The ancient practice of yoga is both calming and energizing, providing nourishment for the mind, body, and soul. The poses and the attitude of yoga nurture the spirit and encourage growth, strength, and a positive attitude.
Feed Your Body
Different asanas, or yoga postures, help your digestive system absorb nutrients from food in several ways. Stress can compress your digestive system into knots and slow metabolism. The gentle stretching and twisting of yoga releases tight muscles, improves muscle tone, and squeezes and releases sluggish organs, assisting in detoxification.
Try these poses to build up your agni, or digestive fire, and to stimulate your entire digestive system so it can absorb nutrients more efficiently. But be kind to yourself. Certain conditions, such as pregnancy, high blood pressure, sciatica, heart disease, or an injury require you to check with your doctor first and to alert your certified yoga instructor so poses may be adapted appropriately.
- Cat/Cow (marjaryasana/bitilasana) is a combination of two yoga poses, cat pose and cow pose. Flow the two together in a seamless repetition five or more times in sequence, smoothly transitioning and remembering to breathe. You are massaging your abdominal organs, compressing and lengthening your intestines, and stimulating blood flow to the digestive system.
- Extended side angle pose (utthita parsvakonasana) tones, stretches, and stimulates all your abdominal organs.
- Seated forward bend (paschimottanasana) lowers your blood pressure, compresses and stimulates your abdominal organs, relieves constipation, and increases circulation in your core -- the pelvic and abdominal digestive area.
- Seated spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana) just feels really good. This pose fans the digestive fire by massaging your liver and both the large and small intestines. The stretch relieves compression of the abdominal region, an unfortunate result of today's sedentary lifestyle.
Nurture Your Mind
A healthy attitude and lower stress leads to more self confidence, less anxiety, and a cooler head. Silencing the incessant chatter of monkey mind is one benefit of a yoga practice that helps you to think more clearly, concentrate more effectively, and even sleep better. Maximize the benefits of a regular yoga practice by focusing on each move of the asanas, paying close attention to your body, form, and breathing with full awareness in each posture.
- Relax fully in savasana (corpse pose) and balasana (child's pose) to still and refresh your mind completely.
- Sit in full or half lotus, or even in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, for meditation.
- Enhance the value of your meditation by concentrating on your breathing, repeating a mantra or following a guided meditation to interrupt the habitual loop of thoughts that keeps you from relaxing.
Nourish Your Spirit
The rough and tumble of daily life can deplete you, lowering your energy level and your capacity for enjoyment. Mindfulness restores your ability to focus, appreciate the blessings available to you in the moment, and view the world through a calm lens. A yoga life includes plenty of opportunities to practice mindfulness - in meditation and in every waking moment. Co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, Sharon Salzberg, says a daily meditation practice will train your focus to stay in the now.
- Use the yoga of walking meditation, which is slow, deliberate walking in quiet surroundings or in nature, with attention to every step.
- Practice pranayama, or yoga breathing, to center yourself and restore your spirit.
- Teacher Pema Chodron of Gampo Abbey Monastery recommends a simple trick for restoring consciousness wherever you are in your day, on or off the mat. Just pause, take three deep slow breaths, note what you are feeling and seeing, and then go on. It's like a mini-snack for a spiritual energy boost when you are depleted.
Not on the Menu
Be smart and safe about your yoga practice to ensure it is all benefit and no risk for you. Search for a certified instructor and a welcoming studio for classes. Most studios will let you try out a class before you commit to a package. Others allow drop-ins. Go at your own pace to avoid injury -- you get no points for "achievement" in yoga. It's a process not a contest and if you are mostly sedentary, slow is the way to go.
Yoga poses range from basic to challenging, but even the simple asanas can result in excess strain to joints and muscles unused to the moves. Lower backs, knees, necks, and shoulders are potentially vulnerable to sprains, strains, and tears. Coddle them by working carefully and deliberately to learn good form. If you have a heart condition, or even mild high or low blood pressure, approach hot yoga cautiously. The high temperatures and humidity could lead to dizziness, nausea, or fainting. Likewise, watch those feel-good poses that place strain on your neck. Use cushions to ease neck pressure and props for any moves you aren't yet flexible enough to manage unassisted.
Yoga as Sustenance
Yoga is a method of restoring you to consciousness by engaging your body and mind to create harmony in your life and peace in your heart. The postures can improve your health and ability to take in nutrients. The breathing and meditation practices are nourishing in a different way. They open your mind and heart to absorb the energy of life around you that helps you to thrive and grow.