Mentally, yoga sharpens and focuses the mind. The postures are always done with focus and awareness on the breath and the body. There is not mindless repetition or chatting while practicing. Focus on the body and breath, how the two work together, the effects physically and emotionally, engage the mind and increase the ability to concentrate. A flexible, strong and active mind is just as important as a flexible, strong and active body. The breathing exercises are meant to remind us to take deep full breaths in and out, not the shallow breaths as adults we become accustomed to taking. As the inhalations and exhalations become fuller, the mind becomes calmer and more peaceful. Moreover, yoga instills a deep sense of well-being. The inward focus teaches the mind to let go of stress and negative thoughts. Areas in the body that may be misaligned or holding tension are identified and the tension can be released.
The challenges involved in practicing and studying yoga are on going. The sheer number of yoga postures, with infinite variations, keeps the body stimulated and the mind engaged. There is a complex system of philosophy and writings behind the practice detailing why the breathing and postures are done, and discussing the benefits of meditation as well. Yoga philosophy includes a system of ethics, including non-harming, non-stealing, non-hoarding, truthfulness, steadfastness, and self-inquiry. Legends and histories explain the essence of these teachings, most notably The Bhagavad Gita. If drawn to reading and studying, there are numerous other books offering opportunities to learn about and discuss yoga in this dimension as well.
The postures, breathing, and philosophy of yoga all lead to deep contemplation. The ability of yoga to relax body and mind, leading to a reduction of tension and stress is arguably, its most important benefit. Yoga allows us to become still. During a yoga class, frequent pauses are taken so that we can really notice how we are feeling; the effects the breathing and postures are having on our bodies, and what our thoughts are. A yoga class traditionally ends with students lying on their backs in relaxation pose while the teacher leads a point-by-point relaxation for the body and mind. Eventually, an interest in formal meditation practice may develop. All of the parts of yoga class are preparation for sitting in meditation.
What draws a person to start a yoga practice? There are as many reasons why as there are people taking yoga classes. When the body, breath and mind work together, positive changes both physical and mental do occur. Explore the ways yoga can benefit you, by joining a class today.
Yoga for intelligence
Kapalabhati means Shining Skull. Although a breathing exercise, Kapalabhati is considered a yoga kriyas (cleansing) exercise. However Kapalabhati is regularly practiced in yoga classes. This exercise uses rapid breathing, which encourages a fresh exchange of oxygen rich air whilst cleansing the entire respiratory system.
Kapalabhati consists of a series of rapid “pumpings”/exhalations and passive inhalations, followed by retention of the breath. This clears stale air from the bottom of the lungs and pumps oxygen into the bloodstream. It is an energizing yoga breathing practice which leaves you feeling energised and alert yet calm.
Sit in a comfortable upright sitting position and take a couple of deep breaths. Inhale and breath out quickly, pulling your abdomen in sharply. Repeat this pumping action for 20 – 40 breaths. Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale completely. Inhale and hold your breath for as long as you feel comfortable. Slowly exhale. Repeat this sequence 2 – 3 times.
2. Anuloma Viloma – Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is a very calming breathing practice. It helps to balance the energies between the left and right sides of the body. As it balances the flow the flow of energy in the body Anuloma Viloma helps to purify and cleanse the nadis. Each round of Anuloma Viloma is made up of 7 steps.
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable upright position. Using your right hand, tuck your index and middle fingers into your palm.
- Place your thumb on your right nostril, and your ring finger and little fingers on your left nostril. Rest your left hand on your left knee.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb, breathe in through your left nostril for a count of four.
- Close both nostrils and retain the breath for a count of 16.
- Breathe out through your right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed with your ring and little fingers for a count of 8.
- Breathe in through your right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed for a count of 4.
- Hold the breath, closing both nostrils again for a count of 16.
Breathe out through the left nostril, keeping the right closed with your thumb for a count of 8.
If you are new to Anuloma Viloma, just spend a few rounds getting used to breathing in and out through your nose using the different hand positions.
3. Shavasana or corpse pose
Corpse pose should be done lying flat, but still providing some support to the lumbar and cervical areas of the spine. Some people use a narrow, flat pillow for their head, whereas others just lie on the yoga mat without any props – do what feels most comfortable for you.
Shavasana, or corpse pose, is usually done at the end of most yoga sessions. It is a deceptively simple posture, as there is no twisting, or stretching or anything that is usually associated with the asanas. However, corpse pose is an important part of the restorative yoga postures. And it is considered one of the most difficult postures to do correctly.
Shavasana is more about being than doing, and as such it touches on the fundamentals of what yoga is trying to achieve. The sequence of asanas beforehand has helped train the body and mind for this period of relaxation, and in the corpse pose we integrate the experience we have just had with yoga into our conscious and subconscious mind.
There are many restorative postures, or variations in yoga, but shavasana allows the most relaxation. Its benefits include:
- increase our energy levels
- great for stress
- mental agility
- invoke calmness and stability
- good for normalizing blood pressure after exercise
- good for stress symptoms in breast cancer and prostate cancer sufferers
- good for people who don’t get enough sleep, or who suffer insomnia