Yoga is one of the best ways of re-establishing your natural balance. And it does this by bringing your body, mind and spirit back into harmony. At the physical level, the practice of postures (asanas) strengthens the body and, over time, creates a feeling of well-being. Psychologically, Yoga focuses your thoughts and steadies emotions. The practice of breathing correctly further calms the mind. Spiritually it helps you bring awareness to all your activities, and with that, the ability to be still.
Simple as ABC? Well, not exactly. Itís not for nothing that Yoga is called a discipline and the key word here is practice. Practice should be systematic, which means on a regular schedule and starting with simple postures, progressing in each asana as you get stronger. Also, practice should be cumulative Ė as you learn one set of exercises you can move on to another. Your practice should always focus on alignment. And, as with many arts, the right teacher is essential. Yoga is a powerful discipline, and itís easy to go beyond your limits if you donít have the proper approach, or if you attempt asanas that are too advanced. Many of us are too focused on the fruit of the actions instead of on the process, and either get impatient with the results we think we should be achieving, or worse still, end up hurting ourselves.
We have all seen pictures of the incredible asanas that some yogi or yogini can achieve Ė and we have wondered at their physical genius. And once you attend a class, you may find that the teacher or another student is able to practice an advanced asana with ease, while you cannot even touch your toes. But the key here is not to compare yourself with others. Just watch your own progress and marvel at how much further you can stretch yourself today than you could yesterday, and how much stronger you have become since last week. Eventually your practice will have more profound effects as you move through your body, increasing its strength and flexibility. So just enjoy yourself and be encouraged by the changes youíll observe in your body and mind.
A Yoga class is often completed with a posture known as Savasana (pronounced shavasana). Here, you lie as still as a corpse, and the relaxation is enhanced by the intensity of the practice that preceded it. Having a teacher to lead you through a guided relaxation is also essential for beginners. Savasana is considered a separate art from yoga itself, and once mastered, this quietness can be drawn upon at will, like refreshing water from a deep, cool well.
By Shelley Poplak