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.
If some asana practice is good, more must be better, right? Well, that all depends on how you practice. If you always practice carefully, taking time to listen to your body, gently extending your boundaries but backing off when you need to, then you can practice asanas 5 or 6 days a week, even every day, without any danger of overdoing it.
Think back to any injuries you might have sustained—maybe a broken bone, a torn ligament, sprained ankle, or a back or shoulder injury. Most of us have hurt ourselves in one way or another over the years. If we were able to take care of these injuries properly and they healed well, they may not bother us anymore. But sometimes, though seemingly healed, they can come back to haunt us.
The ancient science of yoga offers profound benefits that go far beyond the physical. But in order to enjoy all of yoga’s benefits—physical, mental, and spiritual—we need to cultivate a certain mindset.
Asanas were designed to enable the practitioner to sit for long periods of time in meditation, so as to achieve the ultimate goal of self-realization. Even if our goals are less lofty, our asana practice can help us develop qualities that contribute to inner peace and a higher consciousness.
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.