I frequently remind my students that yoga, is not an exercise but an INNERcise. The gentle practice of movement with breath awareness works the body from an internal cellular level & from there, it radiates outwards to the physical body & far, far beyond.
BUT this does not mean that yoga doesn't support the physical human physique. In my opinion the subtly of the practice is what makes yoga simply BEAUTIFUL & POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE.
A regular practice of yoga is commonly known to give students a mental serenity & a level of fitness unlike any other form of exercise. The traditional practice of yoga is now proving more & more to have a significant effect on healthy joint & skeletal function as certain poses promote the release of fluids while strengthening the muscles supporting the vital joint systems of the body.
I believe that yoga teaches us how to turn our muscles back ON, learning to to access postural & stabilising muscles which we have long lost connection with. No other form of exercise can isolate & concentrate on the muscles surrounding joints like yoga can. All awhile, promoting a healthy flow of blood & synovial fluid throughout the complete body.
Asana translates to "posture comfortably held" & this is what really differentiates yoga from any other system of physical exercise. Some of the main benefits for our musculoskeletal system include some of the following.
NO LACTIC ACID BUILD UP
When muscles contract, the stored sugar in the body breaks down to lactic acid & additional energy is released. Much of the lactic acid produced must further be broken down further to be converted into water and carbon dioxide. This is done with the assistance of oxygen.
In strenuous exercise, the lungs breathe faster & in order get sufficient oxygen to meet muscle demands. However, this rapid uncontrolled breathing is inadequate in meeting the bodies demand for oxygen to oxidize & convert the lactic acid into water & carbon dioxide. As a result, there is an accumulation of lactic acid & free radicals in the muscles, causing them to become fatigued.
In YOGA however, the oxygen demand of the body is met through the the union of the breath with the hold or transition of the asana. The oxygen supply can simply keep pace as the respiratory system is engaged & working with the body to promote the cellular conversion which is happening within the skeletal muscles of the body.
While the practice is a 'cardio-workout' there is no excess strain on the heart or the nervous system as every INHALE empowers the body & every EXHALE releases every thing which no linger serves the body or the mind.
RE-LEARNING & PROMOTING USE OF LOST MUSCLE
Some muscles of the body are frankly forgotten about. The design of the practice has proven that all the muscles of the body are activated & in many cases 're-found'. Modern lifestyles are changing the way we use our body on a daily basis, & because of our tendency to sit for ling durations of time the muscles of our ribs & stomach especially are becoming utrophy, hindering the breath & causing strain to our internal organs. While the practice utalises the full body, learning how to breath correctly again is really one of the true gifts of the practice.
Both asana & strenuous exercise contract skeletal muscles which squeeze down on veins, promoting them the pump blood back to the heart more quickly. This greater flow of blood through the body fills the heart more then normal which results in forceful contraction of the heart, thus it pumps more blood out.
Common sense tells us that the faster & stronger the cardiac muscles of the heart are pumping the faster & deeper our breathing becomes. The end result is a greater flow of blood, carrying an increased supply of oxygen to the the cells of the body.
Strenuous exercise is known to consume energy & fatigue the body in this process, where the more subtle & calming energy of yoga is known to actually promote energy. Thus energy is accumulated rather than spent.
RELAXED MUSCULAR TONE
Even in sleep we are rarely in a state of complete rest as we always tend to hold a certain degree of tension in the body. This is known scientifically as basal tension or muscular tone & is a vital requirement in the configuration & posture of our body. Even when we are not moving, this maintenance of the body uses up our energy.
The single slow contraction of a muscle sustained for a specific period of time followed by relaxation where the muscle is depolarized achieves something not even modern medicine can achieve. It induces a selective muscular relaxation, limited to a particular group of muscles, without the involvement of the entire somatic muscular system or the nervous system. This promotes a tremendous saving of energy - energy with can then be redirected inward, for the elevation & strengthening of the mind.
OMG!! I know there is a lot to take in, & trust me when I say the more you learn about yoga, the more you realise you don't even know. But you will begin to find, the more you practice yoga, the more you realise you want to practice yoga.
Patience, persistence & kindness are three of my biggest secrets when it comes to our practice.
The poses will come, it is the subtle changes which are happening INSIDE your body where the REAL MAGIC of the practice resides.
Trust me, trust the process & above all, trust yourself.
With strength & grace,
N I R M A L A ~ yogini, believer, becomer