By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
When was the last time you actually paid attention to what your body was doing? Are your body and your mind in the same place right now? Try sitting still and quiet for even just 5 minutes, and discover how your mind wanders, what the body feels and generally how you feel.
All of us maintain a disconnect between mind and body that brings on differing amounts of stress, anxiety and/or general feelings of lack of control. This disconnect is the condition yoga was invented to resolve.
The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years, providing tools to keep our body and mind in sync, quieting the fluctuations in our consciousness that typically sap useful time and energy.
More and more, we are multi-tasking in all aspects of our life, going through motions without being present. We work out while reading or watching TV, and entertain ourselves with the latest downloads while doing just about everything else. Many of us even need the distraction of TV or white noise just to get some rest.
All of this mental distraction keeps us outside of our own body and self, creating agitation on levels of which we may not even be conscious. Our minds are now addicted to being in many places at once, although its more productive and restful state is being right here, right now.
This is where yoga fits in — that crossroads where physical activity and mental clarity meet. Since it is difficult for most of us to just sit quietly, we need a tool to begin the process of focusing and concentrating the mind. Yoga uses the body as that tool — although, oddly, the physical practice of postures that has become quite popular very often has distorted yoga to fit our multi-tasking addiction. There are hybrid classes of yoga mixed with almost any other type of group fitness activity you may choose; there is yoga with a dance beat; and yoga that lulls you to a state of blissed-out escape. Of course, these are great for our short-term physical benefit, but for long-term yogic effects, the mind must be challenged and brought into focus.
Physical strength and flexibility are merely by-products of a successful yoga practice. The body is used as the first means of focusing the mind in one direction toward the self. As we concentrate the mind on where to put our foot or how to move a joint, we point our attention toward one task. This focus leads not only to a better understanding of our physical self, but it begins to bring the mind into the present action, the present moment.
Once we bring the mind to a stable place, present within a pose, the breath is there to carry our mental focus to a deeper level. Yoga views the breath not just as a physical process. It is consciousness; it is energy. As we physically stretch and extend, connect muscle to bone, move joint to joint, we tune into the subtleties of breathing and find leaks in our inner strength. We may find we hold our breath, breathe shallowly, or are unable to move the breath into parts of our body that remain dull. All of these “leaks” in sensation and breath have a deep effect on our consciousness, but we can only find them and patch them with mental quietude.
Of course, this mental focus is not necessarily “easy” or found with a “quick fix.” During a steady, disciplined work of poses, we encounter physical and mental resistance, fear and humbleness. We will struggle to pay attention, to stay still. The mind will cry out for movement and distraction. But ultimately, the benefits and rewards of yoga far outweigh the work. The deep sense of calm and connectedness is unlike the effect from any other physical activity, and it permeates all other aspects of life.
So, put your body to yoga to gain the usual physical benefits of endorphin highs and an increased balance in strength and flexibility. But also put your mind to yoga and reap a lifetime of contentment, no matter what the body encounters.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2013, issue