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by Shakti Barnhill
I'LL START A YOGA PRACTICE WHEN...
The answers are many.
When I lose a few pounds, after this semester, when my busy life settles down, when I get caught up on my bills, when theres a yoga studio near me, when the kids are... And the list goes on.
When is the best time to begin your yoga practice?
Most yoga teachers will tell you that this is a common question they are asked. A collective answer most of them would offer is Now!
Yes, but that is an answer for the 20-70 year olds seeking something more in their lives.
Personally, I feel that yoga classes in Kindergarten would be an asset to our society and to all sentient beings. Beginning a yoga practice at 4 or 5 years old (or earlier) would teach children that the physical aspects of yoga are a great regimen for a healthy life and mindset. Yoga is much more than going to recess, and it is not just gym or PE.
The principles of yoga include beautiful moral precepts that are neither religious nor spiritual. In a non-verbal way, yoga says accept the parts that speak to you, and give little or no attention to the rest. The principles of yoga teach you how to think, feel, love, and live a healthier, saner life, and even a spiritual life, if you want to explore that side of you.
Learning yoga from Swami Vishnu Devananda, founder of the Sivananda Organization, wonderfully ingrained Five Points of Yoga into my daily life.
What more could a kindergartener want or need but a fun, loving, caring, disciplined half-hour every day at school? This is how we can foster peace in everyday life.
Yoga keeps the body healthy, happy and nourished so that it can gain and maintain vitality. A daily yoga practice of at least 15-20 minutes is a way to live to a ripe old age in the best of physical, mental, and even spiritual condition. The subtlety of yoga Asanas provides everything the body needs for optimal health and strength. For example, if one does the Sun Salutations as a daily practice, or does some type of hot or power yoga, it is possible to reduce weight gain, and even lose weight!
Bringing attention to breath is often used as a means to reduce stress from things like test taking, driving, swimming, childbirth, and even pain management, to name a few. What better vehicle do we have for the mind to have a resting place, a place to rejuvenate, than by bringing benefit to the respiratory and circulatory systems of the body?
In yoga, an emphasis on deep abdominal breathing brings attention to proper breath. When a baby is born you will notice the abdomen rises on inhalation, and descends when exhaling. Somewhere in life, most people adopt just the opposite flow and, with that, often take shallow breaths. Yogic and mindfulness breathing re-teaches the correct flow of breath to not only increase lung capacity, but to increase Prana, the force of nature that lives within all of us. Pranayama means the control of the Prana, and is key in controlling the mind. A phrase often used in yoga classes is to breathe more than air, to imagine breathing in that vital life force energy. Isn't it funny that the media would have you believe Prana is related to mattresses or sleep?
Deep relaxation includes physical, mental and emotional rest. Savasana, or Corpse Pose, teaches us to relax every part of our body, from the toes up or the head down, through auto-suggestion and visualization. Savasana is the ultimate rest, and can be equated to a nap or a resting place within, where one can identify with higher, healthier, more joyful or spiritual aspects of themselves.
Vegetarianism is the preferred choice in the Yogic diet, but moderation and balance in all aspects of nutrition is what gives yogic power. Natural and simple foods are key. The old adages an apple a day keeps the doctor away and you are what you eat still ring true. Diet affects our digestion, metabolism, moods, mental capacities, weight, and Prana. A yogi will eat to live, not live to eat, as a means that increases his/her vital life force energy.
Our thoughts create who we are, what we do, and how we live. Meditation is a centuries-old practice to increase awareness, to possibly experience and gain a glimpse into the unknown. It is a means to consciously relax the mind enough to ask Who am I? Why am I here? What do I want to be right now? and What do I want to achieve in this life? The techniques of meditation are numerous. Simplicity is most valuable and a mindfulness practice that can be taught to a 5-year-old child will bring benefits that will last for the rest of their life!
Close your eyes. Count your breath in and out from one to four while imagining the blank screen behind your eye lids and in front of your eye balls. Yes that one! Tell yourself that nothing will disturb you, keep your body still no matter what, and don't scratch the itch. Let it just Be. Let your mind notice whatever it will allow as it attempts to continue counting the breath or Prana. As soon as you notice that youre off a number, gently bring it back to one and start again. Breath is life force and you are that force of nature.
Shakti Barnhill has been a Certified Yogi Raj for 36 years. Trained by Swami Vishnu Devananda, she teaches at CasaShanti, the House of Peace, located in downtown Fort Myers.