Summer isn’t usually thought of as a time to begin new things. We often kick back, relax and let go of our busy schedules, take off, have a vacation. So why would you want to start something new? But this is the perfect time to begin yoga (or keep up with your class for that matter). Yoga is an opportunity for taking time for yourself, for letting go of all outside distractions and ‘bother-ments’. Yoga is for learning about reflection and introspection and getting to know yourself, for integration.
The precise, systematic approach in an Iyengar class gives you time to move into a pose, understand where you are and reflect on the body position and then correct and move deeper if possible. This builds up a feeling of body awareness, or proprioception and body understanding and teaches the ability to put oneself in an unusual or out of balance position that is not necessarily comfortable and teaches how to stay for a moment and reflect before acting. It calms the flight or fight response to unusual and perhaps unwanted changes, not only in bodily positions, but to life mental and emotional positions, to life situations.
Yoga is not primarily a fitness exercise, although it can make the body more elastic and stronger and open closed and collapsed areas, increase circulation and enhance breathing. Yoga trains the mind and psychology to see, watch, adjust and endure. While staying in and holding poses to reflect and adjust you act not just with your mind (which often just reacts quickly and mindlessly), but you train your intelligence to observe and make decisions in an orderly, reasoned fashion. Yoga can also be practiced quickly to build up stamina and lightness.
One of the first poses taught in a beginning class is called Triangle pose. The legs are separated and one is turned 90 degrees away from the mid line. The legs are kept straight and trunk extended with arms extended out to the sides at shoulder height. The body is then moved over the side of the leg which is turned out then hand placed on the shin, the other arm straight up.
In this example the right leg is turned out so the trunk is moved over to the right with the head, shoulders and hip all in line with the leg. This is a very unusual position in which to put oneself. To a beginner it will feel off balance. Usually beginners collapse the underside of the trunk and also lean forward. The front leg often bends. This may feel safer, but results in a more unbalanced position. It takes some presence of mind and internal sense of self to realize what has happened. The mind however is fearful of falling and will ‘mindlessly’ move the head and trunk forward. To keep the head and trunk back in line with the leg will feel as if one is actually leaning or “falling” backward. But when done well, it keeps the hip socket more open and the underside of the spine extended and that side of the lumbar elongated.
It takes some reflection, introspection and use of judgement to realize what has happened and to correct. We stay in this position for some 20-30 seconds. This gives the brain and mind time to observe what has happened and time to change what needs to be changed.
Even something as simple as raising the arms over head is usually done without much thought. But we have ingrained habits that can make this move difficult, reinforcing problems in the neck and shoulders that create tension, hardness and can cause headaches or shoulder joint problems. Learning to move the arms in a different way, consciously watching, reflecting and readjusting as you move can make an enormous difference not only in a yoga pose but in daily life.
Simple changes in how you move can make a big difference in your body. Taking time to pay attention, to reflect and to know yourself can change your body and your life. Take time this summer for yoga; give yourself time to stop and breathe and you will find it also benefits your family, your work and leisure time.