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The Power of Yoga

Daily stresses, aches and pains plus our inability to relax our restless minds are some of the greatest obstacles that stand in the way from us achieving happiness, good health and general well-being. For centuries yoga has been practised, perfected and adapted. To nobody’s surprise this healing philosophy originated from the deeply spiritual country of India and to this day is promoted and practised by the Dalai Lama, who credits this ancient practise to achieving contentment in life – “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” I think this simplistic quote summarises where we go wrong a lot of the time. We burden ourselves with more than we can handle whilst forgetting about our number one priority which is ourselves and our own well-being. Where do we begin on the daunting journey to relieve ourselves from the everyday burdens that weigh down our bodies and minds? After all, we’re creatures of habit and don’t like change, but if you’re going to allow a new habit into your life this autumn, take action and let it be yoga.
I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think that Yoga was part of a hippy lifestyle and that it was purely for bendy people that balanced on their heads in their spare time! But alas I bought myself a book and saw the error of my judgement, as I do with most things that I’ve never tried before. Yoga should be approached with an open mind and a willingness to learn about the ways and ideas it offers.
Not only does yoga help heal the mind by reducing stress and anxiety; it also helps to aid back pain, headaches, joint pain, digestive problems and has been known to treat insomnia and mild depression. Practising yoga at home or in a class a couple of times a week will give you endless benefits!

What exactly is yoga?

The ancient belief by Yogis was that to achieve true harmony then the body, mind and spirit had to be integrated together. The solution to this was sought through exercise, breathing and meditation. Breathing was included on the basis that it is the source of life, while exercise was added to aid the body physically whilst the meditation is at the core of inner peace – all combine to make this a creative, insightful and enlightening practise. In yogic terms, the purpose of yoga is to unite ourselves with our highest nature (“yoga” meaning “unite.”)
It is not a religious practise and has no connotations with religion of any kind, although the association with Buddhism is apparent due to the strong link with meditation. It does not interfere with any religion and can be practised by anyone. Yoga is primarily a self study of knowing your body and mind and its responses.
Every day we identify limitations in ourselves and in our characters, whether it’s feelings of insecurity, failure, fear or anger. Yoga discipline works towards re-integrating emotions in order for us to over-shadow these negative influences in order to possess feelings of clarity and positivity.
The beauty of yoga has been clouded by stereotype and clichés over the years (I think my previous admission confirms this!) and I think in our modern day, technology based world we are more than cynical when it comes to new age matters, or anything in general that you can’t see or touch.
We strive day to day to better ourselves - to have more money; to have possessions; to travel to the four corners of the world; to be a person we can admire and respect when we take a step back. But ironically, possessions and wealth very seldom make a person truly happy. Problems in the world will never be solved by new technology or vast amounts of wealth – anything of lasting value will only be found in the form of inner peace, tranquillity and wisdom. All methods of yoga are based on the perfection of our personalities, as well as giving us a better understanding of what is really important in life.
To achieve this we need not abandon our lively hoods and march off to a monastery forever more with the monks! Yoga can, and should, be incorporated into your life every day. Our days are too numbered to let such a life-changing concept pass us by without a look in.

Different types of yoga

In yoga there are various different types; the main modern practises are: Bikram yoga, Hatha yoga, Vinyasa yoga and power yoga.
Bikram yoga is a comprehensive workout that includes all the components of fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss. It consists of 26 different poses and is a popular method in the celebrity culture. The unusual but effective difference in the environment of this practise is the temperature– a Bikram yoga class would be done in a heat of 95-105 degrees – this is meant to encourage heightened flexibility, detoxification and the risk of injury is lessened (the other name given to this practise is ‘hot yoga.’) This isn’t the most easy yoga option to do at home as there is a significant lack of DVD’s available and there are no practitioners in our area doing this type, but there are some insightful books such as ‘Bikram’s beginning yoga class’ by Bonnie Reynolds and Bikram Choudhury.
Hatha yoga (‘yoga of postures’) is an easy to learn basic form of yoga which incorporates postures and meditation but predominantly focuses on the spirit and breathing techniques with attention to the chakra system (centres of energy.) All yogic poses are derived from Hatha yoga, much like Latin is in the language world. It is to be performed in a state of calmness and meditation, with the movements mimicking the environment by being slow and graceful. This is one of the most effective yoga’s in terms of stress-relief, and it is therefore not surprising that this is the most popular form of yoga. I would recommend ‘Yoga for stress relief’ DVD by Barbara Benagh for practising this type, and it has a guest appearance from the Dalai Lama himself! It has 20 different practises which include how to begin and end your day, a section for targeting the back, neck and shoulders plus a section on relaxation.
Vinyasa yoga and power yoga focus on the coordination of breathing and movement and are the most physically active forms of yoga – mimicking the classical movements of Indian yoga but with a modern twist to adhere to the demand for a more physically demanding exercise i.e. you can be assured of results on the outside of the body as well as the inside! Our own Carly Rodman has recently started Vinyasa yoga classes in Stornoway and in Ness to the delight of both beginners and experienced yoga buffs – see www.carlyoga.com for up and coming classes!

Lifestyle changes to enhance your yoga mind

Yoga is slightly different to your everyday activity. To allow it into your life fully it’s important to address other areas of your life that may need attention. Imbalances or excesses in food, exercise, sleep or personal relationships produce physical and emotional disruptions that will interfere with the practise of yoga and meditation.
A medical professional should be consulted if you are pregnant or have an injury (such as joint/muscular injuries) to ensure it is safe to continue, or if there are any poses that aren’t recommended for you. As with any exercise you should build up the intensity gradually, only going into poses that feel safe and comfortable until you and your body are used to the activity. No one is perfect from day 1, and as with anything practice makes perfect!
Yoga is above all an education as well as a voyage of self discovery. It will keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and it will teach you things about your being that you didn’t know existed, as well as enlightening your view on life, helping you to find contentment, serenity and harmony: not through what’s on your CV or in your bank account, but above all, finding these things in yourself. One piece of advice I can’t stress enough before you allow yoga into your life is do so with a very, very open mind - you won’t be disappointed!

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