One of the great benefits of Yoga asana is that it brings prana, or life force, to the body. When prana flows, life is easy and you understand your purpose.
However, you don’t need to master natarajasana or bakasana to feel the flow of prana throughout your body. A simple sequence, such as in the video below for Prana Namaskar, will build strength and move energy throughout your body.
This three-minute sequence may seem simple, but it will provide great mental and physical challenge. As you build pelvic floor strength, you will get in touch with your body and create connection within.
Each morning is a new opportunity to greet the day with breath and movement.
After you wake up, your body needs a safe and gentle transition from long, peaceful rest into a day of movement. A sattvic asana sequence in the morning awakens your body from its slumber so it can serve you calmly all day long.
Your asana practice doesn’t need to take hours to be effective. Just 10 minutes on your mat, guided by conscious breath, will make a significant difference in how you feel all day long. If you want a simple way to say hello to the new day and honor the sun, try surya namaskar, sun salutations.
How many times have you been in an asana class and found yourself faking your way through a pose that you did not know how to do? This is very common in fast-paced studio classes, and it is the cause of injury in many yogis.
Long before Yoga studios began to appear in every town, learning the asanas took years of dedicated study. A student would work with one teacher over many years, combining formal education with self-study. Ultimately, the student owned and was responsible for their own practice.
Fear can drive your asana practice, or your asana practice can drive fear from your life.
Sometimes people avoid certain poses, ones in which they don’t look their best or are afraid of hurting themselves in. They focus instead on the poses they know well and never look beyond them. But staying within your comfort zone is a sure way to limit progression.
Yoga asana is training for life. Use this time to overcome fear on your mat and it will pay off in the rest of your life. Focus on aligning your breath with your movements and lining up your muscles and bones the way they are naturally designed. Begin with this foundation regularly and a pose that once seemed very difficult will soon be part of your daily practice.
It is profoundly healing to allow your body to just be.
Tadasana, or mountain pose, is often overlooked. But its stillness builds strength that is unlike anything that comes from movement. Rather than rushing through it, come to the front of your mat, pause and notice how powerful it feels to stand tall like a mountain.
Tadasana forms the foundation for all the other poses. When you set up this pose properly, you’ll understand how your muscles and bones are designed to function. Bring intention to tadasana regularly and you won’t question what hip-width distance is, or what it means to have your head directly above your shoulders -- you’ll just know what your natural design is by feeling it.
It’s no fun to practice Yoga out of habit. Each time you unroll your mat is an opportunity to find freshness and joy. When you find yourself in a rut, give birth to a new experience with a fun pose like garbhapindasana, or embryo in the womb pose.
Garbhapindasana is great for bringing in a childlike sense of joy. As you rock back and forth around your mat (one time for each month of gestation), you can't help but smile, let go and enjoy the twists and turns of life. As you come out of the pose and into kukutasana, or rooster pose, you are reborn into a new experience of yourself.
Your Yoga asana practice doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. Some of the most powerful poses are the ones that challenge your body and mind in the simplest ways.
Utkatasana, or chair pose, is one of these. It may look easy, but the simplicity of this pose is its true power. This pose engages muscles from your feet through your arms, all the while allowing you to practice mastering your mind. As you hold still for 15 to 20 breaths, you calm the mind’s desire to move, the urge to walk away from the challenge, or the chatter that tells you that you should be doing a pose that is more flamboyant. Who knew that the process of sitting down could make you so strong?
Life offers many choices. Some of them move you along your path, others are just distractions. Be open to anything, but don’t feel pulled to follow every left turn that appears before you. You’ll end up moving in circles.
Sometimes, you reach a crossroads where it’s unclear which direction you should follow. Before you take a step in any direction, seek clarity. Go within, practice matsyasana, or fish pose, and find the trusted guide of your higher self.
When people think of strength, they often think of the big muscles: biceps, quadriceps and trapezius. It’s true that these large muscles play a big role, but they’re often not the key players. There is something more subtle at play in the true source of your strength, and it comes from deep inside. This is the power of the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is two bands of muscle located just above the pubic bone. They span the base of the pelvis and hold the organs in place, somewhat like a hammock. They provide support for your torso and connect your upper and lower body. Even though the pelvic floor is neither large nor visible, these two small bands of tissue are one of your greatest sources of strength.
The world exists in a balance of the subtle and physical; it’s up to us to notice all parts. It’s easy to be in awe of the powerful energy of the sun, but don’t forget how much the silver glow of the moon can teach you about the softer side of light.
Just like on the outside, it’s easy to focus on the heaviness of your body and forget about the lightness of the energy within it. Ardha chandrasana, or half moon, is a great pose to get in touch with all aspects of being. As you ground into the earth on your standing foot, notice how prana flows into parts of your body you may have been ignoring. If you struggle to extend your leg, notice the way your ujjayi breath makes it effortless. As you hold this pose, you are working with gravity, yet you can enjoy a lightness in your body and the full experience of living.
Movement is what defines Yoga asana, yet its purpose is to bring about stillness. When you move your body in the right ways, you can grow comfortable enough in it to sit for meditation. Making time for the stillness of meditation is how you will learn to master the impulses of your mind and meet the wonders of the world within.
Some poses are designed to cultivate that stillness directly. Siddhasana, or accomplished pose, is one. Add this pose to the beginning or end of your practice (and include the mudra and mantra we’ve outlined below) and you’ll discover Yoga’s true beauty – connecting with the divine within.
It’s not the aim of Yoga to make life complex. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Many of the yamas and niyamas ask us to strip away the unflattering accessories of life that don’t serve us. What is left is the simplicity of being. The same simplicity should guide your approach to asana.
When people begin a Yoga asana practice, many think that progress means that they will be able to tackle what are mislabeled as advanced poses. But Yoga has no levels -- these are only creations of the modern times that build the lower ego and fuel competition. Different poses challenge us at different times, and all are important. Some days, the most advanced pose you can do is one that asks you to be still in a world that constantly moves.
Your body quite easily interprets your emotional state. Sometimes it can be a more effective tool than your mind. Just by observing your posture, you can tell if you are in a state of fear (forward head position with the sense organs out in front to detect danger), resignation (slouched shoulders and caved chest) or stress (shoulders tight and high toward the ears).
Over time, your body will learn your most consistent emotional patterns and habituate a certain posture. But any habit can be changed. A sattvic Yoga asana practice is the tool for this re-education.
There are times in life when it seems easy to allow your heart to collapse. Perhaps you feel tired, overwhelmed, agitated or out of alignment with Self. But these difficult times are when the heart is meant to shine. Choosing love over fear will always result in the highest good for everyone. This is a lesson that garudasana, or eagle pose, can teach us.
When you study the world around you from an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s easier to use your Yoga practice to create balance and harmony in your life.
For instance, whenever there is movement, such as in the transition between seasons or the transformation of food to energy, vata dosha is involved. Vata, made up of the ethers and air elements, provides the space for movement and the push of wind to take something from here to there. In the body, it allows your digestive organs to guide food from the mouth to the colon, your blood to circulate the nutrients throughout your body and your legs to walk as a result of the energy from your food.
When is the last time you consciously engaged in a loving act toward yourself? Practicing love for yourself – just the way you are – more deeply connects you to the God of your heart. And after all, that is the purpose of Yoga – to cultivate peace within. When you have that, you can find peace in any situation.
If you’re looking to bring in more self-love (and who isn’t?), add in a twist, like marichyasana C, or sage pose, to your practice. Think of this as showing your spine and nervous system that you care. The twist itself can be looked at like a hug, one that connects you to your body, grounds you to the earth and trains you to take in moderate, even breaths by softening the diaphragm.
The days are growing colder and the nights longer, signaling a time to pause, go inside and look back upon the year. This act of conscious reflection of the year behind allows you to see where you can make space in the new one.
This is the time of year for inversions. Not only do they bring increased prana and blood flow to your crown and heart chakras, but inversions also encourage new perspective so you can move ahead with a new sense of yourself.
Our breath is prana, life force. The simple act of breathing is what brings many people to a Yoga asana practice, and breath is also what will deepen your practice so you can experience the essence of true Yoga.
The diaphragm, located just beneath the lungs and ribcage, is an important muscle to keep strong and flexible if you want to improve your breath and, by extension, the flow of prana throughout your body. Loosening the tension in your diaphragm caused by stress and modern living will promote deeper, more even breaths. With greater control over the breath, you can exercise greater control over your mind. This will bring you closer to what Yoga is about – union between body, mind and spirit.
If you want to enjoy a lifetime of comfort and mobility in your body, it’s time to revisit something you do every day – sit down and stand up.
As most people age, a common complaint is the loss of mobility. Pain, stiffness and popping can increase in the joints, especially in the hips, the important connection between the upper and lower parts of the body.
But this doesn’t have to be destiny. In fact, your body can actually improve with age. The key is maintaining proper balance of strength and flexibility in your muscles and bones, especially your hip joints.