Yoga energises the body and calms the mind. By stretching through yoga poses you learn to de-stress and relax to energise your body and calm your mind. A yoga session includes strength, flexibility and balance poses as well as breathing techniques and a flowing sequence ending with a guided meditation. Mind Body and You offer yoga classes and workshops in Northamptonshire, UK.
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In English speaking countries the term ‘Yoga movements’ refers to yoga asanas (postures) and mudras (hand gestures) of Hatha yoga.
Asanas or yoga postures are contemplative by nature and were originally intuited by yogis during meditation and they allow us to gain control of the mind, body and some bodily functions in order to work towards achieving the ultimate goal of union with the Ultimate Reality. Asanas are meant to help remove blockages (disease) in the causal, subtle and physical bodies. In ancient texts (by Pantanjali) Asana is the 3rd rung of the 8th rung of the ‘ladder’ of Raja Yoga practices. Hatha yoga consists of 8 limbs and in the West is primarily concerned with the asanas or postures.
Mudras are practiced in yoga as a gesture or position, usually of the hands, that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain in order to bring about a positive effect on the body or mood. By curling, crossing , stretching and touching the fingers and hands, we can talk to the body and mind as each area of the hand relates to a certain part of the mind or body. Some mudras involve the entire body although most are performed with the hands and fingers. A mudra (seal) is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mudra spiritual gestures are energetic seals of authenticity that are used in iconography and spiritual practice of Indian religions as well as traditions of Dharma and Taoism as an aid on the path to enlightenment.
There are approximately one hundred popular yoga movements, each with its own set of variations and modifications that help make yoga suitable for all types of bodies and abilities. Yoga movements or asanas cover the basic positions of:
- Standing e.g. Tadasana (mountain pose), Warrior poses and extended side stretch.
- Sitting e.g. Dandasana (staff pose), fixed angle pose, seated forward bends
- Twists e.g. torso and leg stretches
- Inversions e.g. headstands, back bends, camel pose, bow pose
- Lying down supine or prose e.g. Savasana (rest pose) or crocodile pose.
It is more important for a yoga teacher to know the basic and underlying principles of the asanas and mudras than it is to learn how to perform thousands of movements to show to students so that they can simply copy them without any basic understanding of the purpose of relevance of each posture. Yoga movements help one gain control of the mind and bodily function as well as providing a stepping stone towards the goal of union with the ultimate reality. A teacher and their students should always remember every movement has a purpose; if performed correctly and practiced regularly, yoga movements will improve the practitioner’s sense of wellbeing both physically and mentally. It is also important for a teacher to emphasise that yoga is non-competitive and all inclusive by steering clear of labels such as beginners, intermediate and advanced. Everyone, whatever their ability should be included and each student should be encouraged to perform, progress and enjoy practising at a level that is comfortable for themselves and their own body.
Strength and Flexibility
When Yoga movements are performed correctly they gently stretch and compress the muscles to develop greater suppleness in the body generally and add greater flexibility to the spine and joints of the articulatory system. During practise yoga brings about a union of the mind, body and soul which will lead to a greater sense of contentment, peace and wellbeing. An individual yoga movement is beneficial to a particular part of the body and it is important to maintain a long-term regular practice that works on the whole body, mind and soul.
One can give gentle massage to the internal organs of the body by learning to breathe correctly. Breathing techniques help to gently massage the internal organs e.g. glands such as the thyroid can be made to function more efficiently. There are specific movements which are beneficial for improving complexion, improving the digestive system, trimming the waistline or toning up the central nervous system. In addition, eating correctly (roughage and essential nutrients) helps maintain a healthy body and healthy mind in order to bring about an overall sense of wellbeing.
As a yoga teacher you should make it very clear to your students that they should not over exert their body to the point of discomfort by overstretching muscles. A yoga teacher must control and direct their students to perform various postures so that each student can gain the greatest benefit from their own efforts without feeling any pain or causing any injury to their body. It is important that students do not simply perform a movement based purely on observation. Correct instruction and instructions on how to adapt a pose are necessary to ensure a class is inclusive and beneficial to all. It should be emphasised at the beginning of the class that yoga is not competitive. It is important that each person works to their own ability and rests when their body needs them to do so. They should not look to others to try to replicate their posture as their ability and their body will be different. Yoga is an individual discipline and there for each student’s individual ability should be recognised by the teacher and the student. As well as working within one’s own limits it is important to remember that the direction and alignment of movement is much more important than the distance or extension of each movement. A very flexible teacher should be aware that when demonstrating a pose they should always highlight how a pose can be modified and emphasise how a movement can be developed over time and through practice to become deeper. Everyone’s body is different and it is important to remember that everyone’s capability is different and can be improved through yoga regular practice.
Fingers and Toes
In the Prone Relaxation Position your toes are lying with the tops of the toes facing downwards on the mat and the toes of each foot are turned outwards and away from each other so that the heels are drawn closer to each other, with the legs straight and slightly apart. The hands lie beside the body with palms facing upwards whilst the cheek rests on the mat as the head is turned to one side (and after a few breaths, turned to the other side). The eyes are closed, the mouth is closed and breathing is maintained at a normally and steady rhythm. This posture is ideal for relaxing the mind and body especially after a series of challenging or energising asanas.
Comfortable and Beneficial
When performing Yoga movements, pain would indicate that the muscles of the body are being over stretched, or incorrectly aligned, and there is a possibility of damage to muscle fibre. Students must only stretch to a point that is comfortable and beneficial to their body. Students must learn to become aware of their own bodies and it is important not to practise yoga when one is taking painkillers and not to practise until at least 90 minutes after a meal.
With regular practise one can increase the sensation of stretching the muscle gradually more each time until eventually the extreme position of the movement can be achieved without any pain. It is important to warm-up properly and gradually in every yoga session before attempting a challenging pose such as a back bend (camel, wheel) or inversion (head stand, hand stand).
In order for a yoga class to work well, a yoga teacher should communicate clearly so that everyone can understand. A good yoga teacher must be able to explain and describe the various stages of movements as well as demonstrate so that students can clearly understand through listening, watching, practising and modifying a pose to suit their own body. Postures can be made easier to achieve if they are broken down into a series of movements that are explained in a clear and easy way to follow, and with demonstrated modifications to allow for a range of different abilities in the class.
Introduction to Mudras, http://www.eclecticenergies.com/mudras/introduction.php
Yoga Movements, Yoga Teacher (Hatha Yoga) Course, Lesson Eight
Relaxation, Yoga Teacher (Hatha Yoga) Course, Lesson Seven
Yoga Basics, Vimla Lalvani
Yoga Cards, Judy Smith
Yoga Sequencing, Mark Stephens
Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff
Photo by Army Medicine – Yoga G0ate Pose.