Yoga Basics

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Here are some yoga basics and background information that will help you to utilize yoga in your life and guide you in connecting with your inner self. The practice of yoga will also help you decrease stress and enhance your lifestyle, your physical health and your mental well being. Contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT have to be a contortionist to practice yoga, just relax and breathe.

Asana means posture. Asana was originally used to prepare people for sitting in meditation. It is believed in India that you can not attain total enlightenment (Samadhi) unless you also attain physical perfection. So, along with the spiritual devotional aspects of yoga came Asana, to help burn off the physical energy and prepare the body-mind for Samadhi (total mental-physical and spiritual harmony or total enlightenment).

Before you begin your yoga asanas, it is important to recognize your body's capabilities. Never force your body into a posture or try to go beyond your limit. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Progress may be slow, but with time your body will become flexible. Ease yourself gently into each position, and when you are holding a pose, check the body to see if you can feel tension building up anywhere. If you do, consciously try to relax that tension using the breathing.

Some poses affect mood and energy differently. Poses that are more stimulating include Sun Salutation, backbends, and standing poses. These poses are best done early in the day. More appropriate for the evening are forward bends, inversions, and restorative poses. Sitting forward bends are ideal for relaxing and recharging.

Many of our regular daily activities tend to emphasize the use of one part or side of the body. To achieve a healthy and harmonious balance, it is important to keep all parts of the body equally strong and flexible. Yoga exercises make each group of muscles work equally on the left and right sides of the body to achieve equilibrium. To achieve body balance, always exercise both sides of the body equally. Balance forward bends with backbends to work both front and back of the body.

Whatever the purpose of a particular practice session, it should begin with 2 - 3 warm-up postures, such as Mountain, Downward Facing Dog or Sun Salutation, as they stretch the spine, arms and legs. Then you can move on to more strenuous poses that strengthen the body and increase endurance. Standing, inverted and backbend poses would apply here. To wind down and settle the nerves, practice seated forward bends or supine poses.

Your routine should be well rounded and should include some poses from all the major groupings of poses: standing, inversions, twists, forward bends, and backbends. While in the pose, do not hold the breath. Between postures, take 1 to 2 breaths to quiet the mind.

Inhalations are generally mated with upward or expanding movements. Going into a backbend such as Cobra, for example, you begin on an in-breath. Hold the pose and breathe rhythmically. An exception to this rule: Upward movements of the legs work best on the exhalation since the legs are much heavier than the arms.

Exhalations are usually mated with downward and contracting movements, such as lowering the arms and with any positions that employ flexion of the spine (such as folding the body into itself such as in forward bends, abdominal curls, lateral stretches or twists.) When you lift a substantial weight, exhale on the effort. This applies whether you're lifting a 10-pound dumbbell or your leg. The out-breath helps contract the abdominals which in turn stabilizes and protects the lower back.

Moving from one pose to another without breaking form is called "sequencing" or vinyasa in Sanskrit. This method of practice allows for a balanced workout regardless of practice length. Sequences can consist of related poses for the purpose of energizing (as with standing poses or backbends) or relaxing (with forward bends or restorative poses) the body or working on specific areas such as the hips, shoulders, or feet.

At the end of your practice it is important to take 5 to 10 minutes to relax your body. Relaxation is a state of total receptivity where, through deep breathing, the body can replenish and rejuvenate itself as the natural potential of the body to heal itself comes into play. Always end with several minutes in Corpse Pose to renew both mind and body.

Adjust your practice to your schedule and feelings. Some days you may not feel as energetic or flexible or you may feel week or tired. On those days, try doing restorative poses, such as supine poses and forward bends. Don't practice when you have a fever. If you have a cold or other minor illness, use your judgment and restrict your practice to restorative ones.

Regard yoga as an ongoing process rather than a single accomplishment. Some people are genetically less flexible or have tighter muscle groups than others. Be patient with yourself. Yoga can be a life-long pursuit, but persistency, consistency and discipline are required to gain the many lasting benefits yoga offers.

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