Feather here with another exciting post…well, I say exciting, it’s actually quite the opposite. Today, I’ll be talking about finding inner peace through the ancient practice of yoga.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m definitely not a yogi (or a yoga guru as most of the general public call them) but I do practice yoga from time to time (meaning I haven’t practiced in a while…whoops!). However, I suddenly felt the urge to tell you all what yoga really is, why I practice it (and why you should too) are and what my favourite moves are. So, shall we get started?
What is Yoga?
Many of you might think Yoga is simply stretching and saying “Om…”. Well…it is, but only partly. Yoga is actually a way of life (and I don’t mean you stretch all day, every day. It is an ancient practice that originated in India. Some debate that it dates back to 3300 BCE, others say it started much later. Regardless of its origins, the art of Yoga is actually a very strict lifestyle. There are many things you can’t do, and the most important rule, which I’ve garnered from my research and experience: Never indulge in anything.
Ok, so it’s a harsh rule, but it is sage advice, after all, how many times has the world demanded that you indulge in your wildest fantasies? I’m sure the most expensive thing that you can’t live without is your phone. That’s exactly what Yoga tries to stop you to do. Other than your body, nothing is more precious than your own spirit and mentality.
Why I Practice Yoga and What are the Benefits?
Now I’m not going to tell you to start practicing it, because I’m not a yogi, nor am I a health instructor, but as a decent person, who wants to make the most out of her life, which includes being healthy and happy, I will tell you why I practice and why it’s a healthy lifestyle choice for me. Of course I don’t go to the extreme and follow the lifestyle step by step, nor do I always practice the exercise, but when I do, it truly helps.
Yoga itself is meant to help you relax your mind, spirit and body together. It teaches you mindfulness and calms the busy thoughts that have invaded your personal space. For example, if I am confronted with a particularly difficult problem at work, I could always practice the exercise, for at least half an hour, and come back to it with a new mind-set.
Doing this, sets you apart from the problem, so that you can tackle it in the most logical way you can. It recharges you, so you don’t have to be so stressed over the problem, and figure it out as quickly as possible.
It’s a good way to wind down for the day. If I ever have a bad day, I could always practice the meditation part of yoga, just before I sleep. In fact, it’s always a good idea to practice it, even when you’ve had a particularly good day. Not only does it help you reflect on what went well that day, but it could also help prepare you for the next one. I know when I meditate, I always feel much better, because instead of counting my sufferings, I tend to count my blessings.
Meditation doesn’t always have to be the strict “sitting in a cross-legged position” while chanting “Om…” it can be done either sitting up or lying down, just make sure you’re somewhere comfortable. The idea of meditation is that you clear your mind from the day’s worries, you let your body relax into the mattress or your chair (or even the floor if you have a yoga mat), and let the energies of the day simply drain away. Let yourself drift off into nothingness while you remain fully conscious of the world around you. It’s hard to do, but once you start, it’s not that easy to stop.
It helps with posture, flexibility and breathing. Now this is mainly aimed at the exercise part of the practice, but yes, the goal that many yogis and amateurs, like myself, strive for is the increased flexibility that comes with the exercise. There is a set flow to the stretches, regardless of which school you practice (I practice the most popular flows of Vinyasa Yoga), and these flows tend to help with moving from one pose to the other.
It is thanks to these flows that your physical body strengthens. Not only will you be much more flexible than before, but you will also find that your heart rate, breathing rate and your posture will improve. So if you used to slouch a lot, because you’ve been hunched over a computer, you’ll find yourself sitting straighter and much more confidently, or if you find yourself out of breath often, you’ll see that it is much easier to breath, after doing a few rounds of yoga. In short, you will be physically healthier than you were before.
My Favourite Poses and Moves
Ok, so I’ve gone through what Yoga is, why I do it, and what its benefits are, let’s go through some basic moves that I find the most useful…
1. Upward Facing Dog
The Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (in Sanskrit), is one of the best, for working on your lower back. It works around your whole core and helps work out any kinks that might have developed during the day.
Starting off in a plank position, bend your arms near your chest and slowly straighten them, while you lower your pelvis to the floor. You should keep your knees off the mat/floor, keeping your legs straight. Place the tops of your feet onto the mat/floor and hold the pose for a few breaths. It’s a good de-stressing pose and it stretches out your stomach as you work out the slouch from your back. Remember to keep your shoulders away from your ears when doing this pose, otherwise it won’t be as effective as it should be.
2. Cat-Cow Pose
This is actually not just one pose but two. The Cat pose, or the Marjaryasana, is as its name implies. You are basically stretching your back out like a cat (when it’s hissing). This pose helps after doing a lot of back exercises, especially if it feels particularly tight as it stretches the muscles around the vertebrae. The Cow pose, or the Bitilasana, is the complete opposite to the Cat pose, it relieves the back of the stretch and is a much easier version of the Upward Facing Dog.
The Cat Pose
The Cow Pose
Start off on all fours, and slowly round your back, hanging your head down. After a few breaths, lift your chest and pelvis to the ceiling, and look up. This is a good sequence, if you’re starting out a flow or if you simply want to stretch your back and chest out. It’s a bit embarrassing at first, since you’re sticking your butt out, but it will help with any back issues you might have.
3. Marichi’s Pose
Marichi’s Pose, or Marichyasana III, is a twist pose. Again it helps with the back and your posture. While you’re twisting your upper body, your lower body is supporting you. It works not only on the whole spine, but also any neck issues you might have, as you also have to turn your head to complete the pose.
The pose requires you to do it twice, since you will have to twist your back to one side. Starting from your strong side, bend your knee, and cross it over the other leg. Twist your upper body, without moving your pelvis, so that you’re looking over your shoulder, using your strong side. The arm on your weaker side should support you, by pushing your elbow against your bent knee. The arm on your stronger side should be on the floor behind you, helping you to keep your back straight. Look back and hold the pose for a few breaths. Do the same on the other side.
4. Easy Crow Pose
The Easy Crow pose, or Kakasana, is a hip opening pose. By “hip opening” it means that the muscles that are around the hip area are stretched, and once you complete a yoga flow, it will feel much more ‘open’. It’s a little embarrassing at first, because your legs will be widely spread, but once you get used to it, you’ll want to keep doing it, as it helps with flexibility, especially in the knees and the pelvic area.
With your feet apart, wider than your hips, bend your knees, until your hands can touch the floor. Be sure to keep the heels of your feet on the floor, as you do this pose, otherwise it won’t work. Hold the pose for a few breaths, and you’re good to go. However, if you are balanced enough, and flexible enough, you can remove your hands from the floor, and place your palms together, in front of your chest. Your elbows should push against your knees, or your thighs, if you’re that flexible. This then becomes the Garland pose (Malasana).
5. Downward Facing Dog
The Downward Facing Dog, or the Adho Mukha Svanasana, is the complete opposite to the Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). While the Upward Facing Dog works on your lower back, the Downward Facing Dog works on your upper back. Essentially, you are stretching the head, neck and shoulders area. This pose is actually one of the most used poses in Vinyasa Yoga. You’ll find that most of the first half of the flow is made up of the Downward Facing Dog. At first your arms will hurt and the muscles there may cramp up, due to the exertion from the pose, but as you get used to it, the Downward Facing Dog will become a lot more relaxing, and you’ll find it much more comfortable than some of the other poses the flow might have to offer.
Depending on whether or not you are in a flow already, the Downward Facing Dog can be easily accessed from nearly every pose you do in your flow (except if you’re lying on your back). You simply need to return to your hands and knees and slowly straighten them. Your butt should be the highest point of the pose, and your arms should be locked straight. Depending on whether or not you are flexible enough, your heels should be on the floor as well. Keep your core tightened, this will help support your lower back, and keep you stable. Remember to keep your fingers spread wide, and breathe deeply through this pose.
That Is All Folks!
Well that’s all I have to say for today. After all, I am still an amateur, and I myself don’t keep to my routines either, so after this I may just start practicing again, but in any case…if you do decide to learn the routines and the exercise, just to get into it, then there are a few good websites that list the poses for you, and teach you, step by step, how to perform them. Remember it depends on your own experience and flexibility what poses you can do. There may be some that might be a bit too difficult for you, but with a little bit of practice and determination, you’ll most likely be able to achieve those poses too.
Oh and one more thing!
Here is a list of websites and instructors that I follow, whenever I need to get my Yoga fix. These are all mainly for beginners and are mostly up to your discretion whether or not they are useful. I would suggest, however, that you go to a proper instructor at your local gym or yoga centre, as they will give the best experience for you, teaching you how to breathe through the routine, and help you with the proper posture, balance and overall positioning of your poses.
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see you all soon!
This is Feather, signing out!