What is it about yoga these days? It seems to be everywhere. Olympic athletes are posting pictures of their handstands to every social media platform out there. Moms are teaching their toddlers down dog. Dog owners are going to “doga” — yes, that’s yoga for dogs… and, it’s a thing. So, why are so many people (and animals) turning to this ancient practice today?
Do you want the short answer? Of course you do. People are turning to yoga because of the extraordinary benefits it provides for your body and your mind. So, today we thought we would define yoga and breakdown some of its misconceptions, so that you can start reaping the myriad benefits of this ancient practice.
What is yoga?
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word “yuj,” which means to yoke or to unite. It is the union of:
- Asana = physical yoga posture practice
- Pranayama = breath or “life force”
Yoga also means to come together or to make “whole.” We’ve written an entire book on the benefits of eating “whole” foods, and we feel that we should treat our bodies and minds to the these same standards. Through a symbiosis of body and mind, yoga allows us to better our whole selves, teaching us to mix a physical asana practice (asanas are yoga poses like “down dog” and “mountain pose”) with rhythmic breathing (called “ujjayi” breathing) to simultaneously invigorate our bodies and calm our minds.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
Yoga makes your body strong and flexible, and it also improves the functioning of your respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems. But, yoga also develops your emotional stability and clarity of mind. Beyond this, the list of benefits is so long that it would be impossible to list them all here, but here are a few that might catch your attention:
- Increases strength
- Provides whole body detoxification
- Gives you beautiful posture
- Reduces stress
- Boosts immunities
- Improves sleep
- Heightens mental awareness
- Improves memory
- Decreases migraines
- Increases energy
I’m not flexible — can I do yoga?
Your newfound agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being. Yes! You are actually the perfect candidate for yoga. It is a common misconception that you need to bend your body like a pretzel in order to practice yoga, but the truth is anybody can do yoga, regardless of their range of flexibility. In fact, the less flexible you are, the more of a challenge yoga will be for you. And, it is the challenge itself that gives you the opportunity to change your body, your mind, and your life as a whole. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will increase your flexibility quicker than you ever imagined.
Is yoga a religion?
No, yoga is an ancient philosophy that began in India over 5,000 years ago to provide a framework for gaining mastery over the physical and mental body in a move toward spiritual growth. While yoga was first developed to bring the physical body to its most fit state, so that sitting during meditation for hours was an achievable and pain-free possibility, this spiritual growth can take on whatever meaning you wish to give it. It is not necessary to surrender your own beliefs or to adopt new ones (like meditating for hours) to practice yoga. Westernized forms of yoga have diminished the dogma behind this ancient practice to focus solely on harvesting the vast health benefits it provides.
What equipment do I need?
You really only need your body, an open mind, and maybe a smile to practice yoga. But, there are a few items that may make your practice more convenient for you. For those of you who are less flexible, certain props like blocks and straps will help you get into more difficult poses.
What are some basic yoga poses I can do at home or at the office?
Ujjayi Pranayama BreathThis is your “breath of victory” during the physical asana practice, but it can also be used to calm yourself down during stressful or painful situations.
- Close your lips.
- Inhale by pulling the air from your throat but letting the air enter through your nose. This should sound a little bit like Darth Vadar. If you are feeling your nostrils contract, you’re not pulling from your throat. Let your nose be only the passageway for the air that your slightly constricted throat is breathing in.
- Exhale again through your throat letting your nose be the passageway. Pretend as though you are fogging up a mirror but your mouth is closed. It takes practice, but it’s an invaluable method for maintaining calm in stressful situations and building heat during your physical yoga practice.
- Keep breathing for as long as you like (2-3 minutes is enough time to calm you down or get your body ready for some poses!)
Uttanasana or Standing forward bend (a.k.a. “Rag Doll”)
This pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression, stimulates the liver and kidneys, stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips. Releases the lower spine to aid in lower back pain. Improves digestion. Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause. Reduces fatigue and anxiety. Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis.
- Stand up straight with your hands on your hips.
- Hinge from your hips and bend over to touch the ground (or wherever is possible for you to reach).
- Bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight.
- Focus on releasing your lower back, letting your head hang between your legs.
- With each inhale, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend.
- Draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Swing from side to side if this feels good, or just stand still.
- Stay here for 30 seconds to one minute.
Why do we at Clean Cuisine do yoga?
We do yoga here at Clean Cuisine for all of the reasons listed above, but also we do it because it makes our lives easier. Yoga is strength, breath, courage, peace, humility, and most importantly, balance. While we frequently fall on our faces from physical imbalance while attempting difficult poses, yoga teaches us to get back up, so that we can apply the same strategies when it comes to challenges off of our yoga mats. Yoga provides the tools to harmonize every aspect of our lives while remembering that the only things we have to give up is that inner voice that tells us that we are too weak to accomplish something and the false confidence that makes us believe we can achieve it without hard work. Yoga IS hard work. It is a challenge every time we step onto our mats. But, the biggest challenge is just showing up. The rest is pure bliss. Show up to your mat, embrace the challenge, change your body, change your life.