Yoga may be more than five thousand years old yet it’s still as hip as ever. The ancient Indian practice of combining yoga asanas with breath work (pranayama) and meditation and choosing to live with total kindness and compassion for yourselves and others is more popular and relevant than ever.
Yoga (which literally means to “yoke”) is a system of physical, mental and spiritual practice that aims to bring the physical, mental and spiritual self into union.
I've been practising Iyengar yoga regularly for eight years. Initially, I began a yoga practice to cope with the daily deadline demands of working on a weekly magazine. However, pretty soon, thanks to my teachers Suzi Carson and Tamar Munch at Four Winds Yoga in Ponsonby, I quickly discovered the true joy that comes from spending more time on the mat.
Today, yoga is my essential life tool. My yoga practice allows my body and nervous system (especially) to slow down, chill out and literally extend myself away from the blocks that are existing in my life.
Mentally, yoga practice makes me more focused, sharp and disciplined and physically it's a way I can literally "work out the kinks". As a writer, I spend most of my time at my computer and nothing fixes keyboard tension in the upper thoracic (top of the spine) like a supported back bend (see image below).
Why is developing a yoga practice so good for you? The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit words that mean “yoking together”. This was the method of daily practice done by ancient Indian sages to ensure their physical and spiritual self could be in alignment and prepared for meditation. Their ultimate goal? Shedding all ego and moving to a state of sadhana (which roughly translates to a state of non-attached bliss).
Yoga was initially developed in the East with evidence of yoga asanas being found in artefacts dating back to 3000BC. However, it wasn't until the sixth century that meditation and yoga asanas became a crucial element.
Indian teachers introduced their philosophy to the West in the early 19th and 20th century. The five key principles of the modern yoga I practice today was developed approximately 5000 years ago. These principles are: Savasana (proper relaxation), asanas (exercise poses), pranayama (correct breathing), a wholefood diet and dhyana (meditation and compassion for every living being).
My yoga teacher Suzi always says it's not about what poses you can achieve but it's about the act of practising regularly and mindfully that counts. For me, I've found that practising yoga for 60 minutes a day, five to six times a week helps me stay in good shape, physically, mentally and spiritually.
To be honest, I used to be pretty weak but yoga asanas have made my body strong and fit. I also suffer from anxiety that comes from a mind that never stops whirring. Yoga practice has helped me calm this beast. And now that I know more about how to practice yoga, I'm able to use poses to support whatever challenges I'm going through in life, at that moment.
Of course, there are many different types of yoga that can be practiced and it's about finding the right style for you. Popular styles of yoga include Ashtanga (fast and repetitive), Hatha or Iyengar (precise and focused on correct alignment), Vinyasa flow (connecting flowing poses with the breath’s rhythm) or Bikram yoga, which is done in a hot room.
Other benefits of yoga include changes that strengthen the musculoskeletal frame, an ability to combat and support against physical ailments, such as asthma. Yoga is also known to reduce heart disease, improve blood pressure and enhance cardiac rehabilitation. Daily practice is also an excellent way to reduce fatigue, depression, insomnia and anxiety-related disorders.
Most importantly for me, it's provided discipline in my daily life and a real understanding of how to get my body and mind flowing as one.
Want to know some good yoga asanas to do to kick-start a home practice? Watch now.
- Yours In Health and Happiness, KB