"Seek not outside yourself, heaven is within!" -Mary Lou Cook
History and Philosophy of Yoga
The term, yoga comes from Sanskrit, the scriptural language of ancient India. Its root is yuj, which means "to yoke" or "to unite". The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, written in approximately 200 B.C.E., is generally accepted as the ultimate source book of classical yoga. In this revered text, Patanjali, who is thought to have been a physician, Sanskrit scholar, grammarian, and yogi, presents ashtanga yoga, or an "eight-limbed path"of practice.
The first two paths are universal ethical principles of restraints and observances. The first path deals with restraints of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, clarity of sexual activity, and non-greed. The second path is concerned with observances for life and includes cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, and devotion to God. The third path is the practice of the asanas or postures. The fourth is breath control. The fifth is the conscious withdrawal from the agitation of the senses. The sixth is concentration, the seventh is meditation, and the eighth is oneness or the integration of the body, breath, mind, intellect and self.
The Benefits of Yoga
- Breath work or pranayama (specifically the diaphragmatic or belly breath) stimulates the vagus nerve which lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels and helps calm the mind for a feeling of well-being.
- Postures (asanas) help unite and develop the mind, body, and spirit for strength, flexibility, balance, concentration, stress reduction, and a feeling of peace that comes from within.
- Yoga postures can be practiced at any age to reduce stiff joints and muscles that have lost tone.
- Yoga asanas, while appearing to deal with the physical body alone, actually influence the chemical balance of the brain, which in turn improves one's mental state of well being.
- Yoga asanas improve the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, hormonal, nervous, and excretory systems. This equilibrium in the body then improves immunity and brings mental peace to enhance intellectual clarity.
- The practice of yoga postures brings emotional stability and clarity of mind for self-realization, the ultimate goal of yoga.
- The practice of yoga helps improve posture and increases bone density.
Mental Well-Being and Yoga
How does yoga help with mental challenges such as anxiety and depression? Yoga teaches awareness of your breath and thought patterns. Quieting the mind to prepare for physical practice helps us to move inward as we perform the poses. The practice of yoga poses while using the breath helps stimulate the biochemicals of the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin which are essential neurotransmitters for mental well-being. Yoga teaches slower, deeper breathing in which the diaphragm moves more freely. Studies have shown this smooth and rhythmical breathing technique helps to calm the mind in order to quiet symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Deep breathing affects the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an effect of reducing stress.
Inversion poses, where the head is lower than the heart, help to calm the mind and aid in a general feeling of well being. After practicing strengthening poses which work the body, resting poses such as savasana or even a seated meditation, help release tension. A steady practice of yoga helps circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain which aids in the feeling of mental well-being. There is no doubt there is a connection between the mind and the body. When the body feels toned and strengthened, the mind also feels healthy. Come experience yoga and its benefits for stress reduction and mental well-being.
Styles of Yoga
Most styles of yoga in the United States are based on Hatha yoga, which is comprised of physical postures, breathing techniques, relaxation, and meditation. What makes the styles different from each other is their emphasis and technique.
* indicates Styles of Yoga taught by Judith
- Iyengar Yoga * utilizes props to help students into the postures for correct alignment and balance of the body and is slower paced. It is this style of yoga that influences my teaching. Props used are blocks, belts, chairs, blankets and bolsters to assist students and to help balance the body for correct alignment while in the pose.
- Anusara Yoga * utilizes one's attitude of grace alignment awareness and a heart-centered focus for balance between muscular stability and expansive inner freedom.
- Ashtanga Yoga is a fast paced, challenging series of sequential poses linked together by breath and a flow of postures. Power yoga is vigorous, flowing series of postures based on Ashtanga that is used in many health clubs. The room temperature is set to 85 degrees to allow sweating for the release of impurities.
- Ananda Yoga is a gentle style that prepares students for meditation using affirmations along with postures and conscious attention directed at the body's energy to different part of the body.
- Bikram Yoga is an aggressive yoga style utilizing 26 postures designed to enhance the efficient functioning of every body system while the studio is heated to 100 degrees to encourage sweating and the release of impurities.
- ISHTA Yoga (Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda) combines Ashtanga Yoga with the precision of Iyengar Yoga, breathing practices and meditation and diet.
- Kripalu Yoga utilizes conscious focus on alignment and breath holding postures to the edge and beyond, deepening awareness of the inner world of emotions through holding the postures, using meditation and a complete surrender and trust in the body's wisdom to release unnecessary blocks and tension while in a meditative state.
- Kundalini Yoga utilizes the energy housed in the base of the spine through breathing techniques combined with specific yoga postures and chanting to awaken the body resulting in spiritual transformation and unity consciousness.
- Sivananda Yoga utilizes a combination of 12 basic postures, breath work, relaxation, diet, positive thinking, chanting and meditation to increase strength and flexibility.
- Viniyoga Yoga is a gentle-flowing method emphasizing modified yoga postures specific to the individual's needs while using yoga philosophy for therapeutic purposes.
A Tibetan poet and teacher, Saraha's Song of Praise
"Here in this body are the sacred rivers:
Here are the sun and moon as well as all the pilgrimage places…
I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body."