How Yoga can Help you Follow Your Own Unique Journey
In a world that is full of input, stimulation, social expectations, pressures, it can be easy to get off course from your own unique journey and path. By practicing yoga you can cultivate the space and time to reconnect with your needs, health, and wellness to fully embrace what ever adventure this life has for you. In this essay I will explain what yoga is, my own personal experience with it, and how it can help you manage life’s stress so that you can focus on cultivating your own path and inner and outer exploration. In this essay there will also be explanations of how to perform the asanas or postures Setu Asana, Chakrasana and Padmasana. Another aspect of this essay is an explanation of one of my favorite Bhramari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breath in English and an Om meditation technique. Diet, and basic Ayurveda knowledge will also be included for this well-rounded approach and foundation of incorporating yoga into your life.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yui, which means to join. The first books that refer to yoga were ancient Tantric texts, and Vedas. It wasn’t until Sage Patanjali that the practice of yoga was thoroughly defined and unified. Patanjali wrote out the “eight-fold path” which is yama (self-restraint), niyama (self-observances), asana ( postures), pranayama ( life force energy/ breathing), pratyahara (control over senses and reconnecting), dharana ( concentration), dhyana ( meditation), and finally samadhi ( full realization of truth). It is a fully encompassing approach to wellness and holistic living, by balancing mind, action, body, and soul. While the main goal of yoga has always been to heighten your spirituality and help with personal evolution, there are also many benefits such as overall physical, mental, and emotional health. Yoga has helped ground me throughout many difficult life transitions and help to balance and stabilize my health, emotions, and connection spiritually so that I can pursue my passions and follow my own unique path. I am from the United States and my first introduction to yoga was in a more athletic and exercise-based way. Even though I have always enjoyed the physical challenge and benefit of the practice, I always felt as if the instruction was missing something, and that there had to be a deeper and bigger meaning beyond just surface level. In May I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in psychology and art, and while going to school full time I was also working full time. Through this very challenging time period I began to more seriously incorporate yoga into my daily and weekly practice, through Youtube videos and reading books. I discovered that on the days that incorporated yoga into my morning routine I felt more energized, optimistic, flexible, and adaptable throughout my day. It also gave me some personal time of reflection and meditation to make sure that my day to day actions were aligning with my highest and truest self. Yoga gave me space from the endless cycle of jumping through societal pressures and hoops to deepen and expand.
One of my favorite opening poses is Setu Asana, which is the Sanscrit for the English pose known as bridge pose. To begin sit with your legs stretched forward with a straight spine. Then, place your palms behind you fingers also facing backward away from your body. Make sure that the wrists are aligned with your shoulders, and the elbows should be straight, then raise the glutes up and lift the body also upward. Your head will be hanging back and down if it is comfortable. The soles of your feet will be flat on the ground with toes pointing forward. The legs will also be straight in this posture. Hold the final position as long as it is comfortable for you then slowly lower the glutes down. You can practice this up to five times. For breathing in this posture inhale in the starting position and then hold or retain the breath inside while the body is lifted, then slowly exhale when lowering back into the starting position. The benefits of this posture is that it tones the lumbar region of the spine, and strengthens shoulders, thighs, and wrists. You should not practice this asana if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, stomach ulcers, or weak wrists. This is a good preliminary practice for Chakrasana. A modification for this pose is that if you are unable to fully lift your trunk from the ground you can place a block at your sacrum to help open and support you. Emotionally this posture like Chakrasana is helping to open the chest, and open the heart, which can be good for optimism and emotional release.
Chakrasana known is Sanscrit is wheelpose in English. To get into this asana lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels touching your glutes. The feet and knees should be about hip width apart. Next, place the palms on the floor beside your head with your fingers pointing towards your shoulders. Then, slowly raise your body and arch your back, which will then allow your head to move towards the ground. Then, make sure to straighten your arms and legs as comfortably as possible. Keep the trunk of your body lifted from the ground. If possible you can also work on lifting the heels. You can hold this posture for as long as it is comfortable. When ready to lower very slowly lower the body so that the head rests down first, and then slowly lower the rest of the body. It is important to make sure to warm-up before getting into this asana. This asana should not be practiced with individuals with illnesses, weak wrists, weak back, during pregnancy, or when feeling especially tired. The benefits of this posture are that it strengthens the legs, helps the nervous, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular system. It also helps to influence hormonal imbalances. It is important to make sure to warm up you back, wrists, shoulders, and core well before entering this posture.
The next posture I will describe is Padmasana or Lotus pose in English. This is considered a more advanced meditation posture than a simple crossed leg. Those who suffer from sciatica, weak or injured knees, it is also not advised during pregnancy. It is important to also make sure that your knees are properly flexible before entering this meditation asana.
To begin this posture, sit with your legs in front of your body. Then slowly bend one leg and place the foot on top of the opposite thigh. The sole of your foot should be facing upward and the heel should be close to the pubic bone. When this feels comfortable, bend your other leg and place that foot on top of the opposite thigh. Both knees should touch the ground in the final position. Both your head and spine should be held upright, and the shoulders relaxed. You can slowly make the necessary alignments forward or backward to make sure that weight is equally distributed and that you are perfecting aligned. The benefits of this posture is that it helps keep the body steady for long period of time. Mentally and emotionally if the body is steady then the mind becomes calm. Reaching a point of calm is the first real step of meditation. Pressure on the lower spine also has a relaxing effect on the nervous system.
Bhramari Pranayama or( humming bee breath) in English is one of my favorite pranayama’s as I find it relaxing and helps me to be more prepared for meditation. The benefits of this pranayama are that it relieves stress, cerebral tension, helps release anger, anxiety, insomnia and increases the healing capacity of the body. It can also “sweeten the voice” or improve your vocals. It helps to harmonize the mind and direct awareness inward. Those who suffer from ear infections, and those lying down should not practice this technique. To begin sit in a comfortable meditation asana, preferably if you are able padmasana. Then you will close your eyes and relax your body. The lips should remain gently closed with your teeth slightly separated, doing this will allow the vibrations to be heard and felt more deeply. Raise your arms and bend your elbows, then with your thumbs close the small flap of the ear, with your pointer and middle finger cover each eye. Next, bring awareness to your third eye chakra and begin inhaling through your nose and when exhaling made a steady humming sound like a bee. The humming should be soft and mellow. It is best to practice this pranayama in the early morning or before bed.
Next after performing your Bhramari Pranayama you will be ready for a deeper Om meditation practice. To begin this meditation, start in a comfortable cross-legged position, making sure that your spine is in proper alignment. If you are unable to keep your spine straight you may also take the support of leaning against a wall. Next close your eyes and put your hands in Cin mudra and in a deep tone speak “Ah” after taking a deep inhale. Repeat nine times and you can feel the reverberations and energy in lower part of your body, from pelvis to toes. After this is repeated nine times, next you will place your hands in Chin Maya mudra and make a sort of “U or O” sound after deep inhales. You will then feel the vibrations of this in your throat and chest region. After completing that step nine times you will then put your hands in Adi Mudra and make a “Mhm” sounding hum for nine times. You will feel the vibrations of this in the head or crown area. After this you can chant Om slowly after deep inhales as many times as you feel is needed to feel the energy of this meditation.
One of the yogic philosophies is Ahisma, which means to do no harm. In terms of diet this means not eating meat, to be fully energetically and philosophically aligned in the practice. It is best to eat natural, organic, and unrefined foods and beverages. It is best not to eat green vegetables, oily foods, or very spicy foods, unless extra preparation and thought is in place. It is important to only consume the food that you need, and at mealtimes half fill your stomach with food, then one quarter of water, and leave the rest empty so that you do not feel tired or sleepy after consuming meals. It is also helpful to be aware of Ayurvedic wisdom in terms of eating habits. Ayurvedic means “life knowledge or science” in English. In Ayurveda there are three different doshas, or types of individual needs based on different elements. The Doshas are Vata ( air), Pitta ( fire), Kapha ( water and earth), and lastly it is more rare but you can also have a mixture of all three known as Sannipatta. The more that we learn about what our body needs the more that we can manage and amplify our health and wellness. My own personal dosha is Pitta/Vata, which means that it is important to maintain a balance between these and make sure that I consume plenty of cooling foods, as well as denser foods. If food is viewed more as fuel and important in sustaining our energy, rather than just for pleasure we will make wiser choices with our diet and therefore increasing energy for our practice and our life.
In conclusion by combining the physical practice of yoga asanas, breath or vital life force energy, meditation, philosophy, food/ diet you can increase your vitality and over all well-being so that you have the energy and foundation to follow your own unique journey and path. The more that you go deeper into the practice you can also begin to refine and individualize your practice to better suit your own health and needs. The more you understand your needs and can be self-supported, the more energy you will have to focus on your own life mission and passions to follow your own unique journey.
“Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow.” – Swami Satyananda Saraswati