Many people understand yoga as just the physical positions (asana) on a yoga mat, but yoga in its true essence is much more on and off the mat. Swami Sivananda, one of the yoga masters of the 20th century, outlined 5 simple points of yoga.
The yoga asanas are said to be proper exercise as it gives a full body workout – strengthening and stretching muscles and connective tissue, improving circulation, stimulating digestion and strengthening the immune system, among other benefits.
In yoga each asana is practiced with conscious awareness of the breath and body. In addition, there are breathing exercises (pranayama) such as anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and Kapalabhati (breath of fire). Pranayama helps us control our energy (prana), detoxifies the cardiorespiratory system, and conditions us to maintain a steady breath during times of physical and emotional stress which helps calm the mind.
In yoga you learn how to relax your body and mind during asanas and there is always final relaxation at the end of a class. This conscious relaxation allows the body and mind to process, heal, and repair itself enabling it to return to a balance revitalised and more efficient.
Yoga promotes a simple, natural and health promoting diet. It consists of food products that have the most positive effects on the body and mind, while having the fewest negative effects on the environment and on other creatures.
The human mind naturally has a negative bias which means that it reacts more intensively to negative experiences than positives ones. As hunter-gatherers this characteristic helped us survive as it enabled us to focus on important skills such as escaping a hungry bear. However, in modern life we are presented with many things to potentially worry about and although they are mostly not life threatening our nervous system still reacts as if they are, which can lead to constant dwelling on the negative, stress, anxiety and depression. Therefore, it is important to consciously notice and soak in
the joyful nice small moments in everyday life so that those passing positive experience turn into lasting memories. In addition, Swami Sivananda recommended developing positive thinking through learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta, which is part of the earliest sacred literature of India.
The human mind also naturally jumps from one thought and idea to the next in an unsettled restless manner. In mindfulness and meditation, the aim is to become aware of where the minds attention is and if it wanders to thoughts other than the focus then gently encourage it back. There are a large number of wide-spanning benefits of mindfulness and meditation such as enhancing concentration and self awareness, reducing stress, anxiety and depression, benefits to the nervous system, cardiovascular and immune system health and slow aging.
I think most people will have experienced the benefits of one or many of these points regarding their own physical and mental health and well-being. However, for some reason we often need some encouragement and reminding to do what is nourishing and good for us!
In all the classes I teach I aim to incorporate the yoga positions with an emphasis on breathing, mindfulness/meditation, enjoying yourself and relaxing.
In addition, every Saturday morning I am now taking classes at Vegan Express in South London where you can enjoy a healthy smoothie or some tasty food after the class. Perfectly, I think that covers all of the 5 points of yoga.
If you fancy joining, you can find more details and book your space via my facebook page @yogawithfrankie.
Hopefully see you on a yoga mat soon.