The recent overwhelming popularity of Yoga has its positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, we no longer have to search the world over for a really good yoga teacher. No more walking great distances over blazing deserts, climbing frozen mountains, sleeping on beds of nails, or walking barefoot on hot coals just to earn the right to practice yoga. In almost any town across America, you can now find many great yoga teachers from an array of diverse styles.
Furthermore, you don’t have to go through lengthy auditions to be taken seriously: all you have to do is show up and you are accepted into the group.
How do you find the right style of yoga for you?
On the other hand, Yoga has become a bit more complicated now that it is accessible to everyone. You have to be knowledgeable enough to decide which style, guru or teacher is most beneficial, educational, fun, and down to Earth. So where do you begin on your search to find the wisdom and answers to all your questions for every day life and beyond, yet in a nice cheery, leveled headed manor? Should you base your practice on the softer styles, which embrace flexibility and relaxation, or the harder styles, which promise a great workout, and lots of muscle resistance and sweat? Should you invest in spirituality or just use yoga for the physical attributes?
All styles of Yoga have their own unique benefits, appealing to your own individual personality, or goals. Among them, there are many similarities. For instance, all yoga posture practice is categorized as Hatha Yoga, which translates as meaning masculine and feminine, strength and softness, or yin and yang. I always tell my students that when choosing a practice, choose one that defines the true meaning of Yoga: union. Within this definition it is to your advantage to practice both hard and soft forms of Yoga. This creates a greater balance of both physical and mental energy.
Remember to flow
Surprisingly enough, the way you move from one posture to the next is as important, if not more important, than choosing between a challenging or more-relaxing yoga practice. The movement between postures is called a vinyasa, or connecting link. What you do with your body affects your mind and whole energy level. When practicing either hard or soft form styles of yoga, try to move with fluidity and grace as you enter and exit each yoga posture, still maintaining strength and power. This manor of practice will reward you with greater energy, deeper relaxation, and a more focused mind. Allow your yoga to flow naturally, like the energy of a peaceful river as it journeys to the sea.
Yoga and spirituality
As for the energetic flow of spirituality, this can mean different things to different students. You may feel spirituality is a natural bond with nature or a faith in a greater power, or perhaps a union of universal energy within your own body and mind. This is a personal matter and the answers will come as you practice your yoga. Remember the masterful words of yoga: “the journey is everything.” Just by committing yourself to the practice, these answers will come to you.
In time you will discover that your yoga practice also affects your whole life in a positive way. Your daily life will take on an essence of controlled energy flow. Yoga is an internal practice with eternal results, touching every aspect of your whole life in a positive way. In yoga, this is called harmony within!
A complete system of health
Yoga is a wonderful science and art, yet your overall health will benefit greatly if you do some cross-training as well. Yoga will complement your other physical activities, just as they will in turn complement your yoga. For complete fitness, we need a balance between aerobic exercise, muscle resistance training, and stretching. Combining these activities will enhance your vital life force, or flow of prana.
Aerobic activities are any exercises that strengthen the heart and lungs, including jogging, bicycling, walking, or even your Saturday night dance fever contest at the local gym. Try to include at least 20 – 30 minutes of quality aerobics every day.
Muscle resistance is found in specific exercises, which strengthen and challenge the different isolated muscle groups. The classic form of muscle resistance is weight lifting, chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, or isometric exercises that push one muscle against another. The more challenging forms of Yoga offer quite a bit of muscle resistance, such as Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga. Even the softer forms of yoga such as Sivananda Yoga or Integral Yoga create some degree of muscle resistance in certain postures. Try to get at least 20 – 30 minutes of quality muscle resistance four times a week.
Stretching is a plus for yoga students; yet don’t get stuck in the same routine day after day. Strive to rotate with different practice and postures over a period of time to insure covering every area of your body.
Your body is a temple
When you get hungry and find yourself staring down the barrel of a donut, armed with a full mug of heavily sugared coffee – before you declare war on your anatomy…be sure to remember your body is your temple and you should treat it with respect. Stay away from junk food, fast food, and artificial and unnatural food. You can enhance your overall health by simply eating more fresh raw, fruits and vegetables – and whole foods in their natural state. Try to eat lots of green, chlorophyll-rich foods such as raw leafy greens, which protect your body against pollution and enhance you immune system. Drink plenty of liquids daily and try not to overeat.
Use the energy you create in Yoga to help you to become a better person. If you throw a pebble in to a quite pond, this energy creates ripples, which eventually touch every shore. In the same respect, your presence in life creates ripples in time: your actions, words, and thoughts – in one way or another affects people in future generations.
Words to live by –
Think before you speak…
Think before you eat…
Think before you act…
Doug Swenson is a world-renowned yoga teacher and has been a true pioneer of yoga practice in the United States and further afield for over forty years. He has authored three books on yoga and twenty yoga videos on the well-known online spirituality platform, Gaia. Doug teaches with clarity of words and weaves informative wisdom mindfully throughout his teachings.