inside.
7. Practice yoga and/or stretch. As we grow older we lose elasticity in our muscles and our joints often become stiff. One of the most beneficial things we can do for our physical body is to stretch. Increasing flexibility through stretching is one of the basic tenets of physical fitness. Watch your pets or wild animals and how often they stretch. At least once a day take the time to thoroughly stretch your entire body, especially if you tend to lead a sedentary lifestyle. Those who regularly practice yoga will testify to the health and wellness benefits of stretching.
8. Read inspirational literature. Stimulate your mind as much (and as often) as you can by taking time away from the computer, television or work station to read a book or magazine article. Reading helps you escape your regular conditioned thought patterns and inspire you to make improvements or be more creative with your life. Challenge yourself, and read a book or magazine article at least twice a week.
9. Pray, or exercise some form of devotion. Spend just a minute or two each day connecting with something bigger than yourself, and do this with a sense of gratitude, service and intention. This will create a sacred space in your life and help you to acknowledge the power and goodness inherent in all things.
10. Engage physical touch and closeness. It can be as simple as a hug or a pat on the back, or it can be a massage, but be sure to allow yourself time to give and receive some sort of physical touch every day. A therapeutic massage once a month can work wonders.
11. Think positive thoughts. Perhaps you won’t actually soar from thinking happy thoughts, but you will certainly eliminate (or at least offset) the stress that negative thought patterns can cause. By becoming aware of negative thoughts and words you may well be able to supplant them with positive ones instead. This prompts a new way of looking at things perspective, reduces unnecessary stress, and connects you to the joy inherent in your own life.
12. Last but not least, actually practice everything on this list. While you have probably read or heard all of the above ways to become healthier before, and you might even know them to be true, but, are you actually practicing them? Mentally acknowledging and doing are two different things. Let go of your excuses (or limiting beliefs) like a lack of time or money and see them for what they are – lame excuses, not real reasons. Just try putting forth the initial effort that it takes to include all of the above tools in your daily life and watch your health and vitality increase.
Turn those Ouches into Oms – Some practical suggestions for safe yoga practice.
Proper alignment when doing asanas (poses) is key to preventing injuries, but it’s not the only factor in a safe yoga practice. To minimize concerns over injury, follow the basic recommended guidelines below.
1. Leave your ego at the door. It’s often tempting to push yourself into more advanced poses (after all, how tough can a handstand be, right?), but rushing our bodies before they’re ready greatly increases our risk for injury. Yoga is about finding out where you are at, not trying to push yourself to in order to appear better than you really are. Yoga class is not a competition.
2. Always take time to warm up. This is an important part of any physical activity, sport or exercise program, and yoga is no exception. Basic, simple stretches (like neck and shoulder rolls and gentle spinal twists) help prepare the muscles, joints and connective tissue for more challenging poses later on in a sequence when actual practice begins. Remember, your mind needs to warm up too; take a few slow, deep breaths to get centered at the beginning of class, it’s also good to chant some Oms to get yourself grounded.
3. Ease in slowly. No one should expect to finish a marathon the first time they put on a pair of running shoes. Don’t expect to do a perfect headstand or even get your heels all the way down to the floor in the downward dog pose the first time you attend a class. Instead, opt for beginner-friendly classes or a qualified teacher who will help you develop the foundational skills for more advanced postures and moves.
4. Communicate Honestly. Don’t just get to know your teacher, let them get to know you also. Be sure to share any pre-existing conditions or issues that might require modifications in certain asanas. A qualified instructor will be glad to show you how to modify poses or use props, so never be afraid to ask.
5. Come out of static postures slowly. This is particularly important if you’ve been holding a certain pose for several minutes. A good rule of thumb is to work your way out of a pose as gradually and slowly as you moved into it.
6. Use the props and modifications recommended by your teacher. There’s no shame in not being able to hold a pose or move all the way into it completely onyour own. Whenever there’s tightness anywhere in the body, other parts of the body will have to adjust to accommodate it. This is why it’s so important not to push the body past what it’s able to do in any given pose. Props and modifications allow the body to get a feel for a pose without being able to get fully into it and this will help you to gradually work up to its full extension or variation without undue risk of injury.
7. Don’t ever lock your joints. Hyper-extension (joint-locking) is probably the fastest way to wear out joints and cause injury or problems down the road. Focus instead on engaging the muscles, tendons and connective tissue around the joints, this helps you to gain stability.
8. If you feel you’re hurt or injured, Stop. If you think you’ve tweaked, pulled, or torn something during a yoga session, tell your teacher immediately and, if need be, don’t be afraid to leave the class early. Care for it like any other sports injury, and seek the advice of a trusted health care professional if the pain or condition persists.
9. Stay for savasana (corpse pose). Students are sometimes tempted to head for the door as soon as the instructor calls for savasana (the final resting pose usually at the end of a yoga session), remember it’s not only good for your health, it’s necessary for your composure. Savasana allows the body’s nervous system to slow down and readjust, bringing closure to the practice. Just two or three minutes in this asana can have a beneficial effect.
10.Listen to your body. This may be the most important tip of all for avoiding injury. At all stages (or levels) of yoga practice, remain mindful. By really listening to your body you can be sensitive to any tightness, stress or strain. Simply because you did a particular pose with ease one day, doesn’t mean your body will automatically be able to do it the next. Build your relationship with your body just like you would with other people, by listening and being attentive.
Always remain mindful of your body, respect yourself and where you’re at on each and every day. Your body changes quite often and your yoga practice should accommodate those changes, adjusting itself accordingly.
Make sure you do your homework before joining a class or choosing a teacher. As yoga’s popularity continues to grow, more and more students are flocking to classes, increasing the need for skilled yoga instructors. Inexperienced or poorly trained yoga teachers often unintentionally cause harm or injury by teaching above their own training and/or ability levels. Well-trained certified instructors have a thorough knowledge of anatomy, human movement and the physiology of exercise. A basic understanding of the ideology, philosophy and history of yoga is essential. Teachers who focus on specialties such as seniors, kids, yoga therapy or pre-natal yoga, requires that they have additional training above the foundational level.
Well over 20 million people are currently downward-dogging it across the entire U.S. in an attempt to gain the many health benefits associated with yoga. To name a few of these benefits from yoga practice:
*Reduced tension, anxiety, and stress.
*Lower blood pressure
Scientific studies have also shown that yoga can improve respiration, heart rate, and metabolism plus it helps reduce pain. In spite of all the benefits this doesn’t mean that yoga, if and when performed incorrectly, can’t also cause injury or harm.
Although most injuries resulting from yoga practice aren’t severe and often go unreported, more serious issues can and do occur occasionally. This includes strains and sprains, fractures, dislocations, and, in rare cases, bone spurs, sciatic nerve problems, and even stroke. But according to yoga trainers, fitness instructors, personal trainers and other experts, injuries can happen at any time, in any sport or exercise regime, even walking down the sidewalk, although debilitating and life threatening injuries are extremely rare.
With yoga practice, most common injuries develop gradually over years, and are generally a result of consistent over-stretching and/or misalignment. When engaging any physical activity, the safest approach to stay in touch with your body to avoid overdoing it. And with yoga, proper guidance and instruction is necessary to learn how to practice the asanas (poses) correctly and safely.
Areas of most concern when practicing yoga asana…
Wrists: Leverage is all important when it comes to the wrists. Don’t place all of the body’s weight on the wrists when the hands are on the mat as that can lead to both muscle and joint injuries. When practicing any asana where weight is placed on the hands (e.g.; downward dog, cat/cow), distribute the body’s weight through both your hands by spreading them so that they are in line with the shoulders and then press through the fingers. In downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), push the hips back to decrease the angle of the wrists to the floor slightly. In arm balances, such as crow pose (Kakasana), check to make sure your elbows are stacked directly over the wrists.
Elbows: Joint pain in the elbows can result from bending them out to the sides in asanas like the four limbed staff pose (Chaturanga). Because it’s easier to execute some students tend to lower themselves down with outward-pointing elbowsand this will stress the joint (plus it puts undue stresses on the wrists). When bending the elbows in asana (especially plank or Chaturanga), keep the elbows tucked in alongside the ribs as you bend them, and make sure the elbows’ creases remain facing forward.
Shoulders: Resist the temptation to shrug. By raising the shoulders up toward the ears (e.g; moving into upward dog), you’ll stop using the supporting muscles in your arms, shoulders, and neck. Shrugging also compresses the shoulders, which can also cause muscle injuries. Beware of over-extending or over-stretching it’s relatively easy to injure the shoulder girdle or rotator cuff (even dislocate the joint). Focus on keeping the shoulders held back and down away from the ears.
Ribs: Twists work great for releasing tension, but if done improperly they can easily be overextended and bruise the intercostals (the muscles in between the ribs). Lengthen your torso upwards through the spine before and during twisting. Imagine a cord attached to the crown of your head that is gently pulling you up toward the celestial space. No matter how flexible you feel you are, twist only to the point of feeling the stretch but not beyond it.
Lower back: Lower back pain is the most frequently reported yoga injury, and most certified teachers suspect that it’s the result of “rounding through the spine” in poses like forward folds and downward dog. This unnatural rounding causes the spine to bend the opposite way that it’s meant to, which can lead disc problems. This can also be the cause of that achy feeling post-session. Before engaging any bending poses, imagine lengthening your spine up and away from the hips, this will help to avoid rounding. If your hamstrings are too tight, try bending the knees slightly in poses like forward folds and downward dog.
Hamstrings: As a result of spending too much time sitting in front of the computer, in class, or driving a car, many of us have tight hamstrings, so it’s easy to pull or over-stretch them in poses like forward bends. Downward dog and lunges are great ways to stretch the hamstrings (just remember to go slowly, work at your own pace and don’t overdo it). If you have any kind of hamstring injury, temporarily lay off poses that extend through the back of the body and legs until the injury heals.
Hips: When practicing warrior poses, splits and wide-legged forward folds it’s easy to over-extend the hips’ range of motion in, which in some cases might even tear the muscles of the inner groin or inner thighs. Proper form insures that the toes are pointed forward when attempting any pose where the hips are squared off in the same direction (envision warrior I).
Knees: Knee problems can plague both students and even experienced yogis well after the session is over. The most common causes of knee pain are the cross-legged positions (Padmasana and Sukhasana, Flexibility needs to begin with the hips first; if the hips are tight in asana, the knees will be the first to feel pain or tension. Placing a yoga block or rolled-up blanket under the knees in cross-legged positions generally helps to reduce strain.
Neck: Head stands (Sirsasana) and shoulder stands (Sarvangasana) can be the worst culprits for neck pain or injury. Repeatedly and/or incorrectly placing pressure on the neck in poses such as shoulder stand and headstand can compress the neck and put undue pressure on the cervical vertebrae, resulting in joint issues and a loss of neck flexion in some cases. It would be best to avoid full inversions altogether if you have chronic neck or shoulder issues. It is very important to remember not to jerk the head once you’re up in the pose, because it can destabilize the body and cause a fall.
*Stay tuned for part 2 where some practical guidelines to avoid injury will be discussed.