Yoga originated from India, some say it dates back possibly 5,000 years ago with lots of written statements dating back to 2,500 years ago, it's an ancient practise that has stood the test of time. Yoga is now practised around the world in most countries and is growing rapidly, probably due to the fast pace of life we are living here on planet earth, people are feeling more than ever the effects of stress, recognising the need to slow down. People often feel disconnected and isolated, yoga re-connects you back to the self your inner being it creates oneness instead of duality. One of the aims of yoga is to free us from the bonds of the mind.
B.K.S.Iyengar said - “In today’s hectic world, with its many and varied demands, Yoga acts as a relaxing balm, counterbalancing frantic lifestyles by quietening the mind and allowing individuals to slow down and to savour and live in the present moment.”
The Hatha Yoga Pradikipa says "Hatha Yoga is a saving grace to those who are stumbling in the darkness" In the Yoga Sutra 1.2 it explains that yoga is - "The quieting of the activity of the mind"
The word Hatha is two Sanskrit words “Ha” meaning Sun “Tha” meaning moon, balancing the masculine active, hot, solar energy and the feminine receptive, cool, lunar energy in us all. Creating balance. Sanskrit words have more than one meaning Hatha can also mean effort or force as in the physical side of yoga the asana practise.
The word Yoga is from the Sanskrit root "Yuj" meaning Union. Uniting the Individual self with the Universal self.
Hatha Yoga is often thought of in the West as physical exercise, which of course is a part of Yoga. Seeing the bigger picture is realising it is a Holistic way of living a path to living in peace and happiness leading to self enlightenment. Yoga is proper exercise, proper breathing, proper eating (usually vegetarian) proper relaxation, positive thinking & meditation. Yoga is about love, giving, compassion,sharing and kindness, its recognising yourself to be apart of the universe a feeling of oneness. If we sit at home enjoying the fruits of our life, knowing our neighbour is suffering and we offer no help - we are not practising yoga... it goes way beyond the mat!
The ancient sage Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras states "Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind"
When practising Yoga, without competing with full awareness, using a natural energy force within us - prana, we bring together the body, mind and spirit, which leaves us feeling calm, peaceful yet energised and very much into the present moment.
The asanas (posture practise) stretch and tone the muscles, joints and the spine – improving flexibility and posture and an overall improvement of physical health.
Pranayama (breathing exercises) quietens the mind, calms the emotions, and through increased oxygen intake nourish all the cells of the body.
Yoga Nidra (relaxation) is a truly profound way to relax, removing fatigue from the physical body and releasing tension from the emotions, the mind and body.
Meditation increases mental alertness and creativity, encourages a positive and peaceful frame of mind and helps you to live in the present moment.
Regular practise of Hatha Yoga can bring about many wonderful changes; overall health will improve, your spine will become healthy and flexible easing back ache, your immune system will be strengthened improving health, digestion will improve, stress levels reduced, posture will improve leading to increased confidence levels, aches and pains will be lessened, you’ll gain a toned body, sounder sleep, feel very in touch with yourself, happy for no apparent reason and much more… It would take the whole page to list all the benefits!
You may also notice that you start to respond to stressful situations in a different way, you will start to feel kinder to others, connected instead of isolated and you will start to experience being a relaxed person coping easily with life’s ups and downs, like a solid rock unharmed in a raging storm and enjoying life's journey.
Prana is a Sanskrit word which means life force, universal healing energy, Ayama means to control, Pranayama therefore means control of prana. There are many breathing exercises to calm, to energise, to quieten a busy mind, breathing to aid healing, your breathing becomes the precious gift it truly is.
Breathing consciously is one of the most important parts of Hatha Yoga. The breath nourishes and guides us in asana practice.
Breathing is an automatic process that we barely think of, it is one of our most vital functions. Throughout our daily lives a lot of us tend to breath very shallow breaths, using the top part of the lungs (upper chest breathing). This part of the lungs is very narrow, the muscles in that area are not strong so it takes a lot more effort and energy is lost. Less oxygen is taken in with this way of breathing which in turn could activate the fight or flight response; leaving us with simmering stress levels dangerous to our health and well being.
Continued breathing in this way with less oxygen being inhaled and less carbon dioxide being exhaled can start to bring on many serious health problems, such as heart problems, breathing problems, a whole host of diseases, one of the most vital things for cellular health is oxygen.
Basic Pranayama - Yogic breathing/full lung breathing teaches us to fill our lungs fully from the bottom to the top and is very good for correcting bad breathing habits (this may take time as bad habits are easy to get in to, but take longer to break) Breathing slowly and smoothly, using every part of the lungs, starting with abdominal breathing this activates the lower lungs, after a few inhalations and exhalations, continuing the breath into the ribcage area this activates the middle lungs, after a few more inhalations and exhalations, continuing the breath up in to the chest area this activates the top of the lungs,this is full lung breathing - filling the lungs fully and emptying the lungs fully combining all tree steps as a continuous flow.
Practising full lung breathing breathing will leave you feeling relaxed, calm and energised, it will without a doubt improve your health, with regular practise Pranayama can help control cravings of food and alcohol also leaving you feeling in a much better position to make good life choices.
There are many types of Pranayama, there will be workshops at The Yoga Den on this very important fourth limb of Raja Yoga.
Yoga Nidra (Relaxation)
Life in the 21st Century is very fast very stressful, we live as if we are speeding down the motorway at 100 miles per hour, barely taking the time to stop and admire the beautiful world we will live in or taking the time to connect to ourselves and the possibilities of our life. We are warned by the health professionals about how harmful stress is and yet we continue to race towards one goal after another, leaving us feeling tense, anxious, troubled tired and sometimes very lonely.
Some of the obvious symptoms of needing to slow down and learn to relax are high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel, heart disease, the UK has one of the highest rates of death from heart disease in the world – stroke being the third biggest killer claiming 70,000 lives each year.
Help is at hand and it has been for thousands of years, Yoga Nidra - Deep Relaxation is a truly profound way to reduce stress and is life enhancing.
When practising Yoga Nidra all three kinds of tension; muscular, emotional and mental are released, the relaxation response will bring your system back into balance, instead of harmful stress hormones flooding the body, endorphins feel good hormones are activated, these hormones enhance the immune system that fights infection and disease, giving us a much better chance of a healthy happy life.
At the end of each Yoga session we practice Yoga Nidra, using different techniques and visualisation imaging to release tension. Using positive, relaxing and healing scenes involving the senses, at the finish the awareness is then gently bought back to the body the present moment before slowly sitting back up, a chance to really unwind and relax mind and body totally leaving you with a feeling of bliss... You can literally feel tension melting away!
Meditation is the heart of Yoga practice. Through sitting with a straight spine, and just being for a short time each day, we start to see clearly the truth of ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves.
Regular meditation practice can make a huge difference to how we experience life, living itself can be stressful we can't change this, but the way we react to stress we can change. When we react in the wrong way to stressful situations we let our emotions get the better of us, feelings of anger, anxious, tense, fearful, tired of life, eventually we become physically or mentally ill. We can live in the present moment, enjoying life's journey, living with a calm and accepting mind.
A recent study showed that an experienced mediators can induce the relaxation response quickly and consciously, almost instantly diffusing symptoms set off by the fight and flight response, also not getting so easily agitated in the first place.
In my experience of teaching mediation if you are committed to a daily practise of 20 minutes a day, people report positive changes taking place as early as 2 weeks into their practise.
So why don’t more people meditate?
Its the most simple natural straight forward thing to just sit and be, yet when we first come to meditate it seems as though our thoughts come at lightening speed as we close our eyes. Trying not get caught up with the constant chatter of the mind is not easy to begin with, concentration on the breath, visualisation, sound or a mantra the mind naturally slows down and slips into meditation.
We are so used to reacting to our thoughts at great speed, when we come to sit we must be patient while the mind naturally slows down. There are many thoughts, memories and emotions we may not wish to face so we bury them at the back of our mind... a bit like sweeping dust under the carpet. Meditating 'clears away the dust from under the carpet' its like giving the carpet a big shake and you may experience some of the feelings, memories or emotions associated with the toxins you are releasing. When this happens you are 'the silent observer' of the thoughts breathing slowly and smoothly just watching, this will clear your mind and feelings of happiness for no reason will come to you.
Maybe start by just having 10/15 minutes a day of quiet - no reading, no talking, no mobile devices, no listening to music, just sit and be.
Be patient and loving to yourself, accepting of your habits, try not to judge yourself, some days you practise its more difficult other days its easy. In time you will notice how much happier and contented you feel, also how differently you feel towards yourself, a feeling of reconnecting and re-discovering yourself like a long lost stranger.
Imagine what the world would be like if we all sat quietly for a few minutes each day to meditate.
Let peace back into your life, we don't have to search far for it is with us at our very core. It will open up a whole new way you see yourself and the world that you find yourself in, after all we only have one life how much better it would be to feel peaceful, free and happy.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti