cape cod yoga retreatBy Jane Pollard

There are many differing types of yoga, each has its own uniqueness, they all however have a tendency to overlap and fuse. The meaning of yoga is union, a coming together of mind, body and spirit. Many people today see yoga as a yuppie trend; however more and more people are awakening to yoga and the huge benefits it can bring to our lives and the lives of those living with us and around us.

The benefits of yoga act upon three elements, the physical, the mental and of course the spiritual. The benefits of yoga are endless and each person will experience differing benefits, depending on their age, anatomical makeup and level of experience, but one thing is certain, the list of benefits will go on and on.

Yoga bridges the sexes, religion and the age barriers and is open and available to all who embrace it, it is now widely available in private sessions, gyms and in halls and venues all over the world. The world that we live in today, is a far cry from the world our parents and grandparents experienced.

Today we live in a world of unrelenting commerce, finance, peer pressure and a race to achieve at all costs. Computers and mobile telephones, take over our lives, with e mails, social networking sites, computer games and large amounts of electronic chatter, numbing and dulling our senses, ability and creativity and blocking us from reaching our full potential as human beings.

At the same time, we are driven longer and harder by the fact we make ourselves available to disturbance wherever we are, by the fact we are now contactable 24/7/365 to anyone who wants us, via mobile telephone, texts and emails, when do we switch off, can we switch off? Even when we are on holiday, a trip we have planned months in advance, a trip to switch off, enjoy the fruits of our labour, this intrusion still exists, never really allowing a cut off point, a breathing space a time to relax and reflect.

People today can travel long distances to get to their place of work, adding to the already longer working day, driving now is so very stressful and equally, dangerous. The stress of driving can be felt by most of us, even those who travel relatively short distances. Competitiveness in every aspect of our lives is also a massive strain, to earn more money, to have a better car, a bigger house, a better job, this competitiveness and materialistic approach, eventually causes us to lose sight of why we are here, we lose our way.

The result of this stress and strain can be seen all around us, if we take the time to observe. Meltdown, nervous breakdowns, stress, anxiety, miscarriage, depression, compulsive nervous disorders, suicide, divorce. I believe each and every one of us have someone we know who has experienced one or more of the above and you will know how this has affected their life and the lives of the people they live with and know.

To combat the above, some people take drugs, prescription and illegal, they smoke excessively, drink themselves into oblivion, and gamble and it is a vicious and precarious downward spiral that seems too difficult to escape from. The effect this has on the body, is truly profound. It affects our adrenals, as we are permanently tuned in to fight or flight mode.

This in itself puts enormous strain on our heart and can cause heart attack or stroke. It can affect all of our vital organs, it affects our ability to think clearly and make logical decisions and choices and it affects our feeling of being alive and blocks our creativity. Our body is being controlled, not by us, but by external forces, alcohol, drugs etc. We are not in control; we cannot make proper choices and decisions, which further has sometimes, catastrophic outcomes.

Our life goes into free fall; we are out of control and can only watch in apathy. We are alive, but we are not living. Stress can seriously hamper our life and our life’s progress, tiring us out with illnesses and insomnia. The practice of yoga has truly positive effects on our life and those around us and this acts on a very deep level. The gentle stretching and sometimes challenging poses, allow our muscles to release deep seated tension that is being held there.

Yoga works on every muscle group, thus giving us much more flexibility and over time allows us to feel more power and strength in our limbs and allows a greater scope of flexibility and movement. This means that the spine is nourished and strengthened, allowing better posture. Age is often measured by the flexibility of the spine, so having a healthy flexible spine is indeed a great asset.

Feeling strong and flexible in the body, makes the individual confident and much healthier and younger, the feeling of a renewed energy and power to do more will flow through and make a positive difference to the life we lead. Yogic breathing allows us to breathe in a way that we have probably never been open to before. This deep breathing brings in rich oxygen to the lungs, expanding them to a new level and filling them with prana.

This in turn strengthens the nervous system and the brain assisting our health further. Breathing out very deeply and fully, detoxifies the stale air lying within the lungs and with each new deep breath, new clean rich oxygen, reaches new areas of our lungs, which is of such benefit to all parts of our body; it broadens the chest as well as improving the whole process of digestion.

The focus and awareness that yoga training brings within those peaceful, deliberate, elegant movements, just us and our mat, that being at one, have a deeply spiritual and calming effect on the whole body, the muscles are stretched, the joints are lubricated, this in turn brings a new flexibility.  Mobility and coordination becomes improved and this in turn alleviates stiffness and difficulty in movement.

Peace, relaxation, harmony and deep preparation and meditation, these focus the mind, allow clear thinking, lower the blood pressure and take the strain away from the heart. This then allows all of the organs in our body to go back to normal mode, instead of that dangerous and constant fight or flight mode. The relaxing meditation at the end of each session, allows the body to assimilate all of the changes that the yoga practice has brought about.

We relax, we let go completely, and we simply just be. The act of meditation can be considered as mental hygiene, so we should consider meditating during and outside of our Yoga practice, to ensure that we maximise the wonderful benefits this can bring into our lives, clearing out the masses of mental clutter we all carry with us. Over time with our yoga practice, we begin to make changes, it is almost like a metamorphosis, we stop smoking, perhaps even stop drinking, we begin naturally to eat and drink more healthily, we begin to assess our lives and often make radical changes to the way in which we live on a day to day basis.

Nature becomes more important, we can go out and fill our lungs with fresh clean air and notice the beauty that is all around us that possibly we have never even enjoyed or noticed before and whilst doing this and leaving all of the stress behind, we can achieve further exercise. Walking in nature is itself a form of meditation and so we will be doubling the effect of our stress relief and the benefits we get from this.

Many other changes will be made, often these are unconscious decisions, but they will be made, it is a new progression. Our lives become richer, much healthier; we will become less stressed, calmer and will be less likely to carry excess weight. We will enjoy a new level of flexibility, which in turn allows us to be more mobile and affords us new avenues of life, we did not have before. The benefits to us are, we will have more energy, feel younger and more alive, have new levels of alertness and creativity, again opening new channels, new directions, new doors open up to our lives.

We open ourselves up to 100% of the opportunities and possibilities that are all around us. We will automatically feel youthful and it will directly have an effect on our whole body from our face to our toes, a new spring in our step. We will cut down the risk of liver and kidney failure, heart attack and of course stroke. Yoga is now a great part of a great deal of people’s lives as a way of living. Yoga can be completed in the home, in the office as well as in the studio; you can meditate anywhere, except when driving of course. Yoga books, CDs and DVDs are in abundance, as are the differing types of yoga.

There are now dedicated magazines to inform and educate us as to all of the benefits that are available to all of us and keep us fresh with new ideas and inspirational stories of peoples’ real experiences with yoga. Yoga is now being introduced into senior homes and schools, which is so beneficial to all, young children can now be educated at a very young age, as to the health benefits yoga can bring and they can weave this into their lives into adulthood, passing on to their families a whole new cycle of awareness, creating a much more healthy and aware society.

In senior homes, it is giving a new purpose and focus to its residents and allowing them gently to feel and experience the benefits yoga practice can give, especially in terms of mobility and flexibility and this cannot be ignored. Yoga can bring a wealth of benefits into our life for our health both mind, body and spiritual health.

Knowledge is power and yoga gives us tremendous power as an individual and can pave the path for many, to spiritual enlightenment and pave the way for a whole new and enlightening experience. Yoga gives the body physical health from the inside out, and is a complete physical health package.

Jane Pollard is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches Yoga classes in the Wirral, Merseyside, UK area.

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