Yoga Myths and Tips – Real Reasons To Start Practicing!
Our preconception of what yoga is (and isn’t) is often a barrier for us even stepping on a mat in the first place and doing something that can be gob-smackingly relaxing and good for us.
If this applies to you, and you dismiss even trying the practice because of your ideas about it, then read on, and give it a try!
You never really know what something actually tastes like to you until you try it for yourself!
One of the biggest misconceptions about yoga is it’s relationship to flexibility. I speak to an enormous amount of people who dismiss even going to a class because they don’t think they are flexible enough to practice. So let’s throw this one into the bin straight away. Flexibility in a yogic context is much more about the absence of tension that it is about being flexible.
You can be someone who is actually very flexible in your muscles, ligaments and tendons but still unable to achieve a certain range of movements and postures. This is because your bones – and what we call ‘compression points’ – which the range of movement of bones in relation to one another – won’t let you move past a certain point. And this is individual to you!
And likewise, you can actually have people who are extremely naturally flexible, so can achieve a fuller range of postures with ease – but who are actually still racked with tension!
So what we are looking for, is achieving a state of relaxation in the body and moving within your unique limits. Getting comfortable in your body and allowing it to open, not pushing or forcing – much like a metaphor for life! Be proud of yourself – there’s only one of you!
What is ‘Yoga’? What does it mean?
Let’s skip the usual spiel about how yoga is made up of 8 aspects, including breath, posture and so on, as all this really does is describe some of its constituent parts and misses its essence. So in essence, yoga actually means ‘Union’ and this is what’s important and how we should measure our experience of it. It’s NOT how good you are at certain individual aspects of it such as posture and breathing techniques. The individual parts of it actually lack meaning as it’s the bringing together of these elements and your experience of a sense of momentum towards feeling more balanced that is important!
The issue we tend to have nowadays is that yoga is starting to be seen almost exclusively as a posture based practice and measured against how good you are at these postures, which misses the point. Someone can have a massive sense of inner shift in a class to feeling more balanced and centred irrespective of how well they achieve particular postures from a ‘technical’ point of view. It’s this sense of inner unity you need to focus on.
Yoga Creates Inner Unity. What Does That Really Mean?
In our modern day lives, particularly in urban areas, we tend to end up in various states of stress that skew our naturally harmonious state. We may be prone to overthinking, feeling disconnected from our bodies – a state which is further amplified by excessive time entranced by computers and phones, and with a backlog of emotions that you may not have had chance to process.
So you become a bit fragmented – the body may feel a bit wracked with tension, the mind whirring and emotionally off centre. A further consequence of this is that we feel less present and engaged in the present moment and more in our heads, less spontaneous and energised.
What yoga does is bring these elements back into balance, so you feel more sedate within, the conceptual and intellectual activity of the mind relaxes and the sensory aspect increases – so you feel more present in your environment, and your emotions become more balanced.
Yoga Sounds Like a Miracle Cure! How on Earth Does It Work?
Similar to therapies such as acupuncture, which I also practice, yoga recognises that parts of our physiology, when stimulated, command control over a vast number of other functions in the body. This is mainly achieved through the relationship of connective tissue, to organs, which then can influence our mental and emotional state.
Let’s look at a specific example; When you stimulate the connective tissue in the legs – which particular postures are designed to do, it, in turn, stimulates several organs, the Liver being one of them. The efficiency of the Liver is then increased, and stress and tension is also alleviated from the organ – we often don’t recognise that organs inside the body get tense too, just believing it’s the external tissue, but they certainly do – just think about how when something unpleasant happens you clench your gut!
These processes not only influence particular hormones, particularly the anti-stress hormone cortisol, so you feel different, but affect our emotions and thoughts too. In Chinese Medicine, it’s recognised that the Liver relates to our ability to assert ourselves, so when it’s off balance we can feel chronically angry or over-assertive, or indeed excessively timid, with all the accompanying excessive thoughts about the future, planning and decision making!
And that is of course just one organ!
I’ve Heard That Yoga Somehow Also Makes You More Creative? How?
Another process that happens due to the practice is what we refer to as a balancing of the left and right side of the brain. You can think of the left side of the brain as your more intellectual, logical thoughts, and the right side as the more sensory, creative aspect.
The way we interface with life and information nowadays, often in ‘conceptual’ form, and lots of time on computers and phones, means we tend to be much more oriented towards the left brain ideas, and less in our creative senses.
Meditative body-centred practices tend to be very good at increasing right brain function, as you are much more in your senses, and it starts to enable you to access what can sometimes otherwise remain as ‘sub-conscious’ thoughts and feelings – which is often where the good stuff is!
The intellect is like the tip of the iceberg, and we actually need to learn to dip beneath the surface into the subconscious – through deeply relaxed states where there is much more going on – a much greater depth to our processing of information, thoughts and feelings. Regular yoga practice allows you to access that deeper state of mind much more readily. You can read more about this creative benefit of yoga by looking up ‘Superlearning’ Ostrander.
Yoga Helps You Access Your Intuition too!
Another nice consequence is that we also then tend to become much closer to our own intuitive wisdom, as that is also generated through the innate wisdom of our Heart, which we often can’t hear so well when we are strongly in the intellect instead.
In Chinese Medicine, they actually say the Heart has the quietest whisper of any of the various voices and characters we experience in our mind, yet it’s the most important as our Heart connects us to our passions and dreams. The quieting of the mind that yoga brings allows you to start to connect to that inner-tuition!
And So What’s All This About Being At ‘One’?
Well, that comes along as a consequence of balancing the physiology in the body, and also the aforementioned left and right brain function. Since the practice calms the mind and stimulates the senses, you tend to feel a greater sense of connection with the world around you, which combined with the sense of inner calm makes everything feel like it’s unified together, at ‘One’ or indeed, at Yoga!
Do I have to be able to achieve all the postures?
Absolutely not. And it’s essential to note that there are many different styles of yoga which challenge the body in different ways. Some styles of yoga have many postures that can be very challenging – even for me and I’ve been doing it twenty years.
In fact, there are lots of types of yoga I’m not drawn towards doing as instinctively I don’t feel they are what I need to balance me. I tend to like more relaxed, more fluid yoga.
And there are some types of yoga, such as Yin Yoga, where you commonly stay in one easily accessible position for about 5 minutes! But which can be massively effective if that’s what you need. So yoga to some degree is about learning about your body and what you need!
How Can It Help Me With How I Live My Life?
Alongside all the benefits we’ve outlined so far, Yoga can massively increase your self-awareness which can really transfer to how you live your life ‘off the mat’.
This is a part of practice I really like (not that I don’t like the other bits, clearly!) as it’s subtle but yet so powerful! Yoga can show you your patterns, your physical habit patterns – how you move – but also show you your mental habits.
Since everything is slowed down, you can observe your mental level tendencies. Like when you enter a posture, are you more interested in doing it the way the teacher does it, or the people around you, and how you envision and think it should be, or what actually feels ok to your body? Or equally are you too happy in your comfort zone and not keen on opening up, stretching a little?
Yoga gives you the chance to observing these small subtleties of mind you often do multiple times per day without thinking about it, often holding us back in our life (as we either compare ourselves with others, push too hard or hold back, in our comfort zone!) and once you’ve made them conscious, they can’t hide anymore and you notice when you do them outside in your life too!
How Else Can Yoga Benefit Me?
As we can see above yoga has many benefits on the physical, mental and emotional levels. What I would also add though, is that because so many of us are under a level of ‘amplified stress’ that modern life challenges bring, you also need a degree of ‘amplified relaxation’ in your life to bring you back to balance.
Modern life just has a great deal of latent stress that we aren’t necessarily designed for! The bluelight of computer screens and phones that irritates the hypothalamus of your brain and disconnects you from your bodily feelings; The absence of natural light hitting your retina during the day (the spectral rays of light that your brain chemisty needs to balance don’t pass through glass); The irritating and draining impact of electromagnetic stagnation that technological devices and air conditioning create in the air of workplaces; the fact we often rush our food to try and keep up with our workload; the lack of fun, nourishing connection and time for relationships which relax us; the impact of pollution and lack of time in nature.
All these inputs mean you need to balance the stress with something equally as rejuvenating. We might think that going home and sitting in front of the TV with a glass of red does the trick, but your nervous system takes much longer to unwind from all the above factors! Particularly as TV still irritates the brain!
So by the time we go to bed, we are still actually ‘wired’ on some level way into the night. However, it’s said that 20 mins of deep relaxation like you achieve at the end of a yoga class equates to 4 hours of sleep. So if you need to hit that stress hard, yoga is perfect! It’s also therefore good for your energy levels, libido and general vitality!
Over to you!
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“Highly recommend this class, folks. I went for the first time last week. Richard guides you along to create a lovely balance between being energised and relaxed. Great for the non-flexible types like myself”