Yoga is the process of becoming aware of the body, the mind and the emotions. It supports us in our daily lives physically, emotionally and spiritually. It can also be practiced on any, or all of these levels.
When practiced correctly, yoga releases tension from the joints, muscles, connective tissue and brain, so that we become more flexible both in the body and in the mind. Yoga works by bringing the body into a new alignment through the postures, or ‘asanas’. When we go to a class or practice, the body’s energy helps the muscles relax into the postures instead of being used for the stresses or thoughts of the day and building tension. Over time the postures become easier as tension releases. Many students describe practicing the asanas as way to get ‘out of your head’ and reduce stress. This is because the focus is internal instead of external. We spend our day working talking to people, on the phone or in front of a computer, all of which require us to focus on things outside the body. It is very refreshing to bring that focus inside, and to start conserving energy.
In beginning yoga it is unimportant whether one can ‘do the posture’ or not. Flexibility is an outcome, not a requirement of the practice. Yoga is not about attaining a specific shape and forcing the body to get there. It is rather the process of coming to and from a posture, finding the ‘edge’ of the body and releasing tension so that the posture becomes more comfortable. The asanas improve alignment of the body with gravity, allowing the muscles and joints to be less weighted and become more supple. The degree to which this happens depends on the state of the body in beginning yoga and the amount of time given to the practice.
It is not commonly realized that the ‘asanas’ are only one of the 'eight' limbs of yoga. Westernisation of the practice often leaves out the other elements, which include the practice of meditation and the awareness of certain aspects of the self. These include:
- The Yamas
- The Niyamas
- Various stages of meditation