By Christine Griggs, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Trainer and Counselor
The first thing to know about yoga is that it is for everybody. It welcomes you just as you are.
Yoga means union; union with your most healthy balanced self. It’s not about transforming you into that person on the cover of the Yoga Journal, but about reconnecting you to all the parts of who YOU are. This is pretty radical in a society that tells you your self-worth is connected to that new product, outfit, diet or exercise.
How does it work?
Think of a puzzle. All the pieces in that box (different shapes and colors) are You. This is the way many of us feel in our modern world, physically and emotionally scattered like puzzle pieces. But deep within, we know that all those separate pieces form a beautiful picture. We long to be that complete picture.
In the words of my teacher Rolf Gates, yoga is a discipline that makes your life work; a practice that helps assemble all the pieces into the radiant complete picture of who you are.
What are the benefits?
Yoga is a holistic practice. It works all five layers of your being:
Physical: The sequencing of a yoga class awakens your body gradually with flows followed by longer holds and a deep relaxation. The poses stretch and nurture parts of your body you had forgotten, patiently releasing blocks and tightness. You are guided to find your edge and to hold it. The benefits are numerous: better posture and mobility; improved cardiac and digestive health; increased flexibility and strength; decreased blood pressure; improved health of back, joints and connective tissues; and an overall sense of balance. The physical intensity of a class will vary from rhythmic flows to more gentle stretches. The final relaxation is very powerful: it helps you digest and integrate the physical work into all the facets of your being.
Energy: The number one benefit of yoga is re-learning how to breathe, slowly and mindfully. Most people are shallow breathers. Deep breathing increases your lung capacity, your heart health and your stamina. Prana is the name of that life-force energy that flows through you and animates you. When this energy is stagnant, you get sick, depressed and lethargic. When it’s flowing, you feel alive and vibrant.
Mind: We live in a world addicted to being busy, and our restless mind causes stress, a major cause of disease. The relaxing meditative part of yoga helps calm your nervous system. As you learn to breathe and move mindfully, as you let yourself be guided into relaxation, you get out of the sympathetic “fight or flight” reactive state that causes stress and into the relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state. You are better equipped to handle life; you respond to life events instead of being overwhelmed and overreacting. You sleep better and are nicer to be around.
Wisdom/Intellect: Because you are calmer, you make better decisions. You save time and energy for what really matters. Your intuition is sharper. You have more clarity about what’s good for you and what’s not. You’re able to concentrate and have improved memory. Dare I say yoga makes us smarter?
Spiritual: Some people are afraid that yoga is going to take them away from their beliefs. It is the exact opposite. It deepens your connection to the joyful essence of your own values and beliefs. You also feel a profound peaceful connection to the world around you.
The beauty of yoga is that you feel the benefits where you need them the most. You might start yoga purely for physical benefits and find yourself relishing the relaxation because this is the equilibrium that you crave. Yoga takes you exactly as you are and gives you what you need.
If one class is not for you, don’t give up. Find one that fits you better. There are many yoga styles. For example, one of the most accessible is chair yoga, which can benefit everyone, including people with injuries or limited mobility.
Whatever your circumstances, discover yoga and determine if it is for you.
Christine Griggs is a yoga and meditation teacher, trainer and Ayurveda health counselor. She is an author and founder and owner of Yin Traveler. Griggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.