At Energy Yoga London we teach a traditional yoga sequence – as set out in the yoga sutras – of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). These postures + their variations, done in roughly this order, is yoga as it has been practiced for thousands of years in India. Since our particular lineage was brought over to the west by a specific teacher, it is called ‘Sivananda yoga’, but really it’s just traditional, sutra-based yoga (as opposed to modern yoga).
Because our yoga practice is so ancient, it is a practical tradition largely handed down through experiential teaching, though some writings about the practice also exist. The benefits of yoga (asanas and pranayama) are for each of us to experience, but over time wisdom around why they evolved as they did, and their benefits to the body, has also been handed down alongside the practices themselves. During our classes, our yoga teachers may invite you to notice whether you are experiencing some of these common ‘benefits’ – such as a feeling of expansion in your lungs, a deep stretch along your back, or a balancing of your energy systems.
The benefits of yoga replicate themselves at successive levels of depth. At the most surface level, the physical, it is relaxing to stretch and extend the muscles and ligaments, which hold ‘tension’ – or the intention to exert effort even when effort isn’t actively intended. Tension in this sense is the residue of effort, and it lingers beyond the time when the effort itself is expended; by intentionally exerting and then releasing muscle effort, we relax the muscles more decisively. Moving to a deeper level, the nervous system is relaxed through yoga, as the fibrous tissue making up nerve bundles are cleared of toxins through yoga asanas. Yoga (asanas and pranayama) activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the sympathetic nervous system – which when activated increases adrenaline and cortisol, producing increased heart rate, shallow breathing and increased blood sugar – the stress responses. Moving to a deeper level still, yoga teaches us to interrupt the automatic ‘hold on’ response that reflects our desire to control our circumstances; yoga invites us to see what it is like to ‘let go’ and be in a receptive or listening mode to reality.
For more on the physical benefits of yoga, check out this infographic on the benefits of the first two poses in the Sivananda sequence (credit, Sivananda Centres of Europe). And, come and experience those benefits for yourself at an Energy yoga class in St Paul’s, London soon!