Monday, April 28, 2014

Two Habits to Make Your Yoga Practice More Fulfilling

Many Americans practice yoga as a form of exercise; however, yoga encompasses so much more than great abs and superior flexibility. Looking into yogic philosophy, we learn that yoga evolved as a way to cultivate a union or oneness with the world around us. Some yogic scriptures also recognize yoga as a path to bliss. Whether your next yoga class is more spiritual or it’s a boot camp class filled with yogic push-ups, consider incorporating these two habits into your practice.

Develop an intention. Many yoga teachers start class by inviting students to choose an intention, such as peace, love, or balance. The intention serves as a personal theme to which students can devote energy and compassion. Students can also think of an intention as a sort of prayer for themselves, their loved ones, or the world at large. Integrating an intention into your practice will help you calm your mind and connect more deeply with yourself and others.

Focus in on gratitude. The next time you’re in chair pose and your thighs start burning, consider adopting a more grateful mindset. Be grateful that your legs are strong enough to hold you in this uncomfortable pose; be grateful that you showed up to care for your body through yoga. Once you start turning the challenges in your yoga class into opportunities for gratitude, it quickly becomes easier to incorporate gratitude into your daily life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yoga Can Bring Couples Together

Forget a movie and popcorn: An evening—or an afternoon—spent doing yoga together can make for a great date while keeping both of you fit and healthy. More and more yoga studios are offering couples programs, and not only for romantic pairs, but for parents and children, friends, and workout partners. In many of these programs, prior knowledge of yoga is not even necessary.

However, for romantic partners in particular, yoga can offer a distinctive bonding experience. The focus is on communication, letting your partner know how the various bends and stretches feel, and on remaining aware of and sensitive to one another’s needs and limits.

If you’re both already seasoned practitioners, here are a few ideas to try next time you want to charge up both your fitness routine and your personal connection:

One of you assumes the downward dog posture, traditionally called the adho mukha svanasana. Then the other partner positions his or her feet on the outsides of the first partner’s hands and lowers to rest flat along the first partner’s back, with arms stretched back over the head. Hold the position for a few breaths, and then switch places.

Alternatively, try sitting on the floor back-to-back in a cross-legged pose. Each person stretches back to put his or her right hand on the partner’s left thigh slightly above the knee. Then both partners position their left hands on top of their own right knees. Synchronize your breathing, and try to lengthen and extend the stretch while inhaling, then to increase the amount of the twist while exhaling the breath. Go from one side to the other in this way until you are both limber and energized.

When two people have to work together to achieve correct alignment and optimum stretch, cooperation takes precedence, thus bringing them closer together physically and emotionally.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting Started with Yoga Meditation

In today’s busy and often harried world, yoga meditation can offer a meaningful way to recharge your energy and reconnect with feelings of calm and tranquility. It can also increase your mind’s ability to concentrate and stay focused on your everyday goals. While many people understand yoga’s benefits where physical fitness is concerned, they forget that the centuries-old practice is traditionally as much about the mind and the spirit as it is about the body.

Regular practice is the key to getting the full benefit from your yogic meditation. Set aside a time and place where you will be free of other distractions. Learn to let go of worries about the past and nagging mental to-do lists for the future as you focus on being fully present in the moment.

Experts emphasize that yoga meditation is an active state of mind, that ideally a practitioner will be fully alert while maintaining a sense of calm, a steady, rhythmic breathing, and an inward focus.

Assume a relaxed posture for your meditation, whether that involves sitting in the traditional cross-legged pose on the floor, indoors on a sofa, or in a garden chair. You may want to use sound to assist you in concentrating: You may listen to recorded music, the lyrics of nature in a waterfall or flowing stream, or an affirmation you chant softly to yourself.

Beginners may find it helpful to start their meditative practice by focusing on one single thing, whether it’s a candle flame, a piece of art, an object in nature, or their own breathing. Allow for the fact that your thoughts may drift, and be prepared to gently guide them back again.

Start out with only a few minutes the first few times and gradually work your way up to longer periods of meditation as you become comfortable and experienced in the discipline.