I believe yoga is about developing a personal toolkit for living a healthier, happier, more meaningful and fulfilled life. If properly taught, learned and practised, yoga can facilitate these qualities becoming an established part of your physical and mental wellbeing. Something handy which you can readily call upon when times are good, not-so-good, or just plain bad!
Yoga develops strength, stamina and agility. Each posture (Asana) has a uniquely beautiful shape, grace and elegance. To attain this you need to practise regularly, so as to educate and incrementally mould your body into the frame of each posture, as befits you.
Yoga enables fast recovery from injury, stiffness, fatigue, heaviness and dullness. It increases proprioception and breathing capacity, sharpens performance and prolongs active participation in physical pursuits.
You do not have to be fit or bendy in order to begin learning yoga – that comes with practice. There is no age limit. Your gender, health, lack of physical prowess or inexperience, are not drawbacks. Many disabled people practise yoga.
Yoga represents a challenge to all bodies and minds. Whether you’re an absolute novice, or a superbly fit athlete, yoga should always be physically demanding. The higher yogic skill is being in control, not letting the exercise overtake the breath, knowing when to relax and, eventually, to achieve a state of meditation (Dhyana). The ultimate goal of yoga is, in fact, meditation. The physical and breathing aspects of yoga (Hatha yoga) are skills we develop whilst working towards that goal.
The essential thing to grasp is that if you never reach that goal, it doesn’t matter. You take out of yoga what works for you. If you choose only to practise Hatha yoga that is still good yoga. Nobody will make you meditate, or indeed could. Yoga treats you like an adult. You are in charge of your yoga practice, not the other way around.
Yoga helps to keep your body working well internally as well as externally. There’s an abundance of evidence showing how yoga keeps illness at bay and relieves the symptoms when we do get ill. Of particular note is the therapeutic role that yoga can play in preventing the numerous non-communicable diseases which result from our stressful, and generally speaking, unhealthy 21st century lifestyles.
The combination of physical and mental exercises, integrating the body and mind with the breath, facilitate self-regulation of your complete being. With regular practice of yoga this will become increasingly apparent in the natural cycles and rhythms of your mind and body. It is why the relaxation and meditation at the end of each session is so important. This is when the consolidation and integration of the body, breath and mind reaches its climax.
In yoga, relaxation is a posture in itself: an active skill that you need to practise and refine. This progresses naturally into the meditation, the clinical benefits of which are now being recognised by medical professionals, especially having been proven through the scientific use of MRI scans and associated research.
Nowadays, yoga is being prescribed to patients because of its potential for preventing or relieving the despair and pain of mental or physical illness. We believe this is because of its efficacy for reducing inflammation and balancing the nervous system.
Yoga is particularly effective because it is holistic and operates in tune with the individual and their needs. To gain these benefits, however, you must commit to regular practice: not just by attending our classes, but by incrementally introducing short and frequent personal sessions of yoga practice into your life.
Reference: “The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachments, Communication and Self-Regulation” Stephen W. Porgess (Norton).
As the body and mind are integrated, so they influence one another. The mind, being mercurial, can get caught in sorrows, pleasures, emotions and moods. Being unable to get out of this state impairs one’s mental health, often resulting in panic attacks, anxiety, stress and depression.
Mindfulness is a modern derivative of meditation (Dhyana). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is effectively yoga in action. Yoga brings them both together into a single and particularly effective discipline. The physical and breathing elements (Hatha yoga) act as an ideal precursor to relaxation and meditation. The controlled breathing exercises (Pranayama) settle the body’s nervous system: migrating you away from a primal ‘fight-or-flight’ response towards a calmer state of repose.
Yoga liberates the practitioner from negative thinking patterns, replacing these with greater clarity and objectivity. From a philosophical perspective, it inculcates a stream of change which draws us towards what the ancient yogis described as our true universal self (Atma). Today you might describe that as ‘the real me’. Effectively this means knowing what matters to you, doing whatever you do (Dharma) to the best of your ability, and embracing a strategy of wellness for your life.
This is why, provided you are taught properly, yoga can be extremely effective as an adjunct therapy, or simply as a source of relief, from mental and numerous other health problems.
Every posture functions in sync with the breath, integrating and balancing the physical, psychological, physiological, and intellectual sheaths of our being. It cleans the body and unclogs the mind, drawing health within, and developing a shining countenance without. This positive energy also manifests itself in a realistic sense of optimism. It fosters a greater appreciation of yourself, other people, and the world around you.
Yoga develops a keen mind, an alert eye, a proportionate division of muscular, skeletal, and respiratory movement, a strong physique, and a confident voice. It brings agility, swiftness, repose and reflection. A dominant quality yoga bestows is physical stature. Standing, sitting and walking properly naturally makes one look and feel more attractive and self-assured; not to mention taking years off your appearance!
Yoga promotes belief in your own ability to achieve what you set out to attain. You cannot do well in anything, regardless of your natural aptitude, if you do not believe in and cannot visualise yourself doing so. This is not being egotistical: it is self-efficacy. It requires the development of a steady, realistically optimistic belief in yourself.
Practising yoga is an excellent way to acquire that mindset and develop the physical skills commensurate with achieving your purpose. Mozart, the Beatles, Mohammed Ali, Einstein, Churchill – each had to practise their trade and overcome disappointment. Modern philosopher, scribe and lateral thinker Malcolm Gladwell estimates that regardless of your innate ability, you need to practise for 10,000 hours to become truly proficient in your craft.
Yoga presents physical and mental challenges which you can overcome with time. The mindfulness aspect consolidates your learning and encourages you to listen as much as talk. It is a combination of exhilarating physical challenge and positive psychology; training your thinking and your body. Easy to explain, much harder to do! There’s no mystique attached, just application and belief in your own ability.
Yoga enables you to think more clearly with a broader frame of reference. You’re less encumbered by negative emotions and past experience, enabling you to be a more effective, happier and healthier person. Over time yoga reveals a deeper sense of purpose and wellbeing. Note that yoga is not a religion. We call it a ‘modus operandi’ (method of attaining).
Regular practice makes you aware of something greater than yourself, but of which you are also a part. It is akin to the revelations being discovered in quantum physics. Even Einstein and Shakespeare recognised these qualities which yoga develops – as revealed in the beautiful quotes below.
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ — a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest— a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
– Albert Einstein
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82”
– William Shakespeare
“I started yoga with Johnston in January 2015. Having tried various exercise classes over the years with other teachers and never attended for longer than 12 weeks, I didn’t expect this to be any different. However, I was wrong! A year later I am still attending regularly and I can honestly say that my fitness and flexibility have improved enormously. Johnston’s yoga classes are very enjoyable, even when we’re working hard!” – Jo Adams
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