When I first started to practice yoga in my mid-twenties, it was for exercise and flexibility. I was naturally drawn to dynamic yoga classes such as asthanga and vinyasa yoga. I loved the fast-paced classes that strengthened and toned my body, but also increased my flexibility and balance.
It wasn’t until my forties though that I began to understand the deeper meaning of yoga and it’s purpose.
I learned first about the eight limbs of yoga, of which the physical movement aspect is only one limb. The first two limbs are guidelines for relationships with others and with one’s self. The third limb is that of the physical practice, while the fourth limb involves breathing exercises to support a calm and clear mind. The fifth limb is that of withdrawal of the senses, usually through fasting from activity, food, etc. The sixth limb is concentration, or training the mind to become one-pointed. The seventh limb is meditation, and the final limb is that of what is called samdhi, or the state of being undivided.
The understanding of the eight limbs transformed my physical practice of yoga. I began to gravitate towards gentler forms of yoga such as yin yoga or restorative yoga. One continues to receive the benefits of strength, flexibility and balance, but also the slower pace encourages deep mindfulness.
There is so much going on in each yoga pose…many different muscles are activated with some of them contracting and others relaxing; the breath changes in depth and breadth; and the mind state can be observed as yum, yuck or neutral…all the while I can stay in a state of observation with a smile on my face simply appreciating it all. However, the true benefits of this slower physical practice of yoga come alive off the mat by knowing I can be in pose with many things happening, even with my aversion active, and still smile, still appreciate. Now that is powerful!
If you are not a yoga practitioner, check it out and try some different styles to see what is most delicious to you. Blessings!