By Tanja Henderson
Why would a modern person take up such an ancient thing as yoga? We already have everything we need: t.v., internet, phone, and countless other modern luxuries, as well as basic living necessities, food, running water, electricity, a roof above our heads etc. We work out at the gym and we’re in tip top shape already, aren’t we? We don’t need yoga, now do we? Well, I would like to contradict this.
As very aware persons in new times to come, I think we DO need this ancient thing called yoga in our modern daily lives. And I like to tell you why.
With our busy lives we tend to forget to appreciate the closest thing in our life, namely: ourselves. We run around from one appointment to the next. Fill our days with obligations. Stress about the short time schedules. Have constant distraction around us. Televisions, radios, conversations with everybody we meet, business wise or other. The building stone of good relations with others start with a good relationship with yourself. But what happens when we are all alone, in that short amount of precious time? We are bored, lost, and need others to entertain us.
This is where yoga enters your life.
With yoga you turn attention inside yourself. You learn to appreciate simple life, and be content with only yourself as company. It teaches us to take good care of our body and to relax the mind. Not only during the weekly class, but in our day to day life.
Yoga is an ancient science originating from India. It has many different forms, but in the western world Hatha yoga is the most well known one. I like to tell you about the benefits of Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga keeps you healthy, remain young for a long time and live to a good old age. Fight against disease if it gets to you and therefor prolong life, ward off old age and death for the longest time possible.
You will feel the difference from the first day you start with Hatha yoga classes. It will unite your actions, thoughts and feelings. It will bring balance between the emotional, mental and physical you. If one is out of balance it affects the state of the others. Through yoga practice we keep all three in balance. We create an equilibrium between the nervous and endocrine system which directly influences all the other systems and organs in our body.
The postures – called asanas in yoga – will strengthening, lubricate and flexible the muscles, joints and glands of the body. These asanas are meant to cleans the inside by squeezing, lengthening and strengthening.
There are hundreds of different asanas. I will not start naming them here, but everybody can start yoga at his or her level and benefit from it. There are asanas while laying down, sitting, and standing up – on feet or hands.
There are even asanas while hanging upside down! You can use gravity or muscle power to accomplish certain asanas. Each level will benefit from a set of asanas.
Let us dive a little bit deeper into these asanas, because: what exactly do we do when we practice certain asanas? And, how can this be good for the mind?
An important part of practicing yoga is to learn to breathe more efficiently and relaxing. This means we will inhale deep into the lungs, with the use of so-called belly breathing, and exhale deeply as well. It will take some practice and concentration, in order to be able to do this evenly without any obstructions. But the benefits are enormous: when body and brain receive more oxygen we can perform better. We can calm our minds by this deep, even, rhythmic breathing. Think about people who are mad: they take short, choppy breaths and are exhausted in no time. But the opposite is true as well: a flow of long inhales and exhales will calm us. With this concentration on the very core of our bodily functions we can start on the asanas in a yoga class.
The STANDING asanas have a strengthening and stretching effect on the back, sides, shoulders and leg muscles. People who sit down a lot of time, for example during their work, will benefit greatly from these asanas. They also increase great alignment and with that improve posture and your balance. Practicing standing asanas will give you a strong, grounded feeling in life.
The BACKWARD BENDING asanas stretch the front of the body, the abdominal muscles and open up the chest area. They tone and strengthen the muscles controlling the spine. They not only literally open the chest but also emotionally open you towards the rest of the world. They are extrovert asanas. These asanas require strength and energy to perform.
In contrast to the backward bending asanas, the FORWARD BENDING asanas do not require strength. Gravity is used to stretch the muscles. These are introvert asanas, and help you to relax. They compress and massage the abdominal organs like the liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. The back muscles become more supple as well as the leg muscles. The forward bends will teach you to show humility and help not to fear showing your back to others.
The SPINAL TWIST asanas are very important for the flexibility of the spine. They stimulate the spinal nerves and encourage the energy flow in the navel area. They also stretch and compress the abdominal muscles, depending on which way you turn.
They nourish the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, liver, and gall bladder. These asanas teach you to untangle knots and problems in daily life.
The INVERTED asanas make your blood flow towards your brain, and flush out toxins. Blood from the lower limbs is run back to the heart and to the lungs, purified, and return to the legs.
The breath becomes slow and deep, improving the output of carbon dioxide and the input of oxygen. The whole human organism benefits from these asanas. The inverted asanas will give you a different view on your old behavior and it will refresh your total being.
The BALANCING asanas improve muscle coordination and posture. They develop the functions of the cerebellum, the part in the brain which controls the motions of the body. They generate physical and nervous balance which conserves energy and achieves grace and fluidity in movements. The focus needed to perform these asanas will give balance at the physical level as well as emotionally and mentally.
ALL asanas work on improving the energy life flow in the body. A human body has 7 major energy centers, located along the spine towards the top of the head.
These centers, called chakras, need to open for energy flow, so the flow can go unhindered up and back down.
When one chakra is obstructed we need to work on the opening of it. If we don’t, problems will occur in our mental and physical life and disease will enter. We can open them through asanas and concentrated meditation.
It is very important to work on these chakras, so we don’t get stuck in old habits. Old habits are negative forces. Think of habits that are bad for our health or reactions to other people that are going to make us frustrated and disturb our peace of mind. When we work on those chakras that are out of balance, we can restore them. This will make us feel better in our whole body and mind.
While we work on these concentrated asanas, we breath deeply, focus our gaze, and try to let all thoughts go. The here and now is important and we start feeling things we forgot were there. All these asanas are meant to cleanse and strengthen. While we practice these asanas we pay close attention to our breathing. Our breathing leads the asana. No asana is a fixed hold posture. It’s alive.
When our breathing slows down, it calms down our mind. We examine what’s happening inside of us. Our mind’s attention is completely in our body and we listen to what our body tell us. This will lead to a feeling of wholeness, our minds will become one with our bodies. We become our body.
And finally, it is vital to practice MEDITATION as part of yoga. We need to relax the mind. When we sleep our body rests, but our mind goes on. When we meditate, we will start to relax the psyche by thinking of nothing, emptying the mind. In the beginning thoughts will enter, and we will be distracted. But when we will clear our minds, we will learn to meditate and reap the benefits from it.
When starting with yoga you will run into all your limitations and expectations. Things don’t always seem to work the way you want them to.
This is when yoga will help us to learn to accept ourselves, without judgement and feelings of failure, but with great empathy and joy to the work ahead and the process of acceptance. Learn to live in the here and now and enjoy the feel of every little bit that make you move forward.
Yoga goes beyond the hour in the class on the mat. We use it in our daily life: we live it. That’s why I think everybody needs yoga in our modern day and age. When we feel unbalanced in our lives and out of sync, yoga has the power to revive. We can use yoga to keep the feeling of being whole and one with yourself, and with the world around you.
So…be hip, healthy and start yoga – you’ll be heading for hundred!
Namaste, Tanja Henderson, yogi for life.
Tanja Henderson studied art in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Europe. She was co-director of an audio visual production company in Amsterdam and has worked as a freelance photographer for many international publications, magazines, newspapers, museums and galleries. She lived in the high desert of Eastern Nevada with her family in a hand build home, and later in the wilderness of British Columbia, Canada. Now she lives in Northern Chile, where she home schools her two kids and is building a ecological house together with her husband. Here she started Punto Cero Yoga – yoga retreats in Northern Chile.