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Intention, Attitude & Awareness towards Yoga?

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In recent years Yoga has become rather fashionable, moving away from a holistic systematic practice for complete health & wellbeing (both mentally & physically), & now gravitating towards a more popular form of exercise throughout the entire world. With so many different forms of yoga available, how do we determine which type or style is suited to ourselves?

The more holistic styles of yoga (static) tend to hold postures (asana) longer with breath awareness; the more physical driven styles (dynamic) verge towards sequence of postures with more fluidity. Both styles stimulate various areas of the nervous system. The static styles of yoga allow us to predominantly activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest & digest function), allowing us to feel more relaxed & nurtured, bliss-ed & spaced out.

The dynamic styles of yoga stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response), making us feel rather energised & invigorated, at times even exponentially; hence the obsession recently for this more popular style of yoga, the ‘buzz/rush/hit’ is almost addictive.

However, in today’s society we are primarily governed by our ‘fight or flight’ response. Modern technology doesn’t allow the mind respite – no time to recuperate; it is continuously bombarded by various forms of stimuli ensuring the mind is even more active & stressed. The nervous system becomes overloaded, hence creating imbalances throughout the immune & endocrine systems as excess cortisone & adrenaline are released. We then lose our awareness, forgetting to “switch off” & feeling ourselves continuously chasing our tails; thought processes become very random & erratic. We are governed by our thoughts rather than governing the thought process itself. Sound familiar?

Therefore, when coming to our mat we could try to determine what it is we would like to achieve from our practice – our intention? If we experience low energy & feel that we would like to energise ourselves by invigorating the entire body & mind, a more dynamic practice may be advised? Nevertheless, at times the mind requires a reprieve (in addition to the body); hence perhaps a more static practice would be suitable? Furthermore, if we want to experience the more holistic benefits of yoga (yoga therapy) then static styles are favoured where the internal organs & systems are nurtured via the breath/prana rather than stressed through strenuous flowing asanas. Alternatively if we are drawn to the more physical aspect of yoga then yes, a well toned & defined body may be experienced through time by the more dynamic/flowing styles available.

Regardless of which style we chose upon, our attitude during our practice is also important. If we push against our bodies forcefully, even aggressively, we aren’t respecting the yama of ahimsa. Our non-violent thoughts can start with ourselves as opposed towards others. In respecting our own bodily limitations & working gently with our own range of movement (ROM), we cultivate a softer/compassionate approach to our practice.  Of course effort must still be prevalent within our inherent attitude. Such an approach allows us to practice gently, safely & humbly – rather than forcefully, recklessly & driven by ego.

Awareness should of course be present during our practice regardless of whichever style we choose. The more dynamic styles appear to be more popular these days, here it is easier to maintain awareness on the breath whilst flowing between postures, & then afterwards the mind can feel refreshed/invigorated & stimulated due to being one pointed. During static practices the mind has to be continuously coerced & brought back to the breath (like a form of mindful movement), leaving the mind experiencing stillness/space & clarity afterwards. Without awareness of the breath yoga loses its essence & then becomes just plainly exercise.

We could determine what our body requires physically at that given moment in time & adjust our practice to suit accordingly by selecting the correct intention – can we listen internally to our mind state prior to practise & determine what our nervous system actually requires? Also, if we take the correct attitude towards our practice not only will we experience less discomfort during our practice, we can accelerate healing of ongoing injuries & prevent further ones from arising. We could ensure our practice benefits us further by maintaining our awareness on the breath & body throughout.

Still experiencing nervousness about yoga? Don’t be; let your body & mind decide.

It is only in recent times, from the 1970s onward, when people saw the opportunity of commercial gain, that Yoga started to be branded as ‘hot Yoga’, ‘cold Yoga’, ‘power Yoga’, ‘this Yoga’, ‘that Yoga’, representing neither the intent nor the spirit of Yoga. The way that Yoga is being taught in the twenty-first century does not reflect the true Yoga, as the asanas have been modified…this modified Yoga is not Yoga, because this modified Yoga is being done as exercises.   – Swami Niranjanananda