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Improve Flexibility with Yoga

Purpose: The postural exercises of Yoga, called Asanas, may improve balance, endurance, agility, flexibility and vitality while reducing fatigue, soothing the nerves, and enhancing body awareness.

Background

Asanas are postural exercises and the third stage of Yoga. Traditionally, Yoga is an eight-stage quest towards enlightenment and Asana is one of the eight stages. In traditional Yoga, one completes the first two stages of Yoga (moral commandments and self-disciplines) before advancing to Asana, the third stage of Yoga. This WavyFields topic will only focus on Asana. For a brief overview of the eight stages of Yoga, please refer to the hidden WavyFields topic “Understand the Eight Stages of Yoga.”

 

Asanas may improve balance, endurance, agility, flexibility and vitality while reducing fatigue, soothing the nerves, and enhancing body awareness. There are hundreds of different Asanas and each is designed to exercise specific muscles, nerves, and glands in the body. In addition to being a physical practice, Asanas are also a way for the practitioner to train and discipline the mind. By performing Asanas and focusing on sensations within the body, the practitioner can enhance a mind-body connection. The Practice section below explains how to discover and practice Asanas correctly.

Practice: This practice may help someone to improve flexibility with Yoga.

Discover Asanas to Practice

 

There are books, Youtube videos, teachers, and local classes that can provide instructions for practicing Asanas correctly:

Books:

  • Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Youtube Channels:

Teachers:

  • According to the Indian scholar and Yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, a Yoga teacher well versed in Yoga should demonstrate the following four core principles: Faith in what the student is doing, vigor to help the student continue, memory of whether the student is improving or stagnated in the practice and the ability to help the student overcome stagnation, and the ability to help the student gain a mind-body connection from the bottom of the foot to the top of the head. All Yoga teachers should be able to observe each student to ensure that they are practicing correctly. Incorrect practice of Asanas may cause injury, build one side of the body stronger than the other, and impair body awareness.

Local Classes:

  • Local classes can be found through an internet search or by asking people for recommendations.


 

Practice Asanas Correctly

 

Asanas are more than postural exercises, but are a way for the mind to connect with the body. Use the mind to observe the positions of the body, the sensations within the body, and the intimate connection between the mind and body. Through a well-developed mind-body connection, the practitioner will be able to notice how the mind is affected by the body and vice versa. 

 

Before beginning an Asana practice, consider the following:

  • Location: Asanas should be done in a location free from distractions where focus can be given to the mind and body connection. If the floor is not comfortable then a blanket or mat may be used to improve comfort.

  • Food: It is recommended to wait at least three hours after eating before practicing Asanas so as to not disrupt digestion.

  • Time: There is no time limit for how long an Asana can be held or how long one session may be. Choose an amount of time that feels right.

 

During an Asana practice, consider the following:

  • Breathe: breathing should be done through the nostrils while practicing all Asanas. Do not restrain the breath while practicing an Asana. There are different breathing techniques for different Asanas. Use a teacher or a book such as Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar for more information about the specific breathing techniques for different Asanas.

  • Thoughts: The body should be active while practicing Asanas, while the brain should remain passive, watchful and alert. Asanas are a way to find peace and stillness in the mind.

  • Discomfort: No undue strain should be felt, especially in the facial muscles, ears, eyes, or in breathing. Balance, endurance, agility, flexibility and vitality may be improved with continuous practice and it is not necessary to push to the point of feeling overly strained. A Yoga teacher can help a practitioner safely discover their limits.

  • Eyes: Beginners should keep their eyes open to observe their body. Using a mirror can help to observe body movements. Once body awareness has been developed and the practitioner knows that they are performing an Asana correctly, then the eyes can be closed.

  • Body awareness: A teacher or a guided Youtube video may be able to help the practitioner develop correct form for each Asana. Each Asana requires proper body alignment, movement and pressures. With sufficient practice and enough time, the mind becomes aware of the position, movement, and pressures in every part of the body.

 

Asana Examples

The book Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar has a thorough guide for hundreds of Asanas that have been developed over the centuries. The following are Youtube videos by Yoga teachers demonstrating different beginner-level Asanas. These guided videos may help someone start a Yoga practice or build upon a current practice.

A beginner-level guided video by Yoga with Adriene (it is part of a beginner-level playlist):

A beginner-level guided video by Boho Beautiful Yoga (it is part of a beginner-level playlist):

A beginner-level guided video by Yoga with Kassandra (it is part of a beginner-level playlist):

A beginner-level guided video by Yoga with Kassandra (it is part of a beginner-level playlist):

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