Hope Knosher outlines the basic sequence of a well-rounded yoga session. Use this as a standard to start your home practice!Read more
Yoga is more than just a fitness program. A true yoga practice transcends the physicality of movement and restores mental calm. How does yoga accomplish this?
For the mind and body to relax deeply on a cellular level, we must first shift to a state of peace and calm. Mind-body practices like yoga and meditation, which emphasize deep, complete breathing and being present in the moment can help our bodies and minds reach a state of deep relaxation.
The mind has a tendency to disconnect from the body and create worry. How often do you find yourself in a state of anxiety as you relive a past event? Do you feel overwhelmed as you make a mental to-do list for tomorrow while your mind races from one thought to the next? Over time, we begin to live from a place of habitually induced anxiety and tension. Through focused movement, breathing, and meditation, our minds are encouraged to calm and to connect with our bodies and the present moment.
Physical (Asana) Practice
The physical practice of yoga provides the opportunity to draw the mind in by connecting with (and concentrating on) the alignment of the body. This is especially true with balance poses, which require full attention to the mind, body, and breath. There isn’t any room for to-do-lists or hashing out past events, or even future “what ifs” when one is totally focused on balance. Of course, each practice is different and some days we are more focused than others, but relief can be obtained simply by showing up to practice on a consistent basis.
Breathing (Pranayama) Practices
Practicing slow and deep breathing creates an environment in the body and mind for deeper calm, a more profound sense of letting go, and deeper relaxation.
The quality of our breath relates to the quality of the mind. The pace and depth of the breath reflect our mental, emotional, and physiological state. The next time you are scared, angry, or anxious, notice the quality of your breath. It will most likely be quick, short, and shallow. On the reverse, when you are calm and deeply relaxed, notice the quality of your breath. Here you will more likely experience your breath as relaxed, long, and deep.
Meditation offers a chance to quiet the body and mind, moving deeper into a state of relaxation and silence. Simply put, meditation is about allowing enough space in your head for your mind to settle and then resting in that place of peace that will naturally arise. There are many forms of mediation from which to choose. You might try different approaches until you find what works best for you. The key is to make time every day to draw your senses inward and connect with your breath and yourself.
Yoga and meditation can help a practitioner step back from habitual thinking and emotions, allowing more clarity and perspective. As we practice being present through movement, slow deep breathing, and meditation practices, our mind begins to calm and our body starts to relax. We experience a calmer state that can spill over into our daily lives, causing an experience of ease in every aspect of life.
There are even more benefits! The more time we spend in this place of deep relaxation and present moment awareness, the more likely we are to act with the qualities of understanding, compassion, and patience.
One of the main benefits of yoga is retraining our brain to stop habitually invoking the stress response by maintaining a more relaxed state. Over time and with practice, we start to change our automatic stress reactors for a more calm and centered response that facilitates a greater level of joy, and a state of overall well-being!