I know what it’s like to get out of a warm bed into a cold room on a winter’s day before you’ve had a chance to turn up the heater. Your body feels stiff and the last thing you feel like doing is a forward bend. On cold days I always take a hot shower before I start my asana practice. The hot water takes away the chill and melts away the tension I’ve been holding in my muscles from being cold. Then I pull on some comfy clothes for my asana practice and get onto my mat.
One thing I love about yoga asanas is that I can build strength simply by using my own body—I don’t need any weights or expensive machines. Holding the body in yoga’s various poses while resisting gravity builds muscle strength, while also helping build strong bones. Even moving into and out of poses, especially when done slowly and with awareness, helps gain strength throughout the body.
I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t suffer from tight neck and shoulder muscles at least some of the time. Well, maybe my grandkids don’t. But for many, shoulder tension can be chronic. Left unchecked, we can get used to the discomfort and not even realize how much it’s restricting our movements. Of course, if we don’t do anything about it, at some point, it is likely to become quite painful and even cause headaches, backaches, and other problems.
As yoga becomes an integral part of our society, people are looking to this ancient science and wondering whether it can offer them something deeper and more meaningful. The answer, of course, is yes.
Practicing yoga and living a yoga lifestyle can have a profound effect on our consciousness. If we want to experience deeper meaning in life as well as true happiness, we need to elevate our consciousness. If we want to know what truth is, to understand the real nature of ourselves and the world around us, we need to delve more deeply into the practice of yoga.
If the backs of your legs scream at you whenever you do straight-leg forward bends, it may well be that your hamstrings are tight. If you don’t stretch them regularly, they’ll stay that way—or even get stiffer. That’s not a good thing because tight hamstrings affect more than just our ability to bend forward with straight legs. They can make us more prone to injury—especially if we play sports. They can also interfere with good posture, which, in turn, can contribute to back pain.
It’s really not hard to practice meditation. Anyone can do it—even you. Having a successful meditation practice doesn’t mean you have to conquer your mind by the strength of your will and clear it of all thoughts. If you have tried to do this and have become frustrated, I’m not surprised. The mind is notorious for jumping around from one thing to another—in fact that is its nature. But don’t despair.
Although it is not often talked about, mauna is very much a part of the yoga system. It is sometimes called “yoga silence.”
One of the main goals of yoga and its various processes is to gain control over the senses because, if we are the servants of our senses, constantly struggling to meet their every demand, we will never be happy.
Do you have a Type A personality—always busy, a real go-getter, pushing yourself to achieve goals at home, at work, and even at play? If so, my guess is that you could be transferring that goal-oriented mindset to your asana practice as well, and this may not be in your best interest. If you always focus on a vigorous asana practice, pushing yourself to exhaustion, perhaps feeling disappointed that you’re not as “advanced” as you’d like to be, you may not be experiencing the amazing benefits yoga has to offer. Yes, a good asana session can be a great workout, but yoga is so much more than that.
Do you ever dream of just lying down and doing nothing for a while? Wouldn’t that be nice—to just stop and rest? Maybe you should—it will do you more good than you can imagine. Yoga’s deep relaxation, called Yoga Nidra, gives the body and mind much-needed downtime.
I’m sure your days are as busy as mine—perhaps you work, then rush home to prepare a meal, to help kids with homework, or throw in some laundry. The pressure of trying to fit it all in is added to the already stressful situations we experience in life—difficult relationships, health problems, stress at work, to name just a few.
Whether you have just started practicing yoga exercises or have been doing them for some time, keep it up and you’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come. Aside from managing stress, improving concentration and balance, and maintaining muscle strength and flexibility, doing yoga asanas regularly also helps keep our bones strong. This means we’ll be less likely to suffer the painful fractures that many people experience in old age.