By doing yoga, we are training the mind, and therefore training the body, in a unique way. We understand that we cannot run or cycle away from our problems as we stay on a mat for the duration of the practice.
I originally introduced yoga into my fitness routine and lifestyle to increase mobility and improve my balance. The more I did, the more I realized the benefits exceeding just the obvious physical attributes.
Yoga asanas are the physical postures that we all know well and see in local fitness studios, healthy lifestyle magazines and on wellness retreats. Indian sages spent lots of time contemplating the human body and nervous system and developing asanas over generations to mobilize the body and create a sense of psychosomatic balance. When combined with breath, this idea of balance is experienced and extends to the mind, helping it move towards silencing the ongoing dictation of deadlines, worries and troubles that knock us ‘out of sync’ with the present moment.
Free the mind and free the body, free the body and free the mind
We tend to think of the mind as a secondary aspect to fitness, yet during my time as a Royal Marine, I understood that the mind is the thing that drags us out of the dirt and keeps us going when the body says it’s had enough. It is a key part in a dialogue—and in asana, that dialogue becomes more two-way.
By doing yoga, we are training the mind, and therefore training the body, in a unique way. We understand that we cannot run or cycle away from our problems as we stay on a mat for the duration of the practice. The practice brings us into the present, and we often suddenly become aware of areas of the body that hold the tension we have held on to for years, like stress in the neck and shoulders, worries and tightness in the stomach, etc.
A solid foundation
Many of us lack ‘structure’, this structure applies to our lives or movement and is built from the foundations and the areas of the body that are in contact with a stable surface, like a floor or wall. A human body can only move in a certain amount of ways depending on the individuals personal circumstances. The movement principles will remain the same in order to preserve our own, and that of others when we are adjusting them. My grandmaster and close friend Angelo Baldissone has constantly shown me, through our six years together, that we have to be stable in our movement and maintain good posture at all times.
This applies to all aspects of life, including transitions in martial arts and vinyasas in our yoga practice. If we are unstable at our base, then there is no point in speeding up to compensate for poor form. What also helped me really connect with this concept was the introduction of arm balancingand inversions via vinyasa flow sequencing into my practice (thanks to the guidance of the teachers linked). Through asana, I learned that standing still is hard to do. Try it now. Stand still and try not to move, at all. If you find this easy, try closing your eyes or lifting one leg.
The challenge is never speed
The challenge is moving slowly with control, and only then can we speed up. Within most yoga styles, we see a movement (vinyasa) followed by a pause for a specific number of breaths in a certain posture (asana). We take time to focus on the body and align everything, including our mind, breath and various parts of the body.
The issues occur when we encourage ‘hyper-mobility’. This happens a lot with people who are naturally flexible but may lack strength and thus a supportive framework around which to bend. We need to be intelligent about the way we practice and avoid creating instability in areas of the body that require more structure. This happens through repeated incorrect practice, lack of awareness, instability or the forcing of postures. Please talk to an experienced yoga teacher if you are moving into a practice to promote the best benefits for your journey.
Your body, your mind, your yoga
Fundamentally, yoga can compliment any fitness routine and is something that can be done and adapted accordingly until the day we knock on those pearly gates. A prime example of the benefits of yoga asana was seen in Ryan Giggs, who played professional football for years until he experienced reoccurring hamstring injuries. By adopting yoga into his routine he continued to play at a world class standard for Manchester United, retiring at 40 as one of the most decorated football players ever. Yoga allows us to keep tissues healthy and take the body through new positions that build a strong and resilient nervous system. The key is adaption!
Yoga continues to increase awareness of my body, mind and proprioception (a sense and response to where we are in space via our senses and the nervous system). This in turn has allowed for better balance, control and movement within my fitness routine.
In the end, yoga is a life system. It is a way to live our lives, with asana making up just one part of the big picture. The other tenants of yoga help to build balance throughout one’s whole life.
Fitness helps to improve our health and I see this as both mental and physical. The more ways we can approach ‘health’, the more chances we have of succeeding in whatever our specific goals are.
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