I grew up a dancer first before everything. Movement was ingrained within me to be important. My mom has these amazing organized photo albums and you can actually look back and see me as a wee one clapping and dancing (see image to the right). So it is no surprise to me that I spent over 16 years of my life devoted to every kind of dance possible. I have done ballet, jazz, hip hop, tango, waltzing and modern. I veered from my path of dance to fitness and learned strength training and body building as well. All of these kinds of movements have one thing in common. They adhere to strict rules. There is no room for embellishment. You hold your arms a certain way, you bend your legs just so. Unless you are practicing improv modern dance, you are apart of a strict set of rules. But these rules limit the body and how it moves. Dancers constantly suffer from injuries varying from Achilles tendonitis to low back spasms, and body-builders usually tend to suffer fractures, strains and sprains.
Had I done yoga throughout my life, I believe I would have not had the injuries to my body I did. I remember having faulty knees while practicing ballet, which makes perfect sense to me know because I understand training at such a young age to be a ballerina inhibited my body from developing proper posture. I developed a ballerina posture characterized by a turn out at the hips and a tight core with limited spine mobility. I remember learning how to hip hop and having so much trouble performing a body roll. Ballet never taught me to move my spine in such a way. As a strength trainer, I moved lots of weight in constricting motions. Pulling muscles too tight while increasing their size. As a result I developed a body builders posture, hips too tight, bulky muscles adding pressure to joints, and limited range of motion.
By the time I started to yoga, I was so tight I could not pull my leg into half lotus. After 5 years of dedicated education into all forms of yoga, I have come quite a ways. I rarely touch a weight, and when I do it is not a heavy one. My strength training days have been supplemented with pigeon, crow and other animal postures. I feel more strength than I did moving hundreds of pounds of metal as I did weight lifting years ago. I feel more open, have more flexibility, digestibility, and most importantly, less pain. High pain levels was the initial reason I took up yoga. I started with Bikram, which I found too inhibiting and hot and moved on to various studios all around San Diego. By taking a variety of different yoga classes, with various teachers and styles, I learned the best ways to move for my own body.
I recall the first Ashtanga class I took. I was on the right side of the room, which is not helpful if you do not know the sequence because you open out to the right and then have to look behind you to understand what everyone else is doing. It was a difficult class and I was challenged to my core. However, one posture in particular I learned sparked a new discovery for me. Marichyasana B was the first posture I felt have an immediate relieving effect on my low back pain.
Whenever I take a regular yoga class (think simple vinyasa, hot flow or hatha class), I usually have someone comment on my inspiring practice. I tell them that I am not perfect, and I still have many areas of my body I am limited in due to my back injury. But the important thing to note is that yoga is a constant practice and exploration of your bodies mental and physical limits. Through this you become a more complete individual with a better awareness for how your body works.
Yoga has taught me many things. I have learned to focus primarily on my breath and how to associate it in accordance with my movement; how to move my body in various ways in order to cleanse my internal organs and rid my body of toxins; how to open up tight and limited areas of my body which helps my internal organs move properly; how to engage muscles properly and form good posture; how to protect my body from further injury and protect the already injured areas; how to focus my mind on the task at hand and live within the moment; and how to appreciate all that my body can do if I combine all my bandhas and focus and maybe reach a bit of that enlightenment gurus have been discussing for ages.
Current studies suggest that Iyengar specific yoga is the best for relieving pain and preventing arthritis. It can also aid Cancer survivors in their recovery as well. I agree with this and encourage all with limited movement and flexibility to begin with Iyengar, restorative or gentle Hatha forms of yoga. These classes will teach you how to move in accordance with your limitations and aid in injury and focus on breath. Breath practice is and should be the primary focus of everyone learning yoga. Proper use of breath and engaging bandhas takes years to master and understand but is critical in attaining the most benefit from yoga practice.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga differ from the previous forms in that they rely on more dynamic as opposed to static movement. This movement should be reserved for individuals skilled and flexible enough within their practice to enter into. If you have mastered breathing properly and are able to move from posture to posture with your breath, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga can have amazing benefits as well through the mental, physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional pathways. Advanced yogis should constantly challenge themselves through theses advanced forms of yoga.
If practiced properly, yoga can and will:
- increase mental clarity and concentration
- improve joint health
- improve strength and flexibility
- aid in stress reduction
- improve digestion, metabolism and hormone production
- improve immune system health (I have not gotten sick in over 2 years)
- strengthen cardiovascular health
- alleviate depression and anxiety
- promote weight loss and weight regulation
- reduce symptoms of chronic diseases (many gurus sought yoga to cure their bodies of illness)
- improve athletic performance in all areas (important for professional athletes)
- increase abundance and vitality (learn to want less and feel complete)
- aid in injury prevention
- ease physical and mental pain from injury
I hope these reasons along with my own path through yoga encourage you to involve yoga into your daily life and help you live longer, healthier and happier lives. Namaste.