When many people think of yoga, they may look at it as another type of workout or another way to build muscle tone through body weight training. While both of these are true, yoga is much more than just another workout. Yoga has been practiced in India for over 5,000 years. The first documentation of yoga was in the Rig Veda. The vedas were a collection of texts containing mantras, rituals, and songs used by the Vedic priests. “The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E.” (). Yoga has an extensive history, but wasn’t made popular in the west until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when Yoga teachers travelled here from India to teach their practice. In 1947 Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in California, which made Hatha yoga the popular practice it has become today.
There are 14 well-known styles of yoga, but the most popular styles used in the west include Hatha, Bikram, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin, and Restorative. Hatha basically covers all types of modern yoga, and mainly focuses on moving from pose to pose with the breath. Bikram is hot yoga that moves through 26 poses twice. Vinyasa is considered “power” yoga and is an extension of Ashtanga yoga, which moves from pose to pose with each inhale and exhale. Ashtanga, however, focuses on a set sequence of poses whereas Vinyasa practices vary from class to class. Restorative yoga uses props, is gentle on the body, and allows your mind to relax. Yin yoga works with gravity to get the muscles to lengthen in the poses. In a Yin practice one stays within the pose for up to several minutes in order to allow the muscles and the mind to relax.
Yoga is often referred to as “moving meditation” because one must shift their consciousness in order to find peace and mindfulness in all that you do. When practicing yoga, I find that it is hard for my mind to wander because I’m focused on my breath, the poses, and how my body responds to my inhales and exhales in each pose. When my mind wanders I immediately come back to the breath just as I would in a seated meditation with music playing.
There are many benefits of yoga including increased flexibility, increased muscle strength, improved respiration, circulatory health, and injury prevention to name a few. The mental benefits include stress management and overall mental well-being because of its meditative aspect. You can review my blog on meditation and its benefits to the mind and body.
As noted in my blog on Thai massage, it has roots in Hatha yoga. During a Thai massage session, or even a therapeutic session, I queue you to take deep breaths in order to allow your body and mind relax into the stretches and/or the acupressure. Thai massage “stretches” are very similar to yoga poses you may have already seen, but they are assisted. The stretching in my Thai massage sessions and my therapeutic sessions is used to lengthen the muscles to increase blood flow, iron out tense areas, and manage pain that can be caused by tight muscles or trigger points. Massage in general is very meditative as well because it allows you to shift that consciousness into a state of mindfulness in that you are aware of what you are experiencing through your senses. So in a massage, you are aware of the practitioner’s touch, the smells (if aromatherapy or herbal compresses are used), the music played, and so on. It takes your mind away from the busy hustle and bustle of your day and allows you to be fully aware of your surroundings. Like yoga, massage helps heal your mind and body through relaxation and therapeutic activity (movement in yoga, touch in massage).
Yoga can be practiced in a variety of ways. There is a stigma that one must have a lot of money to practice yoga, but there are wonderful channels on YouTube like Boho Beautiful and Yoga with Adriene that are free! There are video subscriptions on Gaia that consist of many different types of yoga practices and also have meditation videos and documentaries. They offer different subscriptions but all are relatively cheap. I subscribed to Gaia and use it when I am too busy to make it to my studio in West Arvada, Flow Yoga Studio. Flow Yoga is run by an awesome teacher I discovered a couple of years ago. Suzanne is mindful and changes her practices often. Her prices are very reasonable, and you get so much for your money.
There is no reason not to start your yoga practice today. When I started 12 years ago I couldn’t reach my ankles. Now I can touch the floor and get into more “difficult” poses like crow pose and half moon pose. Yoga has also helped me in my massage practice because I can help queue breathing, I know what the poses are and what muscle groups they help (anatomy and physiology helped me in this area as well!), and I have the strength and stamina needed as a body worker thanks to my yoga practice.
I speak of this often, but it’s because it is very true–self-care is key. If you don’t give yourself care, how can you care for others? Yoga, meditation, and massage are beautiful ways to care for yourself and even heal your mind and body. Make sure to try to get on the mat (even if it’s for 15 minutes), meditate (5 minutes is better than nothing), and book a massage to care for yourself so you can be at your best for you and those you love.