The Benefits of Hatha Yoga Practice
By Karen Logan
As a long time meditator, I have done many, many set of Hatha yoga asanas to prepare for meditation. The soothing and settling quality of the postures seem to always release the bits of stress and strain that collect in the body throughout the day and help me to drop into deeper states of silence in meditation.
But as I approached my 40's, I began to notice some problems collecting in my body. My neck and shoulders seems chronically tight and if I looked straight up to the sky, I might end up with a headache all day. That's when I decided I needed to do more and talked myself into going to a hot yoga class. The power of the heat, the immediate profound effect of the postures, and drone of the teacher calling out the health benefits along with the intoxicating, natural chemicals of bliss during and after class got me seriously interested in practicing. But, wow, those postures were hard!
I also worried that I might even be doing some harm by practicing postures that were sometimes painful for me. It turned out the opposite was true. "Whatever the problem is just keep coming, keep practicing," the teacher said. People with very ill health have transformed themselves. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram's yoga, himself being a prime example. After a weightlifting accident crippled him, he claims to have recovered fully within 6 months.
"Bikram's twenty-six posture exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as Nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well being will automatically follow."
'OK, I can believe that', I thought at the time but life got busy again and my yoga practice was not regular for many years. Then, my Achilles tendon went out and I could hardly walk and for sure, not exercise. That's when I joined a local YogaWorks studio. YogaWorks has been absolutely great for me because there are many classes offered so if I miss one, I can catch another one later in the day or early the very next day. It moves with my changing schedule and mood. I was able to become more regular and the hours and hours of practice started to accumulate, showing clear and significant progress in my health and well being. Progress was inspiring and kept me going back for more. Now, after about 5 years of regular practice, I can report that Hatha yoga has transformed my life in every possible way.
Not only are my neck problems gone, my entire spine has become supple and flexible. My organs are in good to great condition, my heart conditioned and strong. The seemingly passive postures have created more strength than traditional exercise training like running, cross training or gym. Walking 14 miles (2,500 feet of elevation) up and down to the ocean is a full and happy day of exercise for me, no strain. My joints feel conditioned and open. Whenever tightness accumulates, I look forward to releasing it in the next yoga class. There is a youthfulness and joy that permeates my entire physiology. I love, love, love to dance and the regular practice of yoga has opened up the reality of physical, emotional, and spiritual freedom. Every week, classes provide me with time for breathing, meditation, inspiration and relaxation. Sometimes I just go to listen to the music. Amidst subtle layers of sound, my body just moves and does whatever the teacher says - no strain, just moment by moment awareness. Now, whenever I get stressed, I just add some extra yoga classes and poof, the stress is gone -- mind is clear, body relaxed and heart open. Postures like advanced arm balances and the scorpion (which I only dreamed of doing) are becoming realities. I am in the same or better shape now than when I was in high school and look forward to years and years of improving my skills. Why not? I figure at 108 years old I will still be practicing yoga and meditation. What else would I do at that age anyway?
Yoga has also given me community. In a world that is not always respectful, peaceful, or silent, I have found warmth, joy, and love. The friendships I have made are deep, spiritual and long lasting. Individuals may have different spiritual practices, gurus, or teachers but we instantly share a deep philosophy from thousands of years of yogic traditions, traditions of personal spiritual growth. And, I have found that as a community, it's about walking your talk -- grounding that peace, love and compassion into action and behavior.
The variety of teachers I have experienced is a delight. They are always inspiring me with their talents, creativity and compassion. One of the best parts about yoga is that it is acknowledged that the practice is ultimately self guided. You modify the postures as you need to or take a child's pose. It's not about competition or comparing; it's about you and your breath, your body, your awareness. During most classes, I spend a good amount of the time with eyes completely closed. I enjoy going to all kinds of yoga classes now: Iyengar, Vinyasa, Restorative, Naam and even Acroyoga. I am so grateful for each and every class that tears well up from my heart when I think of the amazing gifts so many teachers have given me.
In honor of one of my favorite teachers, I would like to share the quote that she closes every one of her classes with: "May we be healed and may we be a source of healing in the world. May we come to know the beauty of our soul and truth of our own inner nature. Namaste."
Karen Logan has been a long-time practitioner of both the yoga of the mind (meditation) and the yoga of the body (Hatha yoga). She currently resides in southern California.
(c) copyright 2013 Michael Laughrin
From the February/March 2013 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.
These articles were published in Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. These articles are also archived online on the archive page.
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