Carmen Cutajar, Certified Yoga Instructor – Yoga Alliance, Natural Health Enthusiast

Yoga is a complete system. It is spiritual in nature with a physical component! Yoga extends well off the mat into the world and everyday life.

With regards to the physical aspects, it is a complete exercise programme on its own. It brings more freedom and lightness into our bodies. It helps us to build strength and flexibility, tones our whole body and makes every cell feel alive! It releases muscle tension and with it anxiety and stress that we accumulate in our bodies. This is why it induces relaxation and people often report that they experience more restful sleep when they start practicing yoga.

Yoga helps to speed up cleansing and detoxification. Since we are really twisting and stretching every part of the body, we reach all the deep tissues and extremities of the body that maybe with a jog or bike ride wouldn’t be reached. So when we compress and twist we help to push toxins and waste materials out of our cells and tissues, when we stretch we allow blood flow to enter more freely bringing in nourishment.

With a vinyasa flow dynamic style, we enhance blood circulation, like a fast moving river, not allowing anything to stagnate. With the increase of blood flow it helps relieve aches and pains and speeds up recovery of injuries – due to the fact that the new blood contains oxygen and nutrients. It is a known fact that disease cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment.

With holding poses longer, in a Yin quiet style, we invite ourselves to slow down. As we take passive holds, it allows to dive deep, to work with those tight places of our body, to release and heal on every level - physically, mentally and emotionally.

So the physical benefits of yoga are endless and it has much more to offer. The essence of yoga is transformation. The more your practice the more you discover the benefits. It starts to bring that call of awakening in us, opening up to our true self , awakening that force in us, that otherwise would have been dormant; changing not just our body but our whole being. When we approach our yoga practice with enthusiasm and dedication I think this change in us is inevitable. So for people, who start practicing yoga for physical purposes only, will be in for a big surprise!

This is what the lotus flower (a symbol used for yoga) represents:

  • The lotus represents the 3 levels on the path of spiritual (self) realisation:
  • The level of ignorance - when our awareness is still asleep
  • The level of awakening - when we wake up and smell the coffee 🙂
  • The level of blossoming - that pure joy and happiness that emanates from the center of our being

The lotus also lives on these 3 levels:

  • It grows in mud, starts to move up towards the surface of the water and finally emerges towards the sun, untouched, beautiful above the water!
  • This analogy of the lotus flower, reminds us of the main aim of yoga, which is to help us transform, unite with our true self and to blossom to our full potential
  • We can say yoga is a path - a path of transformation and it comes with many tools for us to walk this path

So, how to approach the practice on the mat to access the full potential of this practice?

Real yoga is what you can't see beyond the pose. Real yoga is taking us deeper into the awareness of the body, breath, our feelings, sensations and the mind. Truly advanced practice comes when we are able to feel comfortable and steady (Sthira sukham asanam) in the pose of that beautiful union of breath, body and mind. It is not about touching your toes or how much you do but how we do it, how we can be fully present with where we are at, and letting go of struggle or the expectation of the perfect pose. It is pointless to force our body into a pose if it is not yet ready for it. It is good to challenge ourselves, and move out of our comfort zone, kicking off any inertia or laziness, but we do not want to create strain. It is about finding a balance between effort and surrender, approaching our practice with a sense of curiosity and play. Otherwise we lose the whole scope of yoga which is to bring harmony and balance between the body, mind, breath and energy for true wellbeing plus it is better to injure our ego than to injure ourselves! If your facial muscles are not relaxed or your breath is agitated the probability is you are over pushing.

If the breath is agitated we cannot still the mind and until there is stillness of the mind we cannot receive the optimal benefits of the practice, we cannot experience the deeper levels of awareness. So first we need to allow time to learn the techniques, to become familiar with the poses, aiming to establish stability. Then with continuous dedicated practice we start to learn a different way to practice, we start being able to relax more, experience stillness of mind, taking us to a deeper awareness of our body , mind and ourselves.

Real Yoga also equips us with manyy qualities/tools that are valuable for life and not just on the yoga mats….

It teaches us how to stay calm in the midst of challenge, how to surrender and let go. It teaches us acceptance and at the same time helps us to build mental power and will-power without struggle and much more when it comes to awareness of ourselves and how we approach life....

How we react in a challenging pose for example can make us aware on how we normally react to challenging moments in our lives. If we find ourselves always wanting to force or struggle in a pose no matter what, the probability is that in life we usually find it hard to surrender to what we cannot change! On the other hand, if we back off immediately without putting any effort at all, most probably also in life we give up at the first obstacle or never make any effort to go out of our comfort zone!!

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodah

Yoga is that which restrains thought waves! Above everything else, yoga helps to calm the mind. On this note comes in the importance of the breath, a powerful tool that we take so much for granted. In yoga, we give a lot of importance to the breath, it is part of the practice. We will tackle this aspect of Pranayama (yogic breathing) and breath awareness in our next article. Till then enjoy your yoga practice with a smile and no struggle!

Let us use our bodies as a vehicle, not as an end. Listen to your body. The inner teacher is ultimately the best guide, using physical sensations, emotional states and knowledge to find what feels right.