As we enter the New Year, with all of the commitments to better health, you may find yourself wanting to dive deeper into Yoga. You may have heard of the health benefits, you may be a teacher wanting to learn more, or you may be a long time practitioner looking for guidance.
Yoga was created as a spiritual practice. It means to yoke or unite and this applies to the mind, body and spirit; the movement and the breath; the individual self with the universal Self. Yoga offers us a beautiful opportunity to become deeply intimate with ourselves - our breath, our bodies, our minds. It takes us to a place of non-judgmental awareness, where the only thing that exists is a sense of expansive love and inner peace.
Following these 6 tips will help you stay safe in a yoga class:
Proprioception and Interoception Proprioception is your ability to sense where your body is in space and in relation to objects around you. It includes information such as joint angle and muscle tension and helps you move freely without having to think about it consciously. Interoception helps you sense and feel what’s going on inside your body. It allows you to be an observer to your inner landscape. Not surprisingly, yoga strengthens both of these functions. Allow them to tell you what is safe for your body.
Strength over Flexibility When you’re in a pose, avoid taking it to your end range. That means stay in a place where you don’t feel a super intense stretch. Yoga is not about how well or how deep you can perform the postures. Focus on building strength in the postures and using that strength to go deeper into a pose. Flexibility is really only a function needed to achieve sufficient muscle length to have complete joint range of motion.
Active vs Passive ROM Active ROM means maintaining muscle engagement to move into the stretch and passive is relaxing into the end range of a stretch. Experts recommend working with active stretch, only moving to a point where you can still engage the muscles. Allow this muscle integrity to hold you in the stretch safely. Any deep stretch should not be taken to end range and should be kept active for ultimate safety. Engage the muscles, use your breath to explore, and listen when your body tells you it’s too much. Props are a wonderful tool for helping you find comfort and safety in postures.
Mobility vs Stability Mobility refers to movement, while stability refers to control. In yoga there is an invitation to move with great awareness and control. Notice when in class - is the pace moving at a comfortable rate for you? Are you still able to maintain control of your movements? Of your breath? If the answer is no, slow down. It’s always ok to take a child’s pose, to come back to your breath, and center. Sthira Sukham Asanam - postures should be steady and comfortable.
The Importance of Transitions Transitioning is one of the most important aspects of your practice. How are you moving from pose to pose? Can you find the still point in the breath? In between the asana? This is where the magic is. A great deal of mindfulness is required here to protect the integrity of muscles and joints.
Repetitive stress Most yoga injuries happen over time. Long time practitioners may find that the stability of wrists, shoulders, hips have been compromised in the pursuit of the most beautiful poses. Many forms of yoga, popular in the west, include gymnastic and contortion like movements that are deeply unhealthy for most people. Instead of striving for a pose that looks a certain way, feel the pose in your body and see where it naturally wants to go.
Yoga is a practice to cultivate compassion and unconditional love, inner peace and mindful presence. This is an invitation to take your practice to a place beyond asana and into deep listening. To know and honor your body, to love it with the greatest tenderness, and sense of wonder. Your body is a miracle and though it is not a fragile thing, yoga can either heal it or harm it.
Jeanette Sealy, C-IAYT, LMT, E-RYT500, YACEP, to learn more about what Yoga Therapy can do for you, call Jeanette at 609.410.8049, or visit jeanettesealy.com.