The word yoga means “to yoke” or “to unite” and that the practice of yoga helps to connect the mind, body and spirit. I first began practicing yoga to lose weight almost 20 years ago. I met my weight goal by becoming more physically active through my yoga practice. However, the enlightenment that I found along the way greatly improved my life.
There are 8 limbs, or branches, of yoga: Yama (restraints/moral values), Niyama (positive duties/observances), Asana (physical posture), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dyarana (focused concentration), Dyhana (meditation), and Samadhi (bliss).
The physical postures (asana) are only one of the eight parts of yoga and the benefits of practicing yoga extend beyond just the physical aspect.
Yamas and niyamas help us create a life that is in the flow and balanced. When we aim to integrate moral values and positive practices into our daily life, we find peace and harmony within ourselves and others. We thrive in this positive environment and find self discipline, humility, inner strength, and a deeper spirituality.
The top physical benefit of yoga through asana practice is improvement in flexibility. Even the lowest intensity yoga class can increase flexibility through gentle stretching of muscles. Yoga is especially beneficial for individuals over the age of 65 because regular practice slows down the loss of flexibility which is a normal part of the aging process. Regular yoga asana practice improves strength, balance, cardiovascular functioning and improved posture.
Benefits of breath work (pranayama) in yoga are plentiful. Breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. When we focus on our breath, we calm our heart rate and reduce blood pressure. When our body is in a “fight or flight” state, the sympathetic nervous system is in charge. Through awareness and attention to our breathing by lengthening and deepening the breath, we restore the body back to a “rest and digest” state where the parasympathetic nervous system takes over. Pranayama can be practiced anywhere, anytime. No yoga mat needed.
Pratyahara (removal of the senses) helps to keep us focused in moment and brings our awareness within. Blocking out the noises and outer sensations that are constantly around us is not an easy task, but with practice we can learn to quiet our mind and hear our inner voice.
Dharana, dyana and samadhi are all part of meditation. Often meditation classes start by warming up with movement and then settling into stillness. The benefits of regular meditation include stress and anxiety reduction, improvement in sleep, increased self-esteem, focus, clarity, improved mental health, and heightened self awareness.
The ancient yogis developed asana practice in order to be able to sit for long periods of time in meditation. After meditation, when the mind is quiet and calm, the body will follow and everyday tasks can be accomplished with more ease and less irritation. The rest of the day just seems to flow more smoothly. Meditation can also be practiced at anytime to slow down and hit the reset button.
Everyone is capable of doing yoga and meditation, regardless of what their intentions may be. There are no requirements to get started, only a willingness and desire to make some positive lifestyle changes. The first step is to come to class and celebrate the fact that you showed up for yourself.
Teresa Jackson is Head Yoga Instructor at The Studio at Cape Carteret holds a BA in Psychology/Sociology, along with certifications in 200 hour Traditional Hatha YTT, 300 hour Yoga Psychology YTT, 95 hour Childrens YTT, Trauma Informed Yoga, Warriors at Ease, Yoga for 12 Step Recovery and Shamanic Reiki Master.