Flexibility, Strength and Mobility
The key to effective asana practice is a balance between building strength and developing flexibility. An imbalance between the two may create problems: too much flexibility can create areas of weakness in the body that are vulnerable to injury, and can lead to instability in the joints, while too much strength may restrict the range of movement and spontaneous or unusual movements risk causing injury. Yoga asanas (postures) provide a full range of movement to all parts of the body. Practiced dynamically with deep, conscious breathing these movements stretch the muscles and other connective tissues, releasing tension, promoting flexibility and increasing range of movement. Again with deep conscious breathing, staying in postures or moving the body against the force of gravity will help to develop and maintain strength.
Core Strength, Stamina and Posture
One of the most important aspects of this practice is the correct use of the breath. Full diaphragmatic breathing that actively engages the abdominal muscles strengthens the core muscles that support the spine and minimises the negative effects that time and gravity have on the natural curvatures of the spine. Regular practice will see an improvement in posture and an improvement in the strength and flexibility of the spine. Learning to breathe more slowly and deeply improves the lung function and triggers the body’s relaxation response. It will also provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake.
Mental Steadiness and Emotional Balance
Classical texts on Yoga state that the most important aim of the practice of asanas (postures) is to reduce disturbance in the mind and to increase calm and clarity. This is the key feature of asana practice that sets it aside from other forms of exercise. To increase mental steadiness we need to focus our mind. In time, this will reduce the mind’s tendency toward distraction and bring about awareness and quietness. This is the basis of meditation and asana practice can itself be a form of meditation when we focus our mind on the quality and duration of the breath. We will naturally be alerted to our loss of focus when we become aware that our breathing has slipped back into its usual involuntary pattern. With this continual awareness, we will be lead to a state of balance at the end of our practice, which in time will naturally flow to all areas of our life.