"Your mind should be in harmony with the functioning of the universe: your body should be in tune with the movement of the universe: body and mind should be bound as one, unified with the activity of the universe."
-Morihei Ueshiba

The practice of Yoga began in India thousands of years ago. Roughly translated, yoga means union of mind and body with God. Although, at the time of its invention, yoga encompassed religious philosophy, it is not a religion itself and does not require religious belief.

Yoga is a science constituted by the experimental investigation of self. The knowledge that the yogi gains, through practice, is an understanding of the relationship between the mind, body, and spirit. Understanding this relationship allows the yogis to better understand her place in the universe. The practice of yoga has three major aspects, asanas, pranayama, and yoga nidra. Although I list these aspects individually, they must be unified if the yogi wishes to gain the maximum benefits.

Asanas are the yoga postures. These postures represent the exercise portion of yoga; the movements are often slow, defined, and flow with the breath. The movements are aesthetic; there is beauty in form and transition. Yet, the real beauty lies in the benefits, some of which are visible and others that are not. Asanas not only strengthen and tone muscles, reduce body fat, enhance flexibility and improve posture, they also rejuvenate cells, reduce blood pressure, and improve the performance of the heart. In order for the yogi to get the most out of these poses, they must be practiced in unison with pranayama.

Pranayama is the use of the breath in yoga exercises. This form of breathing, {nostril breathing} increases the consumption of oxygen making the yogis more alert. In yoga, breathing should be deep and long; relaxing the mind and body. In certain poses, the breath may be guided to troubled spots. For example, if the yogi is feeling pain in the right shoulder then the breath should be guided to that area in order to relieve tension. The breath is also used to enhance the asana. By manipulating the pattern of breathing the yogis can often increase the intensity of a pose. Without the breath, the yogi limits herself to physical ability creating a gap in the "union" between mind and body.

Yoga Nidra is meditation. It is this process which allows the yogi to reflect on the union and to truly feel its power. It is a time to escape from the outside world and bask in inner peace. Meditation opens the gates to the inner-self; it teaches self-reliance, confidence, and awareness. It also teaches the yogi to let go of trivial inflictions, relieving unnecessary stress and guiding awareness to that which is important.

It is only through understanding ourselves that we are able to understand the world around us. Yoga provides an outlet from a surreal existence through a spiritual journey of inner truth and enlightenment, creating a balance in being.

Below are a few of my favorite poses. It is best to practice yoga on an empty stomach; I like to practice early in the morning. The yogi must be in tune with her body, paying close attention to her limitations. Remember to breath though the nose and use the breath to your advantage.

Cat Pose

Kneel on your hands and knees, placing your hands directly below your shoulders. Inhale lifting the head and tailbone as the lower back concaves. Exhale pushing the tailbone down while rounding the back. This pose will strengthen muscles in the neck and spine and eliminate backaches while improving posture. This pose also massages the organs in the abdomen, aiding digestion and regulating the bowl.

Downward Facing Dog

Lie on abdomen with palms flat under your shoulders. Breath in. On the exhale, press palms into floor lifting yourself onto your hands and knees. Curl your toes under and inhale again. Exhale pressing palms into the floor and lift knees. Relax your shoulders and neck. Feet should be flat on the floor, if this is too much the heels may lift up. To release position lower back down to knees. This pose strengthens and tones muscles in the legs, arms and back. It promotes flexibility and improves posture. Because the head bends forward, this pose allows harmful toxin to be released from the organs.

Child's Pose

Kneel on knees. Lean your head forward over your knees bringing your chest to your thighs and your forehead to the floor. Place your arms behind you palm up and parallel to your legs. Relax and breathe. This pose relieves tension in the spine and relaxes the neck and shoulders. Breathing in this position calms the central nervous system relieving anxiety.

Bridge Pose

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Place arms by your side with palms facing down. Inhale, pressing you palms into the floor. On the exhale, press heals into floor and lift the pelvis toward the ceiling, tightening the buttocks. Keeping your arms straight, walk your hands beneath your buttocks and interlace your fingers. Press thighs toward each other and hold. Release your hands and bring your arms over your head. As you exhale slowly lower your body to the floor. This pose strengthens the lower back and relieves backaches. This pose also increases lung capacity by opening the chest.

Cross-Legged Pose

Sit in a cross-legged pose pulling one foot into the groin and the other gently behind it. Place you palms, face up, onto your knees and close you eyes. Clear your mind and let go of all tension using your breath to relax your body and soothe your mind. Enjoy this moment of peace; its benefits cannot be itemized.

© Melt Magazine 2001