How yoga can help you discover your true potential
Yoga is more than an hour of stretching in a class once a week. Incorporating yoga into your life makes miraculous transformation a real possibility.
You can gain control of your emotions and mental state by changing your posture and your breath, and adding appropriate visualisations.
That is precisely what yoga does; it can help you to reach your full potential.
If you balance and purify the chakras you can open up a whole new world of opportunity as you remake yourself from the inside out. Yoga is one of the prime ways to do this.
Each person who treads upon the yogic path learns more about accessing their own inner peace. When you access this natural state of peace it will begin to pervade your relationships and ripple out into the lives of people around you, just like a pebble dropped into a calm lake.
Do you want to change your life? If you really want to transform yourself, consider exploring the deeper aspects of the yogic path. Doing a yoga class one or two times a week will change you in very positive ways. However, if it’s deep transformation you’re after, far beyond just gaining strength and flexibility or even stress relief, try exploring the more in-depth side of yoga or consider becoming a yoga teacher.
A transformative choice
My life has completely transformed since I stepped onto the yogic path in earnest. I have moved house, moved state, changed jobs and have a whole new focus in life. Before I began the deeper part of my own yogic journey I had achieved things but I had got to a point in my life where I was not very happy.
I was a single parent with little income or support and I lacked a career goal since having a child. I was carrying a fair bit of emotional baggage and experienced some rocky relationships as a result. Like many people around me, I would occasionally drink alcohol and smoke socially, despite being well versed in the health arena.
In general, I felt that, no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get ahead, so I felt quite a victim of my circumstances. On many levels, my life was simply a struggle. What I did have, though, was a determination to find whatever tools would help me make more of life. That is precisely what yoga does; it can help you to reach your full potential.
Since taking up yoga I have worked for a chamber of commerce, for ACT Health as a public servant and for private business. I project-managed an event for over 3000 people, facilitated a marketing cooperative plus assisted with national peace projects. I also began writing for local media and national health magazines. I did all this while I was still a single parent and while doing yoga teacher training.
It wasn’t too long before I was regularly doing yoga and meditation. I stopped smoking and drinking socially. I chose to be a vegetarian and to take up a yogic diet as best I could. I decided to move house to surround myself with more positive people and chose to do more empowering activities. This means I don’t watch much television, but I do spend time on spiritual practices, yoga and meditation, and studying the yogic texts.
Every week I do volunteer work and I try to live a life based on serving and helping other people. It’s not that I don’t have struggles any more; it’s just that my focus has changed. I spend much less time worrying and more time focused on others and on the great spiritual light and essence that is at the heart of all life.
This is how yoga can transform a life. It’s so potent because its postures, breath work, sequences and meditations work on transforming energy (mental, emotional and physical) within your body-mind system, and particularly within your chakras — the energy centres along your spine. Each of these centres governs different aspects of your life and will determine the type of experiences you will attract, depending on how balanced and vital they are. So if you balance and purify the chakras, you can open up a whole new world of opportunity as you remake yourself from the inside out. Yoga is one of the prime ways to do this.
Of course, the type of yoga you pick will determine the level of transformation you may experience. Just as there are no right or wrong paths, there are no right or wrong yogic styles, but some will take you deeper than others. If you are dedicated to wanting the highest for yourself, the change you experience will be even greater. The change will be greater, too, when you also want the highest for others around you.
Learning to breathe
One of the first things you discover in yoga is a “relearning” of how to stand, how to sit and even how to lie down. Posture is everything because it determines how well energy can flow in your body. Simply by changing your posture, you can, for example, change your mood. The next time you feel a bit depressed, try avoiding hunching over and bring your shoulders back and keep your head up. Look the world in the eye, smile, take a deep breath and then see how you feel. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
That may sound a bit childish, but it’s evidence of a profoundly important principle used with enormous effect by the discipline of yoga: you can gain control of your emotions and mental state by changing your posture, your breath and adding appropriate visualisations.
Which leads us to the next important thing you learn in yoga: how to breathe. Most people use only a fraction of their lungs’ capacity. Not breathing properly is almost a metaphor for not fully embracing life. You may have noticed you don’t breathe fully during times of stress, which is precisely when you need the calm and centeredness that comes from good breathing. Yogic breathing (pranayama) is hugely transformative when you learn how to use it.
The deep yogic breath, the foundation breath within pranayama, can be used to change your emotional state. For example, have you noticed that when you are sad you tend to sigh a lot? According to yoga, this is because one of the characteristics of someone experiencing grief is they tend to hold their breath in, breathing only from their upper chest. Using the deep yogic breath to breathe fully and, in addition, taking longer on the exhalation can actually help to transform grief and sadness. Likewise, doing the opposite, a longer in-breath, can help to transform anger, anxiety and stress.
Pranayama can take you to profound levels of meditation and self-awareness. When you truly understand this, you do everything you can to breathe fully and to avoid sterile air-conditioned or polluted environments in favour of the clean, refreshing air found in nature.
The Australian web-based yoga survey conducted in 2006 by RMIT1 showed that participants reported using yoga to overcome a huge range of health issues. There has been anecdotal evidence of yoga being the transformative tool for many health conditions through the ages, but there has been very little evidence to back this up. However, more and more research is verifying how yoga has been used to transform health conditions.
The recent yoga survey gave more weight to the efficacy of yoga in treating stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches and migraines, back pain, panic attacks, mood disorders, PMT and period pain. Yoga was also cited as assisting with pregnancy and menopausal symptoms, helping people to stop smoking and weight loss.
Another key finding was that most people who started practising yoga did so for its physical benefits. Yet people tended to continue practising yoga for other reasons. Those surveyed continued because they benefited as much mentally, through reduced stress and anxiety. Interestingly, many continued because they felt an improved sense of wellbeing and life purpose as well as for personal development. Some also found the spiritual side of yoga attracted them.
Yoga transforms the world
There are many examples of the transformative power of yoga and there are many different ways in which yoga can bring about positive change in your life as an individual and to the world at large. Each person who treads upon the yogic path learns more about accessing their own inner peace.
When you access this natural state of peace, it will begin to pervade your relationships and ripple out into the lives of people around you, just like a pebble dropped into a calm lake. Then your own personal changes, reflected in a more peaceful and compassionate lifestyle, help to create greater peace and unity on a larger scale and this, in effect, transforms the world.
The Inner Fire Sequence
Here is a yoga sequence that will transform you on many levels. The Inner Fire Sequence (or ravaya namaskara) builds inner confidence by increasing strength. This dynamic sequence raises energy from your solar plexus to your heart, which releases the inner determination needed for overcoming obstacles. It also enhances your integrity and empathy, allowing you to build more meaningful relationships.
Contraindications: Avoid this sequence if you have high blood pressure, if you have a heart condition or during the first three days of menstruation.
Safety points: Make sure that in all sideways-facing postures the knee of the leading leg is turned outwards in the same direction as the foot. Keep the core stability muscles strong throughout this sequence.
From a tall standing position (use tadasana if you know it), step out to the left so your feet are at least two shoulder-widths apart. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees and your right heel slightly to the right.
Inhale, draw in your core muscles and lift your sternum. Raise your arms sideways to shoulder height, keeping your hands in your peripheral vision. Turn your palms to face away from you.
Exhale and in one flowing movement bend your left knee until the shin is vertical. Lower your left forearm onto your left thigh, stretching your right arm above your head in line with your right leg. Extend your right leg further if necessary.
Inhale and stretch to the right side of your chest and lengthen your spine. Feel into the strength of the posture as you stretch along your right side. Hold the position for a moment and enjoy the stretch.
Exhale and turn to face left as you lower your right hand to rest on the ground just inside your left foot. Twist from the base of your spine, taking your left shoulder back as you begin to raise your left elbow.
Inhale and straighten your left leg. Press down on the floor with your right hand to deepen the spinal twist as you raise your left arm until it’s vertical. Gaze up at your hand and then forward again. Breathe normally and feel your strength growing. Hold this position for as long as is comfortable.
Exhale and, bending your left knee, circle your left arm behind you and lower it to the ground just outside your left foot.
With your left knee still bent, raise your trunk to an upright position. At the same time, raise your outstretched arms in front of you and above your head, palms together.
Breathe normally and relax into this warrior posture. Feel your inner power. Hold this position for as long as is comfortable.
Straighten your legs and rotate your body and feet to face forward. Lower your arms to your sides. Relax for a moment and repeat on the other side.
Astoria Barr has been practising yoga on and off for more than 20 years and is now a dru yoga instructor. She is a freelance writer who specialises in positive news, health and spirituality articles as well as doing volunteer PR for non-profit organisations.