Begin or Expand Your Yoga & Meditation Practices.
• There are so many proven benefits of yoga and meditation, they are now recommended and practiced by many in health care fields, business, sports, entertainment, and . . well . . . just about everywhere.
• Yoga on and off the mat: Explore and deepen the physical and spiritual aspects of your practices. Learn how to carry on certain practices into your every day life and enjoy the benefits for yourself and those you encounter.
• Enhance your yoga, meditation and fitness practices with the finest mats, props, supplies and clothing. PLUS enjoy unforgettable experiences at yoga and meditation retreats and holidays. Attend yoga teacher training retreats to acquire or enhance your teaching credentials.
• Enrich your yoga lifestyle with jewelry, art and home décor, and gifts for your loved ones.
Table of Contents
- 36 Million and Counting
- International Yoga Day, June 21st
- Benefits of Yoga
- Misconceptions About Who Can Do Yoga
- Types of Yoga
- 8 Tips for Preparation and Safety
- Yoga Off the Mat – Other Dimensions of Yoga
- A Little About Meditation
- Look Who Meditates
- More Resources
- Join Our Community and Become Enlightened
36 Million and Counting
That’s how many Americans practice yoga according to a 2016 study by the Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. There are a lot of very good reasons for this. We’ll look at some of them, as well as misconceptions about yoga, a few types of yoga practices, and some preparation and safety tips. Then we’ll look into other dimensions of yoga, which include meditation. In addition to yoga practitioners, meditation has been practiced throughout the ages and around the world by those of all religions and backgrounds.
International Yoga Day, June 21st
Yoga has become so widespread and proven so beneficial to our wellbeing, that it now has its own day. The United Nations General Assembly declared June 21stas International Yoga Day and it has been celebrated around the world annually since 2015. The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, proposed the idea during his speech at the UN General Assembly:
"Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in wellbeing. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day." ~Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly, 2014
Benefits of Yoga
There is no other exercise program as enduring as 5,000 years of yoga. But as you saw above in the Prime Minister’s speech, physical yoga is only one aspect of yoga and even this aspect includes more than physical movements, referred to as asanas (postures). It includes a focus on the breath, mindfulness and deep relaxation, and holistically benefits the mind, body and emotions.
Since its introduction to the West, there have been numerous studies that validate the incredible benefits of this ancient practice for our physical wellbeing as well as an antidote to our hectic, modern day lives. Many physical and mental health practitioners now recognize its benefits and recommend it to their patients and clients. Here are just some of the benefits of this low-impact form of movement:
- improves cardiovascular fitness, the nervous system, bone density and muscle strength, respiratory functions, digestion and bowel functions, flexibility, coordination and balance, posture, and offers spinal support and protection;
- reduces stress, anxiety and insomnia, increases vitality and slows the aging process;
- improves mind-body awareness, focus, memory, intelligence and other brain functions.
As yoga improves emotional states (such as anxiety and depression) and helps to alleviate pain and discomfort (such as asthma, arthritis and backaches), practitioners can often take less pharmaceutical drugs, avoid their negative side-affects and save money.
Because mind and body work together, many yoga practitioners find it easier to consider other lifestyle changes. These include being more attentive to:
- their general health, such as eating habits;
- transforming negative emotions such as anxiety and anger, and
- their spiritual nature, such as raising their consciousness to be more compassionate and to view all of life as interconnected.
As yoga helps you improve your physical, mental and emotional states, and you become a better version of yourself, think about the positive impact you can have on your relationships, both personal and professional. And because you are more mindful of your emotions, imagine having the clarity of mind to become a better decision-maker and improve your judgement. And because you are now more compassionate, consider what you can do for your wider community, the world and the environment.
Misconceptions About Who Can Do Yoga
- Yoga is just for people who are “_______”.
Yoga does not label people. It is extremely versatile and there are modifications for everyone and every level. There are yoga practices for you if you weigh 98 pounds or 220; if you are 7 years old or 70; if you are mild-mannered, Type-A or have ADHD; if you want to take it slow, sweat intensely or be more athletic; if you want to focus on your abs, your back, or anywhere else; and regardless of your current level of flexibility or strength.
There are yoga postures for you if you are pregnant, have certain disabilities, need physical therapy, or just want to enhance your other physical activities such as sports or dance. Yoga is for you if you are a meat-and-potatoes person or a vegan; if you are of any religion or no religion; if you are a scientist, an astrologer, an artist, a CEO, or whatever; and whether you have an hour or only 20 minutes (studies show that even 20-minute practices increase strength, flexibility, focus, memory and brain function).
Yoga starts wherever you are today. It is inclusive. It is non-judgmental. It is non-competitive. It only requires that you are open-minded, patient and persistent.
- Yoga is just an exercise routine. Yoga is just stretching. Yoga looks like it’s for acrobats.
Yoga is so much more than a fitness class or simply a stretching routine, although there are certainly some classes out there that treat it this way; we don’t call that true yoga, even if those types of classes do have some benefits. On the other hand, yoga is not about becoming an acrobat or a gymnast either, as some poses may appear on the cover of yoga magazines and in social media.
Yoga incorporates, along with the postures, specific breathwork and focused awareness. It is a mind-body system of wellbeing that helps you achieve peace within yourself, with others and with your environment. I have come to view yoga as a moving meditation.
"The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. …While this is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end... Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing the three levels of quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit." ~ B.K.S Iyengar, “Light On Life”
Types of Yoga
There are dozens of forms of yoga; below is merely a sampling of some popular styles. All types emphasize the breath and mindfulness while doing the postures. Most postures can be modified to suit you whether you are a beginner or advanced. There are also many hybrids of yoga forms. And then there are yoga instructors who fuse yoga with Pilates, dance or other practices.
Many yoga teachers integrate some of the principles of yoga before and/or at the end of class, such as compassion, self-realization, truthfulness, self-discipline and oneness, and how to carry that day’s practice into the rest of your day or week. Your practice should leave you feeling more relaxed or energized, more mentally alert and more loving of yourself and others.
- Hatha: Great for beginners and those who prefer gentle, sustained movements that elongate the muscles, and build endurance, stability, strength and flexibility. Even if you do other types of yoga, Hatha is great for warming up the muscles, for easing into your day, or for preparing the body to relax after a stressful day. However, it can also be an intense class.
- Anusara: A Hatha practice with a focus on alignment. The perspective here is one of revealing the goodness and beauty that is within you, rather than a focus on 'fixing' you. The heart, as a virtue, is a key element woven into every posture, and into your every day. An intense practice, but you can dial it down if you're a beginner.
- Ashtanga: As the inspiration to Vinyasa-style yoga, these both include poses that flow from one to another, encouraging you to be mindfully attentive to each posture yet move from one to another without attachment. Ideally, this ability carries over into your daily life. They provide rather intense workouts, but you can dial it down if you're a beginner.
- Iyengar: With a focus on correct alignment, props such as blocks, straps or chairs are often used. Good for everyone, but especially if you're recovering from an injury or need relief from a chronic medical issue. Although proper alignment is critical for recovery or if you're prone to injury, it's actually important no matter what style of yoga you practice.
- Power: Vigorous and intense, Power Yoga flows from pose to pose, encouraging you to find your power in life and to face your emotional challenges. It provides a great cardiovascular workout and is great for faster weight loss.
- Bikram: Also known as Hot Yoga because it is practiced in a heated room, it requires your full concentration. Like all yoga, it is intended to help you unify body/mind/spirit.
- Yin: A more passive form where postures are held for lengthy periods of time in order to stretch connective tissue around the joints and enhance the circulation of Qi, or vital energy. In addition to its own merits, practicing Yin yoga on occasion is also a great balance to the Yang, more active forms of yoga, which include all of the ones mentioned above. It also enhances your ability to sit for longer periods of meditation.
- Kundilini: Known as the Yoga of Awareness, it addresses and frees the energy at the base of your spine, an energy center called the root chakra, through movements, breathwork, mantras and meditation to help you awaken to your higher self.
- Restorative Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Viniyoga, Integrative Yoga, Chair Yoga: Forms of therapeutic yoga that are great on your low energy days or when coming out of an illness. They focus on the healing aspects of yoga, or on specific groups, such as those who are over 50, have injuries, are dealing with mental or emotional pain, and those with diabetes, arthritis or other chronic conditions. Props are often used. Sometimes these are one-on-one sessions.
- Prenatal and Postnatal: Provides physical and mental benefits during and after pregnancy. Decreases lower back pain, builds the strength and flexibility needed for childbirth, helps you sleep better and decreases stress and anxiety.
On this page of Light On It – Enlightened Living, you may try out various forms and trainers at home or anywhere by joining an online program of streaming videos through our affiliate links to MyYogaWorks, YogaVibes and Yogaia. Gaiam has an app studio for yoga and meditation.
Gaia, in addition to yoga, includes: (1) meditation training, Pilates, intros to Qi-Gong and Tai Chi, and other fitness trainings; (2) trainings and documentaries on spiritual growth, personal transformation, health and healing (it’s where I saw the celebrated film Awake – The Life of Yogananda.); (3) talks by or interviews with Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson and other headliners; (4) talks and films on a variety of metaphysical and alternative theories (that you can simply ignore if you’re not interested).
There are no long-term contracts for the above-mentioned programs, monthly fees are very affordable, and the instructors are some of the best in the field. Try out various styles and instructors depending on your needs at various times in your journey.
You may also be interested in our affiliate links to Yovada and BookYogaRetreats to enjoy beautiful surroundings around the world while you immerse yourself in a few days or a couple of weeks of yoga practices, yoga teacher training programs or wellness retreats.
Just because yoga is a low-impact form of movement doesn’t mean it’s completely safe if you don’t pay attention to your body’s cues or use common sense. Here are a few tips before you begin your practice. Your yoga instructor will provide specific guidelines for the various postures.
- As with any health program, check with your healthcare provider before you begin, especially if you have any conditions of concern, such as heart disease, injuries or pregnancy. For example, it is generally recommended that you avoid upside-down poses or holding your breath too long if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure.
- Practice like you love yourself. Here is how you receive the most benefits and lessen the chance of injuries: listen to your body, notice all sensations, be fully present, and accept yourself where you are. Look out for overzealous teachers and your own false ego when determining how far you should go or how long you should hold a pose. “No pain, no gain” is not a yoga philosophy on the mat. A little challenge to yourself, a little discomfort or soreness, ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’. But pain, ‘no’. Build gradually towards your next level. Different days will bring on different cues; listen to them. You may be a beginner in some poses and an intermediate in others; modify your postures accordingly. This is not a competition; you have no one to impress; this is yoga.
- Alignment, stability and quality of movement are more important than the number of repetitions or how long you hold the pose. Postures are a marriage of effort and ease, strength and flexibility, balance and grace. You will struggle less as you surrender to the moment. Think not of working on your body, but with your body.
- Breathwork is just as important as the movements. It is your breath that allows you to move more freely, release tensions within the body, provide much needed oxygen and vital energy, and lets your body know that all is well as you go beyond what it may be accustomed to.
- Practice on an empty stomach, especially if you plan to incorporate upside-down poses.
- Use props such as bolsters, blocks or blankets as necessary for support and protection. Practice on a nonslip surface or yoga mat. Here at Light On It – Enlightened Living, on this page are many great choices for supplies and clothing for your yoga and meditation practices. Check out these affiliate links:
Manduka – an environmentally responsible company known for a large collection of quality yoga mats, props and accessories; meditation cushions; yoga lifestyle clothing for women and men
Gaiam – a leading brand for yoga mats, props, accessories and apparel
Kira Grace – an ethical manufacturer of yoga-wear and fashion for women
Alo Moves – a socially responsible company that offers yoga-lifestyle clothing for women and men on the mat or out and about
DharmaCrafts – restorative yoga mats, a kids collection, meditation supplies; also yoga jewelry, gifts, and home and garden décor that inspires a spiritual life
Buddha Groove – accessories and gifts for those interested in yoga and meditation
- During menstruation, avoid postures that elevate your pelvis higher than your heart, or ones that strongly stretch or compress your abdomen. Some instructors no longer teach this, but I highly recommend it. Of course, if you’re a yoga instructor or an athlete committed to a class or workout schedule, you may not be able to conform even if you accept this advice.
- If you practice mindfully, you’ll practice joyfully. The practice itself is its own reward. End each practice in gratitude. Continue the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your practice throughout the day. A yoga and meditation journal will help you monitor your progress and keep a record of insights gained during your practice. Review these tips and the Benefits of Yoga section of this article whenever you need inspiration to keep up your practice.
This section deals with yoga’s deeper purpose, which is personal transformation. One way to view this is through Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, which many consider the bible of yoga philosophy. It is a collection of 196 aphorisms, each concerning an aspect of the path to enlightenment. The date of its origin is unknown, but many believe it was compiled over 2,000 years ago. As a profound study of human nature, it outlines an eight-fold path - referred to as the eight limbs of yoga - for those seeking a transformative life of meaning and purpose.
- Yama: deals with the five ethical and moral disciplines of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence/right use of energy, and non-covetousness.
- Niyama: deals with the five personal observances of purity/cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, study of sacred scriptures and of one’s own self, and surrender to God.
- Asana: the postures (the physical aspect that many think of when they think of yoga). Since the body is the temple of the soul, its care is critical in one’s journey toward enlightenment. Asana refers to the positioning of the body with the involvement of the breath, mind and soul. But what is the point of strength, flexibility and the health of the body without strength, flexibility and the health of the mind? Therefore, aspects of the asanas such as these are to be carried over into your daily life. Also, asanas were designed to prepare the body to sit comfortably in meditation.
- Pranayama: breathing techniques that recognize the important link between the breath, the emotions and the mind. Different breathing techniques lead to different states of mind and emotion.
- Pratyahara: learning to control the senses, and to withdraw from the external world, so that you can objectively observe your inner world, the world where your habits and cravings originate. Learning not to focus on external distractions prepares you for concentration.
- Dharana: focused concentration and attention. Now that you’ve conquered the distractions of the external world, you are ready for concentration, which allows you to look at the distractions of your inner world, your mind. Eventually these mental distractions will calm down and you will experience a state of uninterrupted concentration, which is meditation.
- Dhyana: meditation, reflection, contemplation.
- Samadhi: self-realization and enlightenment, the realization of your true nature; realization of your connection with the Divine and therefore with all of creation; lasting inner peace. Here is where you develop the deepest form of love and compassion for all. Now it’s time to go out and demonstrate this love and compassion for all.
A Little About Meditation
In the Yoga Off the Mat – Other Dimensions of Yoga section above, stages 4 through 7 – preparation for meditation and meditation itself – have numerous benefits. Preparation for meditation includes a variety of breathing, visualization, deep relaxation, mindfulness and concentration techniques. Over the centuries and throughout all cultures, people have practiced these techniques and meditation in a great variety of ways, from sitting, lying down, walking or other movement to going into trance-like states through chanting, music, contemplation on sacred scripture, dance, mantras, art and other activities.
Studies show such great results from these practices that health care practitioners now recommend them. Research shows, among other benefits, that they help you:
- reduce stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia,
- manage your emotions,
- lower blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke, and improve immune system
- heighten your self-confidence, productivity, mental alertness, creativity, focus, concentration, memory, self-awareness, empathy and happiness.
Look Who Meditates
Here is a short list of celebrities, athletes, business giants, politicians and scientists who practice (or did when alive) some form of mindfulness, contemplation or meditation. They claim that they do so for their:
- overall wellbeing and relaxation,
- clarity of mind and inspiration,
- performance and productivity, and
- transcendence and enlightenment.
Oprah… Steve Jobs… Katy Perry… LeBron James… Hugh Jackman… Megan Fairchild (ballet superstar)… Padmasree Warrior (of Cisco Systems, Motorola)… Kobe Bryant… The Dalai Lama… Richard Gere… Halle Berry… Sting… Deepak Chopra… Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post)… George Lucas… Jeff Weiner (CEO of LinkedIn)… Senator Mazie Hirono… Stevie Wonder… Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh (volleyball Olympic winners)… Paul McCartney… Cameron Diaz… Matt Bomer… Ray Dalio (billionaire investment banker CEO)… Russel Simmons and Rick Rubin (founders of Def Jam)… John Denver… Tom Brady… Jim Carrey… Tina Turner… Jerry Brown (California governor)… Martin Scorsese… Joachim Chissano (former president of Mozambique)… Russell Brand… Derek Jeter… Marc Benioff (founder of Salesforce)… Buckminster Fuller… Arthur Ashe… Rupert Sheldrake (biochemist, author)… John Hagelin… Jennifer Aniston.
Whew! If these busy people can make time every day for mindfulness, contemplation or meditation and benefit from them, surely so can you. This page has affiliate links that provide meditation training and supplies; see 8 Tips for Preparation and Safety, item #6, in this article. Also see our affiliate links to BookMeditationRetreats and Yovada to enjoy beautiful surroundings around the world while you immerse yourself in a few days or a couple of weeks of meditation, yoga or wellness retreats. And see Books and Media.
“…the bestowals of the Spirit are given during reflection and meditation. The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. …This faculty brings forth the sciences and arts from the invisible plane …inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out. Through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God. ~ Abdu’l-Baha
For more resources to get you started or to support you in your journey toward a more meaningful and successful life filled with purpose and joy, please see the rest of our Light On It – Enlightened Living site for Transformational Programs, Wellness Products, Retreats and Travel, Books and Media and Treasures From Around the World. Visit often as we continue to search for and try out more programs and products for your benefit. Thank you.
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