Bodies In Motion: Yoga—Body & Mind, Heidi Stevenson

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Yoga is a discipline that asks us to join, or yoke our bodies and our minds.

Traditionally, yoga poses were practiced as a part of a holistic approach to life. Here in our Western society, we’ve taken the physical poses, or asanas, and practiced them separately. Sometimes this attention to the physical movement of yogic practice evolves into a practice that pays almost sole attention to the body. Yoga classes have become a regular part of fitness facility group fitness schedules, especially in the last ten years.

I have taught yoga in varied environments to people with varied motivations over the years, and I see value in any approach to yoga that makes people feel good. Regardless of your focus, though, it can be valuable to remember all of the benefits each asana has to offer. 

Maybe you are used to thinking of your yoga practice as meditation or stress relief; reminding yourself of the physical benefits can be rewarding. Maybe you think of yoga as part of your cross training at the gym; opening yourself up to the additional possibilities each asana provides can enhance your practice. Maybe you’re interested in trying yoga, but have not yet done so; thinking about the multitude of body and mind benefits each movement provides might give you the motivation you need!

Yoga poses can be grouped by their anatomical focus, or the kind of movement or alignment they involve. Below are three common groupings with a plethora of mind and body benefits.

Back Bends

Body: Backward bending builds strength throughout your back, increases flexibility throughout your spine, and can stretch your pectoral muscles, anterior deltoids, abdominals, hip flexors, and quadriceps.

Mind: They also allow you to open your heart and help you build courage.  The next time you feel like you need help remaining open to a situation or being brave, maybe ensuring a back bend is part of your yoga practice will help.

Try: Bhujangasana (cobra pose).

Forward Bends

Body: Forward bends stretch your back, as well as muscles in the back on your lower body, like your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Mind: They also quite literally fold you forward, or allow you to fold in on yourself. When you’re having a rough day, forward bends provide an easy, comforting escape. The next time you need to give yourself a moment away from it all, as well as relieve tension in your back muscles, try a forward bend.

Try: Paschimottanasana  (seated forward bend pose).

Inversions

Body: Inversions bring your head below your heart, increasing circulation to your brain. They can stretch your shoulders and neck, and decompress and realign your spine.

Mind: Inversions change your perspective. Stuck on how to improve a situation? Have writer’s block? Try an inversion pose.

Try: Salamba Sarvangasana, (shoulder stand pose).

Of course, yoga should always be approached with the approval of your health care provider, with guidance from a safety-oriented, knowledgeable source, and each yoga pose should be part of a comprehensive and balanced routine.

Regardless of your current relationship to yoga, try it. The benefits, obviously, are many!

At the time of this writing, Heidi Stevenson was a certified group fitness instructor, currently teaching yoga, Pilates, and aquatics for the HPER Department and Recreational Sports program at Northern Michigan University, and also taught a wide variety of group fitness classes in Michigan and Pennsylvania over the last 14 years.

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2010 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. MagazineCopyright 2010, Intuitive Learning Creation. All rights reserved.