Yoga is the union of mind and body. When you come to a yoga class or come to practice on your mat it may be the only time that day that you check in with what it feels like to be you. Yoga teaches us to be self aware to connect to the breath and to be in the present moment. The first step to healing the body or to making a change is awareness. When we arrive on our mat and start to breathe, an even exhale and even inhale, we can notice areas of the body that are hard to breath into. We also notice areas that are easier to breath into, old injuries and whether or not we feel full of energy or feel tired and depleted. As we inhale we expand into our body and as we exhale we can release and let go of any physical tensions but also let go of any unnecessary thoughts. We can then use the breath to start to massage the body from the inside out. As yoga teaches us to be present in our body we are more likely to pay attention to early signs of discomfort.
Quite often injuries occur from lack of movement. The less you move the less you can move. Its not just the muscles that become stiff but the lack of movement creates a stickiness in the connective tissue (myofascia) in the body. Tight hip flexors and hamstrings are a result of a day spent sitting in a chair, at your desk, in your car or watching TV. We spend a lot of time sitting. As the fabulous Doug Keller says “You start off life in foetal position, get a job and a car and end up back in foetal position!”
The connective tissue links the muscles. As a result, muscles are not separate things that get hurt in isolation to each other, for example a collapsed arch in the foot can cause a tightness in the neck.
To heal, we need to look at the body as a whole. Yoga eases aches and pains by creating a balance in the body. It helps the body repattern itself. By increasing strength, flexibility and range of motion we can keep our joints fluid, hydrate tissues and release tension. Standing postures create structural alignment, build strength and offer a sense of grounded-ness.
However, yoga is not just the asana. The asana is an excuse to breath properly. The breath is the key to calming the mind so that we can learn to accept what is. To just accept situations, not judging, responding or reacting. It is not so much the world around us that causes us stress, it’s our reaction to it. If you can use your breath to “let go” and release in a yoga pose then you can use the breath to “let go” of stressful situations. We can’t always change external things but we have a choice with how we choose to respond to those things.
The pranayama (breathing) and meditation also support a feeling of well being and promotes healing. As you feel more comfortable in your body you might find that your practice naturally helps you begin the shift from simply feeling better physically to feeling a greater sense of joy and creating a level of stillness that allows you to see yourself more clearly. They say there is a link between what you think and how you feel, the mind is everything.