Published on August 2nd, 2012 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles3
How a Yoga Practice Can Benefit YOU!
by Matt Clouse
If you have never been to a yoga class, there may be several reasons. Perhaps you have never really considered it, thinking it wasn’t something that you found interesting. Maybe you’ve labored under the mistaken belief that you aren’t flexible enough or that it’s only for those “perfect people” who have it all figured out. Maybe you just plain find it intimidating. Or it could be that you aren’t fully aware of all of the benefits besides increased flexibility and balance. But I’d like to demonstrate to you just a few of the many reasons why this ancient system is one of the most complete and effective means towards creating the health, peace and joy that we all deserve to experience as a human beings.
Yoga Benefits are Available to Everyone
By virtue of the fact that you’re reading this article you must have some interest in yoga, and here is where I want to really grab your attention: The benefits of yoga are available to EVERYONE, not just a select few. YOU are a yogi waiting to happen. But just what is yoga? The answer to this question is both simple and vastly multidimensional. Yoga can best be described as an ancient science, philosophy, technology and system for living. It encompasses every sphere of life, from the mundane to the profound. It is not a religion; however it does tap into spiritual concepts. It is a way of life, although most people in Western society begin with the physical approach of the poses (asanas) and work up to the more esoteric ideas. In a yoga class, you can generally anticipate being led through a guided relaxation, breathing exercises, physical postures, meditation and at times chanting and visualizations, depending on the background of the instructor or the type of yoga being practiced.
There are many types of yoga but they all have one goal: freedom. Freedom from limiting belief systems, freedom from the mental, emotional and physical patterns that keep your life static in the places that you most want to create change; freedom to experience your own existence however you choose; freedom to find peace in your life no matter what the circumstances. These are all outcomes that are cultivated by letting go of expectations and immersing yourself into your own personal practice.
Breathing is the Foundation
Breathing is essentially the foundation of yoga, and you’ll find that with regular practice of several times a week, maybe for a few months or so, you will automatically consider the breath before any movement. This link between the breath and movement is the key to quieting the mind and really moving into the flow of the practice. The breath can sustain you while in a challenging pose or help prevent injury by focusing the awareness so that you’ll better recognize when you’ve gone beyond your limits. In this vein it can also become a tool during relaxation and meditation, through mindful observation of the inhalation and exhalation. In addition to the breath during the poses, there are various pranayamas, or breathing exercises that work to move life energy, known as prana, throughout the entire body/mind complex. The benefits of these exercises can range from energizing to calming, or they can help bring you to a state of equilibrium. Relief from stress, anxiety, depression, and many physical ailments such as poor digestion, fatigue or just aches and pains. Proper breathing assists you in processing emotions, and can help to bring about healing on emotional, energetic and spiritual levels.
Asanas Connect Your Mind, Body, and Spirit
The asanas (poses) are what most people think of when they think of yoga: beautiful people performing contortions on a beach in Hawaii. This is all well and good; however one must first understand that the real purpose of the asanas is to help link your body with your mind and spirit, to create balance in all of the systems of your body/mind complex, and to prepare your body for relaxation and meditation. What matters is the awareness that you bring to your postures, not necessarily the postures you can perform. Poses can be modified for the practitioner, so there is almost always an alternative if something is beyond your means in the present moment. I realize that there are many yoga poses that are quite difficult and take some time to master, and there are some poses that you may never be able to execute due to physical limitations, so you can always ask your instructor if you need modifications, clarification or contraindications. And you always have the option to refrain from doing a pose if it’s not appropriate for you.
Beyond the physical body, yogic philosophy asks you to observe your thoughts and actions during practice, meditation, and in daily life. The Yamas and the Niyamas are principles that help guide you towards a more harmonious relationship with yourself (the Niyamas) and the world you perceive (the Yamas). When you combine these principles with the physical practices, you open the door to higher states of consciousness.
Start With a Beginner’s Class
I recommend trying a Beginner’s class before you jump into anything more advanced. These classes will give you all of the foundational tools you’ll need to build up to more challenging practices, and then you’ll be able to walk confidently into that intermediate or advanced class (should you choose) and feel as though you can at least keep up. I myself took a 6-week Beginner’s Course five times when I was first starting out, and I’ll even drop into a Beginner’s class now and then just as a refresher. You’ll be surrounded by other newcomers, which may help put you at ease. My students are always reminding me of the student within, which keeps me humble and hopefully able to relate to their experiences.
It’s essential to come to practice with a lack of self-judgment. You’ll only be setting yourself back by expecting to master a pose the first time you do it. Comparing yourself to the instructor (who has most likely done the pose thousands of times) or other more seasoned students is counterproductive. Your head may be awash with thoughts and emotions at first, but this will pass with regular practice. Only by coming to a place of acceptance of your current circumstances will you be able to transcend them, and advance yourself beyond frustration or self-recrimination. Yoga isn’t just for the already enlightened or human pretzels; it’s a path towards creating a better relationship with your Self. Improving that relationship will in turn transform your outer world.
So, when you go to your first yoga class, take a moment to set aside all of your pre-conceived notions, attachments to outcomes, or whatever other limitations are floating around in the perimeter of your awareness. Be present. Take a step back from the circumstances of your life and allow the practice to guide you. Remember that the benefits may range from subtle to profound, but I can guarantee that something will change when you come to the mat. However, keep in mind there are many paths you can take to attain wholeness and freedom. Whether or not you choose to begin a yoga practice, may you find peace in your life. Namaste.
Matthew Clouse, Omaha, NE, (http://www.the-yoga-matt.com) received his certification from The Omaha Yoga and Bodywork Center and has taught classes at the center as well as privately. Currently he teaches classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for the Campus Recreation Dept, the Health Center at the Union Pacific headquarters, and Bright Spirit Center in Ralston. Matt is also a trained Reiki and BodyTalk practitioner. He has a BA in Art History and a Masters in Museum Studies, and is a practicing artist.