My recent experience of Yoga teacher training reinforced for me the relationship between yoga and health. Although I was aware of how yoga made me feel and its effect on my immunity, digestive, hormonal and nervous systems, I was never really conscious of how comprehensive yoga really was.
Many people perceive yoga as a form of exercise only, a system of “poses” (asanas) performed randomly, without mindfulness or breath awareness. However, yoga experienced with breath awareness where the breath guides the movement, is so much more than an exercise class. And it can lead to profound healing where blockages can be removed so that “vital energy” or “prana” is able to flow freely through the body. Asanas can facilitate the release of energy or “ e-motion” through our physical body, working in to the deeper unconscious layers.
As blocked energy is released this improves the free flow of vital energy. We may then notice improvements and changes in our circulation, flexibility, immunity, hormonal, digestive and nervous system function. A carefully planned yoga class may include a varied sequence of warm-up poses, backward and forward bends, which can be gentle and used as restorative poses, and mindful spinal twists which release energy and massage the internal organs. Spinal rolls massage and strengthen spinal muscles and nerves, which releases tension and maintains the health of the spine. Balancing poses help to calm the nervous system, release anxiety, develop concentration and prepare us for meditation.
Restorative and restful poses (during or at the end of a class) support the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is associated with our rest and relaxation response. With these poses our body and mind have a chance to “let go” and have an experience, and recognise what this “feels” like. We are then able to develop more awareness of body, breath and mind and reconnect with these feelings both on and off the mat, in our everyday lives.
Pranayama practices (extension of prana) are performed after asanas in an integrative yoga class plan. These establish a healthy body by removing blockages, facilitating increased absorption and retention of prana. Many pranayama techniques use breath retention, to help control the flow of prana, therefore calming the mind and thought processes. These practices help to prepare us for meditation or a guided relaxation, which is usually how a yoga class will end.