Jungle Zen: By Kathy Williams
People come to yoga for many reasons… as a way to relax and reduce stress in their lives or for health and fitness benefits. Others are interested in inner peace, balance and a sense of overall well-being. Some are motivated by pain and suffering looking to yoga as a way to heal. Some come to yoga seeking a sense of spiritual connection or personal growth. For most it is a combination of these and other goals.
If you are new to yoga it is important to dissolve any expectations and respect that you are unique and therefore your body and your yoga practice will (actually SHOULD) appear different than everyone else. It’s important to build a foundation with a slower, more mild practice (like Hatha). Would you jump into a 10K marathon without doing some form of running training? So why jump into an intermediate/advanced vinyasa class without first learning the basics (fundamental poses, elements of breathing, motor control, balance and body awareness).
Yoga is about breathing, feeling, paying attention and recognizing that the teacher resides within you. As a yoga teacher I am merely a guide. When you come onto your mat, come without any expectations (of yourself and others), notice your thoughts, the feelings in your body, your emotions…breathe deeply, let go of worries and stress, release the need to be competitive (extremely important!) and quiet your monkey mind (endless internal chatter). Gradually learn to just BE…experience what it feels like to inhabit your body and get to know your true self. You will learn acceptance…you will begin to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment and sometimes you will have moments of clarity, release and even bliss.
I always encourage an ample warming up phase in each practice without any deep stretching (especially forward bends) to allow time for the connective tissues to ease into mobility. This will free up the spine and reduce the tendency towards compression. Approach every pose with the intention of SPINAL QUALITY first before QUANTITY in the limbs – example: there is no point in binding the arms through the legs in Half Twist if this causes your spine to collapse and compress. In yoga MORE is not better. It’s of utmost importance to listen to your body and back off when needed. Let your practice be led by your breath and slow the breath down (regardless of the level of practice). The slower the breath, the greater control as well meditative state you will be able to enjoy.
Yoga will help you slow down (physically and mentally). As a Jungle Gym member think of yoga as the Yin to the Yang of the competitive and strenuous JG workouts. Just having greater awareness and sensitivity to internal and external stimuli is a very powerful tool.
So remember that yoga doesn’t discriminate – you aren’t required to be athletic, thin, super flexible or strong – you begin from where you are – you take the asanas (poses) and make them your own, to fit your body, your level of ability, your comfort zone. Let go of any preconceived ideas of flexible bodies and pretzel-like postures, yoga is so much more than that. It accepts you as you are and encourages an inward journey. It’s all about viewing the human being as a whole system.
After practicing yoga you will find that your mind becomes clearer and stronger, emotions even out, the heart opens and the spirit soars. Within each person resides a source of strength, courage and love with the potential to accept life with grace and equanimity. These are the gifts of yoga!
This is where your body changes,