Why has yoga become a worldwide craze during the pandemic? Because yoga is the new smart, yoga is the new cool! Is it only a temporary fad? A fashion to follow? Unless we understand how yoga modifies our anatomy, our thinking process, our cognitive skills, our emotional wellbeing and our behavior we cannot develop a yogi mindset. Yoga can be described as a reset button. It helps us restart, refocus and reboot our mind and body. Unless we are ready to change our lifestyle, yoga cannot rescue us. The word ‘Yoga’ means to unite, to connect. What does it connect? Yoga connects our mind and body.
The most frequently asked question I come across is, “How much weight will I lose with Yoga?” Let me tell you honestly, the only thing you will gain is a better quality of life as it will make you stronger not only physically but also mentally. Yoga will make you more flexible and will help tone your body; for weight loss we have to watch our diet — you can’t expect yoga to outdo a bad diet! A calorie deficit with the right kind and amount of workout is the perfect recipe for weight loss. Having said that let’s go on an excursion of yoga!
A yoga session usually starts with breathing exercises to still our mind. Breathing instantly helps us to calm down and prepares the mind to restart and refocus. The next step is a gentle and low impact warm up; this is the philosophy of yoga — to move gently in a sublime rhythmic flow and hold the pose while you take a deep breath. Rehabilitators use the same technique for patients who need physiotherapy and physical strength. The idea is to gently increase the load on our body like our knees, spine, and limbs and make them stronger. We call it ‘gentle progression’ for stamina building and physical strength.
Yoga is a stellar workout for all age groups. The benefits of yoga for seniors or people with mobility challenges are grand to say the least. You just have to find a qualified yoga instructor who is well-versed in yoga poses to avoid any unpleasant stress on the body. Let me bust the myth that we can’t save our bones after a certain age by telling you that we can strengthen our bones by exercising and with proper diet. Research backs the fact that blood circulation is key to our health. Blood circulation in the finest capillaries of our bones during yoga and exercise helps make them stronger. Yoga, exercise and movement help circulate blood throughout our body, be it our skeletal system, heart, respiratory system, endocrine system or digestive system. Osteoporosis is a major threat to all women, especially for women who are experiencing menopause. Yoga is known to help heal patients suffering from osteoporosis and is used to attain hormonal balance as well because it regenerates our cells. Start your day with the sun salutation, a series of postures that warms, strengthens, and aligns the entire body. The basic sun salutation starts with the mountain pose, which leads to half forward-fold stretching to rejuvenate the spine and legs. This is done by bending halfway forward until your spine in super straight, then stretch your arms alongside your ears, take long breaths before bending forward and touching your toes (if manageable or as far as you can), breathe and come into high plank position. Sweep forward into Chatarunga pushup followed by Up Dog, Down Dog, jump/walk, half-forward fold and then stand up in the mountain pose with hands folded in front of your chest, breathing throughout the flow. You can repeat sun salutation 10 times and you can add different poses to it as well. (Please see some videos on YouTube and follow the instructions.)
Deep breathing is another key feature of yoga. To some people a yogi is a lonely soul, sitting near a waterfall practicing deep breathing; that does not sound fun but breathing is life! Yoga focuses on breathing, filling our lungs and diaphragm with fresh oxygen. With each fresh breath, yoga helps warm our heart. During the current pandemic, doctors are seen reinforcing on building stronger lungs with breathing exercises. Learning to use our lungs to maximum capacity through breathing is much needed. It is a tragedy to see our loved ones struggle to breathe when they test positive for COVID-19.
I can write a million words on the rewards and merits of yoga but the strongest foundation will always be its uniqueness in keeping us calm and grounded. Yoga is an eternal quest for stillness of mind. Yoga is the most recommended ritual to face any challenge in life. Meditation helps to reflect on problems with new perspective and reboots our mind to come up with better solutions.
Flexibility of body and mind is another soulful, majestic yogic virtue. The flexibility we gain while practicing yoga makes us resilient and humble. A precious lesson to remember is that perfection does not exist in life. One should always strive for improvement. To get better is what gets us far in the long run. Some great poses to increase flexibility are Lizard Pose (Begin in downward facing dog, the inner thighs up towards the sky and press the mat away from you. As you inhale lift your right leg as high as you can and spread the toes of the right foot), Pigeon Pose (Bring your right ankle over your left knee, keeping the foot flexed. Walk your left foot closer to your hip to increase the stretch. You can also do figure 4 lying on your back. Cross your right ankle over left knee and take hold of the back of your left thigh, drawing it towards you) and Warrior Poses 1, 2 and 3.
Yoga is also known to help us achieve glowing skin, energetic smile, healthy hair and aids our mind and body to strike a balance. All breathing exercises coordinated with forward bending, backward or side bending essentially cleanse our body of all the toxins. Yoga isn’t restricted to movement or breathing, it is a lifestyle! Remember that the food we eat can either feed or heal diseases, so, eat only what nurtures the body and soul.
Similarly, yoga helps us to be in harmony with nature and not against it. Gratitude is the essence of yoga. I call gratitude a ‘happy pill’. How can we ever be happy without being grateful for what life has bestowed upon us? Can our hearts ever find happiness and solace without grounding our forehead in gratitude before our merciful creator? Yoga surrounds us with an aura of gratitude and peace.
The goal of yoga isn’t a perfect headstand or perfectly performing advance yoga poses like Bird of Paradise or Rock Side Crow Pose. The goal is joy over perfection. To unveil your mind and soul to the beauty of nature and appreciate simple things in life, to appreciate your body and what it can achieve with gentle movements, stepping ahead step by step, getting stronger with each blissful breath, to make peace with who you are and to inhale gratitude and exhale love and happiness. Step on to your yoga mat to radiate and not to accomplish. Shift your focus and your heart will grow. The ultimate goal is to learn to love yourself! HH
The writer is a yoga, fitness and wellness instructor.
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