Yoga strengthens the core and body just like a gym class but Yoga has a different focus to these classes.
How is Yoga different to a Gym Class?
It is tempting to confuse yoga with “Instagram yoga”. I’m sure we’ve all seen images of lithe contortionists performing complex poses in dramatic or picturesque settings. If that’s your goal, a dedicated and intensive yoga practice can get you there. By all means. But the physical poses of yoga – the ‘asanas’ – are just the tip of the Yogic iceberg. Yoga is many things to many people.
Asanas is a movements or posture. These can be simple, or complex, held for a breathe or an extended time. An accomplished instructor will guide you to the style of yoga that is best suited to you in your current situation. Whereas a circuit class in a gym might work-out certain muscle groups in turn, sequenced yoga poses are designed to strengthen the body as a whole.
Breath practices in yoga are almost as varied as the asanas. They can be designed to alter your mood, alter your emotional state, bring heat or energy into your system or to cool it down, depending on the situation.
Two of the most important aspects of yoga are mindfulness and meditation. Our mind is not designed to stop, it is always on the go and this can lead to unrest, anxiety, stress. It’s exhausting. We need to rest.
Mindfulness can help. Training the mind to focus helps us find the part of us that is always calm no matter what is happening in the outside world. The mind doesn’t actually stop but by focusing, training it to be focused, it slows down. Calms. Moves into a rest state or a state of meditation.
Some people find these practices come naturally but some people have told me ‘I tried meditation and it didn’t work’. Well here’s the deal with mediation, it can’t not work. Even by sitting comfortably in a quiet place (you don’t have to sit like a pretzel) and focussing on something, there is still a benefit from spending that time in stillness (there is no expectation that you’ll ascend to the Astral plane!)
A simple practice is to say the sound ‘So’ as you breathe in and ‘Humm’ as you breathe out. Do this for three minutes a day and see what happens. What effect does this have on you?
The list of benefits of meditation are long. Here are a few:
- Increases blood flow to your brain
- Reduces cortisol production, a stress-induced hormone that suppresses the immune system and can make you feel anxious nervous and unsettled for no real reason
- Reduces blood pressure and heart rate
- Triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which enables us to rest and recover from stress.
- Boosts the immune system
- Causes muscle relaxation
- Reduces stress related conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Increases stress resilience. The Gap.
- Increases focus and present moment awareness.
- Increases a sense of connection to yourself and others.
- Increases your sense of purpose and meaning.
The important thing is how it affects you. What does it do for you?
So why did I start talking about Yoga and end up talking about meditation? Because they cannot be separated. Yoga is made up of eight limbs. One is the physical practice, the others are dedicated to the principles of living a good life and practices that help to still the mind. The 8 limbs are a way to stop the treadmill, find our center and live more fulfilled, happy lives.
Yes, there is physical movement or exercise but it is the connections between the mind, body and breath that separates a Yoga practice from a gym class. It involves your whole being and can change you on all levels, not just give you a six pack.