At times I indulge my interest finding common ground between yoga's Eastern intuition with Western science. Even so, I'm aware that this sort of evaluation is more like interpreting poetry in a classroom. A textbook may speak to a poem's structure, syntax and symbolism. But, no analysis can accurately measure the heart of the writer. Still, a basic understanding of poetry offers a jumping off point for all the rest.
When I guide an asana practice (physical yoga practice), I appreciate a pragmatic understanding of anatomical and physiological benefits. Equipped with the knowledge of what a body should do and how asana can affect a body, I can structure a healthy practice for my students. A consistent and comprehensive asana practice offers increased muscle strength, stamina and flexibility; these benefits often are what brings students to their mat for the very first time. (This Huffington Post article gives a great summary of yoga's immediate benefits.)
Once the initial benefits have time to soak in, asana practices train more subtle aspects of our body-mind connection - most notably through our respiratory and nervous systems. Controlled breath helps our body regulate the natural stress-response. Stress triggers our "fight or flight" defense response - the sympathetic nervous system at work. You are probably familiar with the pulse of activity in your body when encounter scary situation, or when you try a new inversion for the first time. It is normal to get a rush or feel afraid and we need these natural responses to keep out of harms' way. Because balance is the body's preferred state, our fight-or-flight mechanism has a partner. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our body's return to homeostasis after a stressful event. This system brings our body back into balance. It helps us lower our guard and find calm. In this calm we can explore nuance and interconnectedness - the things that take asana beyond a physical practice.
In today's stressful world, there is plenty of stimulus to trigger our defensive instincts and very little opportunity to calm down. Asana practice, seeped in breath and control, can offer the training needed to find and stay calm. This sense of calm is what keeps me coming back to my mat every day. With dedicated practice I find it easier to find calm and balance off the mat during the more important practice of life. When I am calm I make more compassionate choices. When I am calm, I am able to think clearly about what I want and need in life. When I am calm, my body feels healthy. I want all my students to feel the same.
Sweet places my writing has been featured ...
Bend Into Shape
For people who love dogs, yoga, good food and/or great parties ... that covers everyone right?