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Yoga Insights

De-Stress Your Asana Practice

Why do we practice yoga asanas? I would guess that most of us do it for our health and well-being, to reduce stress, or to experience inner peace. Those are good reasons. But to achieve those results, it’s important to practice in a way that leads to those goals.

Remember that the word “asana” can be translated as “comfortable seat.” The word “comfortable” is the key to your practice. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gently extend your boundaries—on the contrary, without doing so, the poses won’t get any easier. But it should be a gradual process, approached with patience.

All too often, people let a competitive spirit creep into their practice. They may be in a class, struggling to keep up with more limber or stronger students. Seeing them struggle, teachers may cue students to rest when they need to, or offer them an easier way to do a pose. But some students feel it’s demeaning to do an easier version or to come out of the pose before others in the class. “I can do it,” they think. Yes, perhaps so, but it’s not comfortable, it’s not relaxing—on the contrary, it’s stressful. I think we’re all aware by now of the many negative effects of stress on our health.

In order for our asana practice to be truly beneficial, we should approach it with an attitude that encourages inner peace. After all, we already compete in so many fields of activity. We compete at work, at play, in sports, at school, with our appearance and so on. Competitiveness and stress come hand in hand. There are enough sources of stress in our lives already; we certainly don’t need another one.

One of the main purposes and benefits of practicing yoga asanas is to help relieve the burden of stress that plagues everyone in this day and age. Bringing a competitive spirit into our asana practice undermines the very purpose of yoga. So if you tend to be competitive when doing asanas, remind yourself every now and then that you’re doing it for your own well-being. Take your time, listen to your body, give yourself permission to come out of the pose when you feel the need, or do an easier version (for example, use a strap for Sunset Stretch) and notice how nice it feels not to struggle. In fact, it can be quite liberating!

Gaining Insights Through Meditation

Approaching life with the principles of yoga as our foundation will bring us keen insights—whether about our relationships, our personal situation, or our work. These insights will enable us to find a solution to any situation or problem in life.

When we’re faced with a difficult decision, if we’re unable to come up with a solution after analyzing the pros and cons, all too often we just sit there focusing our attention on the problem.

Extra Care for Yoga Flow

A lot of times I like to practice asanas one at a time, holding the poses for a while and taking short rests in between, when appropriate. But I also like to practice Salute to the Sun, flowing from one pose to another. Because there are so many different types of flow yoga classes available now, I just wanted to give you a few words of caution, especially if you’re new to the practice of asanas.

The Real Purpose of Yoga

Some people practice yoga to attain a perfect body—in terms of lasting beauty and health. However, such a goal is impossible to achieve. A real yogi recognizes this fact. A real yogi knows that the purpose of yoga asanas and breathing techniques is to attain optimum health—or one’s best possible physical condition, given their genetics, history, lifestyle, environment, and age.

Yoga for the Immune System

Practicing yoga asanas, even doing gentle poses for just 15 minutes a day, releases tension from our bodies, reduces our stress, and strengthens our immune system, all of which help keep away winter ills like coughs and colds. Doing Salute to the Sun regularly is also quite beneficial for building up resistance to coughs and colds. Yoga asanas in general help us breathe more fully, which strengthens our lungs and helps make them more resilient to viruses that are often floating around. Regular practice is key for prevention, because once you catch a cold, it’s best to rest.

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