If you’ve previously read any of my articles, you’ll be well aware I am a firm believer in the “holistic” approach to health and wellbeing. There are so many ways to achieve peace and enlightenment and what I like to do is expose my readers to some of the options out there that they may not have considered previously. Yoga is something that for many seems too hard, too physical, and perhaps too time-consuming for them but, in reality, you only need do as much as you feel comfortable with.
Where Did Yoga Come From?
As with so many of the practices we have adopted in the West, yoga came out of the practices of the peoples of ancient India. There is much debate, in the academic world, about the actual origins of the practice but there is consensus that it originated in India probably around 3000BCE. Carved figures, picturing practitioners in various poses have been dated to this period. It was developed as part of the overall purpose of life – achieving enlightenment.
Although most scholars are agreed that the principles of Yoga probably developed during the Vedic period of Indian history, there is some evidence that it may even be earlier. The Pashupati Seal discovered in an earlier Indus Valley civilization, excavation site, depicts a figure in a position that resembles an asana (a Hatha Yoga body posture) used in meditation. Yoga aimed to achieve harmony between the heart and the soul. Incidental to the practice of yoga came the realization that is was especially useful in controlling certain illnesses and diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and chronic pain.
It is precisely these benefits, perhaps, rather than the search for enlightenment that saw yoga begin to take off in Western civilization toward the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the results of this rise in popularity of yoga in the western world has been the many differing offshoots and schools of practice that have developed. It is important to understand there is no right or wrong way to practice yoga, just different methods and sometimes different sought outcomes from the practice.
Why is Yoga Useful to Us?
Yoga can be beautifully dovetailed into a regime of meditation which I believe is an essential part of wellbeing and centering ourselves. I’ve recently had an article on meditation published in the exceptionally fine, FREE Emagazine, called Mom’s Favorite Reads. You can access the magazine and my article on meditation here from SmashWords. Yoga and meditation are intrinsically linked – one complements the other perfectly. But why do yoga at all?
For most people the idea they would have of yoga is that it is (a) physical and therefore helps with your general level of fitness and (b) mental, in that it helps you relax and gain peace of mind as well as allowing you to zone out from the worries of life, at least for a short period.
The experts, however, paint a different picture of the benefits of yoga. They would argue that the aim of yoga is to actually transcend those things of the world, meaning to move your consciousness away from the day to day hassles of life and actually discover a higher, more spiritual plane of thinking. They would suggest that other forms of exercise can achieve fitness and mental wellbeing, like running, the spin-bike or lifting weights, whereas yoga is seen as food and exercise for the soul. Whatever the reason for doing Yoga there are definitely some real benefits to be had from it:
- Increased flexibility
- Stress relief
- Circulation improvement
- A general feeling of wellbeing
- Physical fitness
Medical reviews, such as one published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology have shown that practicing yoga will reduce the risk of heart disease as much as any of the conventional forms of exercise. On average, people taking part in yoga regularly (weekly) lost five pounds, decreased their blood pressure, and lowered their LDL (Low-density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol – also known as “bad cholesterol” by 12 points. Research is now starting to show many more health benefits of practicing this ancient art, including: controlling obesity, reducing chronic pain, asthma relief, minimizing fatigue and aiding irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition to these findings, neuroscience, using MRI’s (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain have shown yoga reduces the decline in gray matter brain volume, especially apparent in older people. Interestingly enough, most of this brain protection appears to occur in the left hemisphere, which is the side of the brain most associated with positive emotions and the rest and relaxation response. Perhaps we have finally found the true cause of “grumpy old man and grumpy old woman syndrome”?
It certainly appears there is little to no downside to practicing yoga.
One of the interesting things that Yoga instructors and most students who progress further in the practice have noticed is that their reasons for doing yoga, change over time. What started out initially as a physical activity slowly morphs into a more spiritual and mental activity – a journey of self-discovery, self-actualisation, self-fulfillment, and reflection along with a greater capacity to care for themselves and practice self-love. By reaching back to the very spiritual roots of yoga, people, it seems, actually begin to discover the true purpose for which the practice was developed.
How Do I Get Started on Yoga?
The first thing to remember is it DOES NOT MATTER what age you are or what fitness level you currently have. Clearly, if you are in a major city or town, there may well be a yoga studio available for you to consult and join. If this is not an option, or you feel uncomfortable or shy, training initially with others, you can totally start to learn on your own.
- Wear comfortable and lose clothing (yoga pants are absolutely not a requirement)
- Get yourself a non-slip yoga mat
- Enter the process with an open mind and be prepared to be patient – it takes a little determination but you can do it.
- Get yourself a quality “beginners” DVD or view a “beginner’s class” on the internet. (YouTube is great for this).
Some Beginner’s Poses You Can Try:
- Initially, the key to success is breathing and determination. Don’t give up just because you can’t make the pose shown on your video instruction. Do as much of the pose as your body feels capable of and breathe, always breathe, through the nose, filling your belly and keeping your body relaxed and controlled.
- Sit on the floor in a relaxed, easy position with your legs crossed and your back and neck straight.
- Concentrate on your breathing – regular, slow, peaceful breaths.
- Once you are relaxed, stand up straight and stretch your arms as high above your head as you feel able to comfortably – breathing evenly all the time.
- Exhale as you reach down to the ground. (Don’t get discouraged if you can’t touch the ground initially – just go as far as you feel comfortable without straining yourself).
Once you feel good with this, you’re ready to move onto a few beginner exercises which will be on your DVD or your YouTube Channel you are watching.
One thing that is known to put off newcomers is when they see an expert twisted into some “pretzel-like” shape and they immediately say: “OMG! I can’t ever do anything like that – what’s the point of trying?” Like I said earlier – patience and determination and who knows what you can achieve in the future.
Finally, a couple of beginner poses for you to try that absolutely will not send you running to a chiropractor or requiring your partner to call an ambulance to take you off to the emergency room to be untangled.
A great pose for stretching the back and abdomen.
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips.
- Keep your spine flat, like a table – the neutral spine.
- Keep your neck in line with your spine. Don’t lift it up or drop it down.
- As you inhale, drop your belly toward the floor and look up. Curl your toes under if this helps you reach the stretch.
- As you exhale, pull your spine toward the ceiling, rounding your back. Your head will drop down and you can focus on your navel. The tops of your feet will lay flat against the floor.
- Repeat this action as you continue inhaling and exhaling, working on your breath.
Another really easy yoga pose, to start with.
- Begin on your knees, as with the Cat-Cow pose, your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- As you breathe in, push your hips toward the ceiling, straighten your legs and place your feet flat on the ground.
- When your legs are straight, spread out your fingers and let your head hang down between your arms. Use your quadriceps (thigh muscles) to take the pressure off your arms.
- Once you are in position, continue working on keeping your breathing steady and rhythmical.
So, there we have the basics of yoga. I hope I’ve excited you enough to give it a try. Always remember two things:
- Nobody (and I mean nobody) cares what you look like at the moment. It’s none of their business, anyway and they, like you, all started somewhere. Everyone will be impressed with one thing – that you are giving it a go. So, don’t be afraid to try.
- Like everything worth having in life, it takes time, practice, and determination to achieve the tangible results you are looking for, so don’t be discouraged. I can promise you, though, if you try yoga and apply it diligently, you will start to see the incremental benefits very quickly.
There are a ton of resources out there to help you (thank goodness for the internet!) so don’t be afraid to look and if you join a structured yoga class – don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re all ultimately seeking the same thing.
If you are interested in all things spiritual and esoteric then please do visit my website and sign up to receive my regular blogs which cover many aspects of spirituality, alternative lifestyle, other esoteric topics and fascinating insights into the world of science and the paranormal. You can join here:
If you liked what you read here, please do check out our previous blogs. The last four can be found here:
- Self-Love and “New Thought:
- Self-Love: How Can I Love Myself:
- Self-Love: Stuff That Trips Us Up:
- Self-Love: Why is it Important:
You may also wish to avail yourself of our fantastic FREE report: 3 Proven Ways to Pull More Prosperity to You in 30 Days. You can grab your copy of this here:
Finally, today, please do pop on over to the section of my website that highlights my Visionary Fiction “whodunit” mystery, Spirit of Prophecy, which incorporates many of the ideas and philosophies discussed in my blog into a fast-paced, fictional, thriller. I know you’ll enjoy it. You can find that here:
Till Next Time I’m Sending: Peace and Light