YOGA – “Blessed are the Flexible, for They Will Not Be Bent Out of Shape”
Ahhhhhhhhh…. My happy place.
What could be better? Let’s do yoga together in my happy place. Be mindful of its energy. Feel yourself siting in lotus position upon the warm, yielding sand. See the intensity of the illumination emerging from behind the white streaks of clouds. Your body begins to grow warmer and warmer as the intensity of the sun shines forth. Breathe in and out. Feel your chest rise and fall.
Are you able to feel yourself there? Did a sense of peacefulness come to you?
We need to focus our thoughts on things that make us “feel better” and coax our energy flow in the direction of happiness and compassion. There are books on yoga meditations, quotes and sayings all that reflect the wisdoms of the yoga masters. They serve as blessings for us all and guide us into meditation and relaxation.
We will let this be our mantra today – words that take us into a meditative state:
“At the very center of our being is a great spaciousness that is untouched by sin and illusion.
A point of pure truth which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.
It is like a pure diamond – blazing with the invisible light of heaven.
It’s in everybody.
And if we could only see it and integrate it –
We would radiate a peace that would make all the darkness and all the cruelty vanish forever.” (Source Unknown)
The American Heart Association recommends yoga for heart health, but notes that it does not count towards the physical activity obligations of 150 minutes of activity per week. They further conclude that yoga brings about a reduction in blood pressure, increases lung capacity, boosts circulation and improves muscle tone. The calming effects of yoga are beneficial for chronic disease management.
Several randomized controlled trials under way should help delineate the effects of yoga for people with cardiovascular disease. Even if all of the trials provide unequivocal support for yoga, keep in mind that it won’t offer magical protection against heart disease or a cure for it. Instead, yoga could be a useful method for coping with cardiovascular disease, cancer, or any chronic condition.
I remember the first time my cardiologist recommended yoga to me… it will “slow you down” and add peace and serenity to the end of your work day. I knew it was offered as a class in the same building that I worked, but I never dreamed of going. I had always preferred a more strenuous activity, not one where you lay quietly on the floor! The cardiologist insisted it would be an excellent choice for me, so I decided to give it a try. What did I have to lose?
I found my way down to the lower level of our work institution and into the large auditorium-like Education Room. The lights were dimmed. The tables and chairs were removed. A smiling trim and slim instructor sat cross-legged and welcoming at the front of the room. Soft melodic tunes filled the air. I looked cautiously around the room where some were already situated and decided on a spot in the back corner… you know the one… out of sight and view of any and every one. I stretched out my mat and perched myself like all the others in the room. I removed my shoes and socks as that is what everyone else did. I was skeptical about all of this, but lowered my eyes, deepened my breaths and observed cautiously; trying to mimic the moves everyone seemed to know except me.
No one objected to the moves or poses that had strange names – mountains, warriors, diamonds, cat, lizard, hare, tortoise, monkey – the list goes on and on. My favorite pose is the prayer pose – gives me great serenity – and it is the concluding pose. It allows your energy to settle, while integrating your thinking and feeling. This is known as dhyana or the meditative path. All of the poses are stretches and relaxation to release tension. It allows you to listen to your body and your mind.
As our paced slowed (could it get any slower?), we laid flat on our backs. She came around with sandbags to cover our eyes… seriously?? I declined and she did not seem to oppose. I closed my eyes but squinted to see what everyone was doing. Slowly I settled; the music slowed my heart rate. My muscles relaxed. My mind cleared. I did find comfort and relaxation… but then I worried… did not want to relax too much and fall asleep! I squinted open my eyes… sure enough! Everyone was still there…just lying in the darkness of the room. I wondered if I could just sneak out the back. I was close to the exit. Hmmm… I tried to be patient. WAIT has always been a corrupt four-letter word for me.
I have come to learn this is known as shavasana and is the most important part of yoga practice as it is the relaxation part of yoga where the heart rate and respirations slow and tension fades. As I became more adept at the yoga practice, I actually worried that I may fall asleep here. You must remember I was doing yoga at the end of a very long and demanding work day.
A few minutes later (seemed like a lot longer though), our leader brought us slowly up to a seated position. She spoke slowly and methodically and distinctly. The softness of her voice provoked my attention. The words spoke to me and touched my heart. I could feel the intensity of meaning. Yoga grounds me, quiets me, soothes me, helps me move forward and gives me strength. Yoga feels like a great workout, an hour for me alone and a chance to breathe.
I continued to go to classes in the evening, but found myself more steadfast at the practice when I did at-home classes with a DVD. Now, I find myself starting the DVD and completing morning tasks while the instructor begins the yoga class with a peaceful pose. My all-time favorite DVD is Gary Bromley’s THE COMPLETE YOGA CLASS. The DVD begins with Yogi Gary Bromley lying on the floor, instructing us to relax the entire body and mind, letting go of all tension. You then “bring awareness onto the natural flow of breath below the navel.” This takes him over 5 minutes! Knowing that I can accomplish this task within seconds, I allow Gary to do the peaceful pose alone. Once Gary moves forward and upward to the prayerful pose and then mountain pose, I then can quickly plop onto my mat and start with the limbering up exercises. (Amazing, I know! I am sure you will be able to do this with some time at the yoga practice too!)
Somehow I have come to know a peace and patience. I sense a certain forgiveness –perhaps it is more of an acceptance. I do absolve myself for not being able to complete every task on my list, every day of the week.
Yoga was initially about the physical transformation and healing — my body, my breath— and how to release tension. My practice centered around the self – body, health and happiness. It began as merely an uninterrupted hour of relaxation. The physical practice of yoga brings about a spiritual and physical transformation. Yoga, meditation, prayer and a healthy diet all bring you back to your “center”, allowing you to engage with empathy rather than reaction. Yoga is energy. Yoga is balance. Yoga focuses on mind-body connection with an enhanced way of thinking, a new way of being in an often hectic world. Yoga has a way of opening my heart, forging and cherishing connections to family and friends — all people. We are all one and all need each other.
TODAY I am grateful for yoga. I find myself discovering an increased flexibility, tranquility and inspiration – open to new possibilities and receptive to openness of the world. I have a joyful spirit and flowing movement and I know how to focus on my breath (yeah, right!) Have you tried yoga? Please share your thoughts and ideas on your practice and insights.
May you be at Peace.
May you find Healing.
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