So, you’ve heard that you have to be flexible to do yoga? You may think it involves putting your leg around the back of your neck or sitting in the lotus position for hours in meditation chanting ‘Om’. Of, course these things are true for some people, however it is a common misconception that one needs to be flexible in order to ‘do’ yoga. This is not so, the physical aspect of yoga (asana practice) is about keeping the body in balance, comfortable and free from aches and pains. Yoga practice is different for everyone, and there are many ways in which an individual can begin learning yoga, since it is composed of different elements which when combined bring well-being and contentment. Postures, meditation, breathing techniques and cleansing practices are all aimed at drawing the mind, body and spirit into balance and harmony.
The physical aspects of yoga are often the most well known and a route that many take as their introduction to yoga. Postures are practiced with the intention of releasing physical tensions; strengthening and improving mobility in the joints; increasing inner awareness and well-being. Since we are all unique, no one style of yoga or set of postures will be the same, nor will they feel the same, to each individual, and yet each person can use poses to benefit their body and mind and bring beneficial results.
One of the chief benefits of yoga is the awareness that develops with practice. It trains you to notice sensations and teaches you to respond in order to bring yourself back to balance. So often we ignore the discomforts that come from daily living, from the thirst we feel, to the dull ache in our back or shoulders first thing in the morning or after work. If we ignore these messages they rarely change or disappear completely, and may even develop into a more serious chronic issue. If we address the imbalance and do whatever it is the body, mind, or emotions need to do to return to equilibrium then well-being will be restored. Yoga provides tools to do this, to use in everyday life. Even in times of extremis, when all else may fail us, our yogic tools can assist in a return to balance.
Why do I practice yoga? Because I enjoy learning more about myself, delving deeper into the way my mind, body and emotions affect me. I like to be able to observe my habitual patterns of behaviour and be more objective, accepting responsibility for my life – past, present and future; what I do and how I respond, is my choice and the consequences are all mine too. Physically I hope to be able to keep my body working well for a lifetime, that at the age of 100 plus I will be able to raise my arms above my head to reach the top shelf and bend to put on my shoes! Why wouldn’t you want that?
Working on your energy, balancing the in/out, positive/negative, up/down of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies is Yoga. Whether we access that through Breath work (Pranayama), Physical Practice (Asana), Rest (Relaxation and Restorative practices) or the Mind (meditation/ contemplation), these tools and techniques will give you the ability to be in harmony with yourself and the world around you. Are you prepared to live your life?