Is Yoga exercise?

I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.

yogaBigban

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:

  • opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
  • a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
  • brings me into the now
  • makes me want to take better care of myself
  • seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
  • supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth

Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.

No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.

Namaste

 

Three great yoga balancing poses

Balancing poses are an important part of a yoga practice and have many benefits. One of the primary benefits of a balancing pose is as its name implies it allows you to work on your ability to balance your body weight by improving your coordination and strength. In my daily yoga practice I perform three asanas that I find helpful in maintaining and improving my balance, and that I just enjoy doing.

Let’s start with King Dancer Pose:

Benefits of King Dancer Pose

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest
  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen
  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Improves balance and coordination

How to perform King Dancer Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose. Inhale, shift your weight onto your right foot, and lift your left heel toward your left buttock as you bend the knee. Press the head of your right thigh bone back, deep into the hip joint, and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong. Then repeat but this time, inhale and shift your weight onto your left foot.

King Dancer (beginner)

simple variation jof king dancer pose

King Dancer (intermediate)

king dancer pose common

Another of my favorite balancing poses is Tree Pose. I’m only going to show what would be considered the intermediate version of Tree Pose or what is the most typical at least from my experience.

Benefits of Tree Pose

  • The position helps improve posture and balance
  • It strengthens calves, ankles and thighs
  • Perform this pose regularly to improve balance and overall well being
  • For me it is very calming, especially when you pick a focus point and relax your hip allowing it to open up

How to perform Tree Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose, draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. I like to put my hands together as depicted below, but you can extend your arms over your head either hands touching or apart. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

Tree Pose (intermediate)

Tree Pose Standard

 

The third balancing pose is called Warrior III. This pose is great for building strength and balance. Unlike the first two it gets your back perpedicular to the floor.

Benefits of Warrior III:

  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
  • Tones the abdomen

How to perform Warrior III Pose:

With one leg in front of the other bring your weight forward into your front foot and gently kick up your back leg. At the same time, bring the torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the neck relaxed, as if it’s the natural extension of the spine. You can either bring the arms back along your sides or bring them together in front of you as depicted below.

Warrior III (hands forward)

warrior-III

 

Use these balancing poses to help calm yourself and work on your coordination, balance, and strength. They will help you acquire the strength and balance you need to protect yourself and prevent falls and other mishaps that happen out there in the world. For me they are more calming in nature than most of the other standing poses and provide a nice transition to supine or sitting poses.

Remember the key to maintaining your balance is to pick a focal point in front of you with your eyes and focus on it allowing your body to naturally balance itself.

Namaste

More Yoga Really?

kino-crescent-lunge

As I may have mentioned in a previous post I have hopped, jumped, thrown myself on the yoga bandwagon, and thought I would give you a few reasons why.  I started reading “The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace” by Kino MacGregor someone who studied under Jois the person who devoted his life to teaching Ashtanga yoga.  One thing Kino talks about in the book is the importance of regular practice, meaning 6 days a week.  The reason being is that if you attend a yoga class, and maybe practice yourself another day in the week you will not progress.  I’m not saying you will not benefit from practicing two days a week, but you probably will not increase your flexibility or really gain the peace of mind that comes with daily practice.

Last week I performed my yoga practice of about 30 asana’s six days in a row, and it was amazing how my hamstrings and back are beginning to show signs of increased flexibility.  This is actually becoming very addictive as I am practicing at night after work, and look forward to it all day.  Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t practice yoga one, two, or three days a week; if nothing else it is a wonderful form of exercise.  I think the reason Kino advocates 6 days a week is that the body needs more frequent exposure to the poses before it begins to transform the muscles and tendons to allow you a greater range of motion.  As for myself I am still working on some pretty basic poses in preparation for embarking on the Ashtanga primary series expounded upon in the “The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace”, but we all have to start somewhere.

Yoga

Well my journey continues, and in a couple of weeks I will embark on the Ashtanga primary series, and give you and update.  I would recommend if you want to learn more about Ashtanga yoga that you read Kino MacGregor’s book, it is extremely well written and easy to understand.  The book is only $14.95 at Amazon and is 240 pages with great photography of Kino performing the poses.

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace

Some other good sources for learning more about yoga include:

Yoga Basics – lots of great information, how to, meditation, etc.

Yoga.com – very cool stories and videos

Yoga Journal – probably the most popular yoga magazine

 

Namaste

Definition of Namaste: In Sanskrit the word is namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you” – my greetings, salutations or prostration to you. The word ‘namaha’ can also be literally interpreted as “na ma” (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one’s ego in the presence of another.

Ashtanga Yoga

As promised I wanted to spend a little time writing about Ashtanga Yoga.  Ashtanga Yoga most often refers to the system taught by Indian yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, and is sometimes called Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.  

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Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Asana [posture]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses]
Dharana [concentration]
Dhyana [meditation]
Samadhi [enlightenment]

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is different from many yoga classes in the west in that the order of asanas is completely predefined. A practice will comprise four main parts:

  • an “opening sequence” Sun salutations
  • one of the six main “series”
  • a back-bending sequence
  • a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the “finishing sequence”

This type of yoga is not trivial and can have 75 or more asanas taking 1  to 2 hours to complete.  The main series actually has 6 different levels if you will from:

  • Primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa
  • Intermediate or second series is called Nadi Shodana
  • four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga

Those performing Ashtanga yoga are encouraged to practice 6 days a week, preferably in the morning, and to take rest on Saturdays as well as the days of the full and new moon (commonly referred to as moon days by ashtanga practitioners).  This form of yoga is very athletic and challenging so be prepared to work hard to complete your sessions.  You will not only build flexibility but also strength, which are a couple of reasons why Ashtanga yoga is so popular.

This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of Ashtanga yoga, and I would encourage you to do some additional research.  What I determined is that this is not appropriate for those of you who have very limited time to devote to a yoga practice, but at the same time it can be done by a novice and is something that you can grow into because it does have different levels.  Probably the best way to get started is to seek out a yoga studio that teaches Ashtanga and talk to a teacher, and you can also check out books or DVD’s at Amazon who seem to have a pretty extensive offering to choose from.

A quick update, I just purchased this book from Amazon because it addressed the Primary series and because it was rated so high.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-Ashtanga-Yoga-Peace–Includes/dp/1611800056/

Namaste

Yoga Sunset