Many people in the Western world are drawn to yoga for the practice of postures, or asanas, motivated by physical benefits such as increased flexibility, strength, muscle tone and fitness. Aside from yoga’s impressive range of physical benefits, what often surprises people when they first start yoga is the sense of calmness, the spaciousness and the expanded consciousness they experience both during and after their yoga practice.
The specific postures, co-ordinated movements and breathing techniques of the many different styles of yoga enable you to connect with and release surface tensions and areas of stored “charge” in your body. These tensions build up in your body over time as you experience the many stresses of modern-day life: physical stresses, emotional stresses and chemical stresses from the foods you eat and the air you breathe.
Releasing these tensions through practising yoga helps to clear mental chatter and also facilitates the flow of energy in your body.
The state of mind with which you approach your yoga practice can dramatically affect both your experience and enjoyment of it as well as the depth and expansion of your practice over time. Approaching your practice with the intention of creating more peace, ease, spaciousness and clarity will typically help your experience of yoga to be lighter, more playful, explorative and vibrant.
When it comes to exercise, the Western mind-set tends to be focused on striving for consistent improvement, extending the body and competing with others as well as ourselves, which often involves struggle or force. We expect our bodies to be able to swim further, to run faster and to win or at least to do better than the last time. Approaching a yoga practice with this type of mind-set may not only be detrimental to your practice, it can also be dangerous. Over-exerting yourself, pushing yourself, struggling to be better or comparing yourself to anyone else in the room detracts from the purpose of yoga and accidents or injuries can be attributed to it. Working with your body as it is on any particular day is the best thing you can do, both for your body and your experience of yoga. Yoga can help you to connect with your body, to stay present with it and to respect how you are performing on the day.
One of the major benefits of yoga is that it helps you release areas of tension and stored energy in your body. These areas build up in response to stresses and experiences from your past. The movements, postures and breathing in yoga help you connect with these areas and then dissipate the “charge”, or energy, that is stored there. They help release blockages throughout all the various tissues in your body; that is, in your muscles, ligaments, bones and organs. As these “pockets” of stored energy integrate, energy is allowed to flow more freely and easily through the “central channel” and other energy pathways, the meridians, the spine and the nervous system. Releasing these areas of tension usually brings with it a sense of wellbeing, peace and freedom in your body. All the systematic functions of your body, such as blood flow, respiratory circulation, lymphatic function and digestion, can function more freely and efficiently.