'Why Yoga Works for Me': Staying Connected, Mind, Body and SpiritPosted on Jun 24th 2011 10:00AM by That's Fit Editors
Yoga is not only a physical practice, but it is a spiritual practice as well. It is through my yoga practice that I am more able to stay present and internally balanced, and to enjoy good health and a lean body through the principles of breath, alignment and movements.
I like to think that yoga is an aesthetic; it is a creative dance that blends movement and expression. When I'm practicing yoga, I feel like I'm the disco queen, the sexy Latina dancer, the prima ballerina and everything beautiful wrapped up inside me. No one is watching me and no one is judging me. My mat is my universe. I am always amazed by what I learn daily about moving into a position without needing to get anywhere. From the flowing yoga movements come joy and renewal. I'm excited and enthusiastic to be alive and mindful of my being. New ideas often enter my mind as I breathe and flow. I let them go, knowing that they will return in time.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yui, which means to "bring together" or "to unite." The practice integrates all aspects of the individual -- body, mind and spirit -- to bring about balance and harmony in a sentient being. There are three parts to a yoga practice: breathing, physical movement (or asana) and meditation.
Breathing is the linchpin of the practice, for it yokes the body and mind together. Breath is sacred and breathing is the major mechanism that inspires us to be present. This is not an ordinary breathing pattern, but deep belly breathing that engages every cell in the body.
I like to refer to the moving or physical component of a yoga practice as a "moving meditation" because it connects a clear mind with breath and physical movement. The movement component helps me let go of my thoughts and to distance myself from the constant need to feed my ego.
I am facilitated in creating more awareness in my life through the practice of meditation. The simple definition of "meditation" is to quiet the mind; yet this definition doesn't necessarily mean that we have to stop thinking. Meditation suggests to us that we let our thoughts go and not get stuck on one track or loop. When we relax the mind, we relax our body as well.
Brain mapping studies reveal that meditation increases happiness and reduces stress -- which gives us a better quality of life. Long–term meditation is associated with increased gray matter, increased density of the brain stem, increased thickness of the spinal cord, increased blood flow and improvement in cognitive learning.
The manner in which I engage in my yoga practice is through the selection of small intentions rather than goals, as in "I have to touch the floor; otherwise I haven't executed the posture properly." The intention of moving into a pose with patience, grace and alignment allows me to stay in the present without grasping or forcing myself into position. If I take the intentional aspect of yoga off my mat and into my life as a replacement for the goal-oriented Western concept of achievement, I can live my life with greater ease, and a deeper sense of purpose and joy. This is the essence of yoga -- enjoying the journey and not heading directly for the destination.
Yoga helps me distance myself from the daily grind of life. I cannot change the dynamics of my world, but I can effect change in myself. I follow the yogic way of life, along with its principles of an open heart and mind. What follows for me, is personal bliss.
On my first day of my yoga teacher training, my teacher asked the class why he or she had signed up for training. I said, "Because I want to live forever." I was, of course, joking, but I did know that my yoga practice would allowed me to live with greater joy.
Joan Moran is the author is "Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer." She is a yoga and meditation instructor at UCLA and a public speaker. Read her blog on Red Room.