A B C’s of Y O G A

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I have been actively practicing yoga for three years now. Yoga has always been something I was interested in. Throughout college, I went to a few classes here and there, but never quite reached that mind body connection. After college I was no longer doing gymnastics and I missed feeling in tuned with my body. So I stared practicing yoga, and this time I actually focused on what I was doing rather then just going through the motions. My what a difference it has made. I have grown both physically and mentally throughout my yoga journey. I have tried a bunch of different methods to really find what I like best. Here is a little insight into my yoga experiences and just some fun facts!
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Ashtanga. Ashtanga yoga is a method named after the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in The Yoga Sutas of Patanjali. Students perform the same sequence until they have mastered the poses and proper breath work. There are six different series in Ashtanga practice; the primary series, intermediate, advanced A, advanced B, C, and D.

Bikram. Birkam Yoga is another method in which the same series of poses and breath work are performed during a heated 90 minute practice. 26 postures and 2 pranayama exercises are performed in a specific order during each class. Created by Bikram Choudhury, this method of yoga is designed to work every part of the body to maintain optimum health and help the organs function properly.

Chakra. The seven centers in which energy flows through the body are chakras. The root chakra represents our foundation. The sacral chakra represents connection and the ability to accept new experiences. The heart chakra represents the ability to love. The throat chakra represents the ability to communicate. The third eye chakra is the ability to focus on the bigger picture, and and crown chakra is the highest chakra which represents the ability to be fully connected to spirituality and pure bliss.

Drishti. A drishti is the specific focal point a student focuses on while holding a yoga posture. Focusing on a drishti will help stabilize the posture as well as the mental state. Focus on a spot that is not moving to really tune into the pose.

Energy. Yoga practice has a lot to do with energy. Creating energy in the body, mind and spirit. Yoga can create many forms of energy, which I love. It all depends on the intention you set for practice and how you want to feel afterward.

Flow. Flow classes focus on linking breath to movement. Poses are sequenced in a particular order so that yogis can transition from one pose to another. Yoga flows are meant to improve body alignment, strength and flexibility.

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Guru. A guru, in Hinduism, is a religious teacher and spiritual guide. A guru leads one onto the correct spiritual path by giving instructions and embodying their teachings in everyday life. Guru yoga is a powerful method that is designed to enable one to receive blessings from the Buddhas.

Hatha. Hatha means forceful or willful. Haha yoga is a set of physical asanas designed to align the skin, muscles and bones. The postures are designed to open the spine to allow energy to flow freely throughout the body.

Iyengar. Created by B.K.S Iyengar, this method of yoga focuses on proper form and alignment in each posture. Iyengar yoga utilizes props such as blocks, bolsters, straps, blankets and ropes to help students get into the pose properly. Instructors go through rigorous training in order to be Iyengar certified. They hold their students to a high standard, correcting and adjusting postures when necessary. Although strict about form, this method of yoga is great for all levels. Coming from a gymnastics background, I appreciate this method of yoga because I think proper form is so important if you want to get all the benefits out of your practice.

Journal. The Yoga Journal is a great magazine to lean more about yoga. From poses and meditation tips to nutrition and more. If your looking for a yoga magazine, look no further.

Kundalini. Kundalini is a school of yoga that is influenced by power and meditation. Its focus is on awakening the energy at the base of the spine (shakti) through regular meditation, pranayama, chanting mantras and yoga asanas. Its known as “the yoga of awareness.”

Learn. Yoga is not only a physical journey, but a mental one as well. With consistent yoga practice, one can learn so much about themselves. Yoga helps you learn about the world on and off the mat. There is still so much I have to learn, which keeps me invested and excited to continue my practice.

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Meditation. Like fitness is a way we train the body, meditation is a method of training the mind. The goal of mediation is to sit in complete stillness and keep the mind empty. It takes a combination of concentration and mindfulness to truly be in stillness. Meditation, like all forms of yoga, takes practice and patience. It’s something that I would like to explore more personally.

Namaste. All yoga classes end with everyone saying “Namaste”, but what does that actually mean? Namaste represents the belief that there is a spark within each of us. This spark is located near the heart chakra. Namaste acknowledges the soul in one by unite with the souls in others surrounding us. The light in me honors the light in you, Namaste.
Om. Om is a vibration, or mantra, that is commonly changed at the beginning and end of yoga practices. Om is known as the sound of the universe, meaning that our universe is always moving and changing. Chanting Om allows us to reflect on how our universe moves through breath, awareness and our physical energy. Its meant for yogis to visualize the bigger picture and make connections within ourselves.

Pranayama. Pranayama refers to the control of breath. “Prana” represents the energy responsible for life or life force and “ayama” represents control. By controlling the rhythms of panic energy, we can achieve a healthy body and mind. There are tons of different pranayama techniques practiced in various methods of yoga. All have different benefits for the mind and body.

Quiet. Quiet breathing is a method of pranayama. Quiet breathing slows down the sympathetic nervous system and allows the body to relax. Use quiet breathing during shavasana, meditation or whenever you just need to calm the mind in general.
Restorative. Restorative yoga is great for athletes or anyone experiencing muscle stiffness. Many poses are done on the floor and utilize props to make the postures as comfortable as possible. Postures are held for several minutes in order to really open up and relax the muscles. This method is meant to be gentle and very relaxing.

Shavasana. Shavasana, or “corpse pose” is the final resting pose of all yoga sequences. Many say that is it the most important posture in yoga. The whole body is relaxed on the floor with an awareness on the breath. All tension is completely released and the eyes are closed. The purpose of Shavasana is to rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit.

Training. Like any sport of physical practice, yoga takes consistent training on order to improve. A yogi must train postures multiple times a week in order to improve and get further into the pose. Yoga takes training of the physical body as well as training of the mind. It takes training to prevent the mind from wandering. For me thats the hardest part sometimes. Focusing on your intention and constantly bringing yourself back to it when your mind wonders, takes loads of training.

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Ujjayi. Ujjayi is an ancient breathing technique used in yoga to help calm the mind and body. It should feel both energizing and relaxing. The ujjayi sound is created by constricting the glottis (opening of the throat) to create resistance of the passage of air. It should sound like ocean waves.

Vinyasa. Vinyasa is a term used to describe a sequence of poses. A Vinyasa starts with chaturanga then transitions to upward facing dog, followed by downward facing dog. Most yoga flows will include many vinyasas throughout practice. Its a series of poses meant to “reset” and get the body ready for the next sequence.

Wellness. Wellness is simply the state of being in good physical and mental health. What embodies this better than yoga?

Xiphoid Process. This is a bit of a stretch, but the xiphoid process is a great point to focus on during deep breathing. It’s the lower point of the sternum bone. So when taking deep inhales and exhales, visualize this point of the body moving in and out with the chest. I have found that the more I visualize my anatomy during yoga, the deeper I get into postures and my focus is in tuned with the movement.

Yin and Yang. Yin Yoga is similar to the restorative approach, focusing on core softness and surrender. Yin yoga helps the joints by allowing gravity to do its work while remaining still in postures. Yang yoga is just the opposite. Yang is active and builds up before calming down. Yang focuses on building strength in the core and is quite dynamic in nature. The combination of these two practices is designed to create a foundation for outer and inner postural alignment.

Zen. Zen yoga incorporates a variety of physical practices that are found in Zen Buddhist tradition. Many Zen temples offer an early morning exercise session that includes yoga postures, dynamic exercises and more flow-like exercises, similar to Tai Chi. The physical exercises are designed to transition into quiet meditation. The goal of the meditation is to develop a deeper awareness of the body and “become one” with what is happening in the moment.

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