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Yoga For Life ~ Benicia


YOGA FOR LIFE HANDBOOK
ALEXA SIMPSON, M.P.H., M.F.A., C.C.H.T.

CONTENTS

WHY DO YOGA?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF YOGA
WHAT IS HATHA YOGA?
WHAT IS PRANAYAMA?
ELEMENTS OF A CLASS
DEVELOPING A PRACTICE AT HOME
BASIC INSTRUCTIONS

WHY DO YOGA?

No matter what your level of practice or your age, you will benefit from the yoga poses and breathing exercises that you learn in class. According to Dr. James Spira at Duke University Department of Medicine & Psychiatry, yoga has been found to help reduce stress reactions, stabilize mood, increase focus and concentration, and improve physical health. It is never too late to begin. I know one man who for two years suffered constant back pain, requiring heavy medication and traction. Eventually risky back surgery was proposed. However, in the meantime he had begun daily yoga practice. His pain disappeared and the surgery was not needed. He continued doing yoga every day and two years later was able to dance at his 85th birthday party! I have heard many such stories from people who have cured themselves of a wide range of ailments through yoga. Arthritis, asthma, the after-effects of injuries, chronic back and neck problems, respiratory and digestive problems; these are just a few ailments that have resolved naturally through regular practice of yoga.
More important, yoga is a thorough system for maintaining health and slowing down the aging process. Your yoga practice will help you develop greater flexibility and balance, tone and strengthen muscles, boost your immune system, increase physical energy and mental focus, improve digestion, and soothe the nervous system. The poses and breathing exercises also give e a massage to internal organs and glands. consistent practice at home as well as in class will bring the maximum benefit, and help you reduce the damaging effects of stress that have become so common in our "modern" lives.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF YOGA
Yoga is an ancient system of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development that evolved at least three or four thousand years ago in India. Our earliest written record of the complete system of yoga, including Hatha Yoga (the physical postures) and Pranayama (the breathing exercises), is contained in the Yoga Sutras, a two-thousand year-old text by Patanjali.

WHAT IS HATHA YOGA?
Yoga literally means 'to yoke', and signifies the union of body and mind so that they move as one. In order for the poses to bring about the integration for which they were designed it is very important to be fully engaged in the poses through focused awareness and guided breath. Hatha means 'sun, moon' and implies the balance or merging of masculine and feminine, strong and yielding, action and stillness. There are hundreds of yoga postures or poses, and they all have names. Many refer to animals or objects which the poses resemble: for example, cobra, boat, tree, and plow. The poses can be divided into back bends, forward bends, and twists. In addition, a pose may be described as reclining, seated, raised, standing or inverted. A few of the poses are specifically designed to develop balance. Many of the poses have variations with differing degrees of difficulty.

WHAT IS PRANAYAMA?
Pranayama is the name for the breathing exercises that are one of the eight aspects or 'limbs' of yoga. The literal meaning of Pranayama is control or discipline of the prana. Prana, which could be loosely translated as vital energy or life force, is believed to be intimately linked to the breath. Breath is seen as the external manifestation of prana. The breathing exercises quiet the mind, bring about a sense of inner calm and balance and increase energy. They also expand lung capacity, supercharge the blood with oxygen, help clean toxins out of your body, improve digestion as the abdominal organs are massaged by movement of the diaphragm, soothe and strengthen the nervous system, and lead to a general improvement of health. Pranayama are especially helpful for people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Traditionally it is recommended that the practice of Pranayama be preceded by a period of rest of at least a few minutes in the Relaxation Pose (Savasana). The breathing exercises may be practiced in any simple seated posture as long as the spine is erect and you can rest your hands on your knees. The meditative postures are best: Accomplished Pose (Siddhasana), Lotus Pose (Padmasana), and Favorable Pose (Swastikasana). However, you may also use Pelvic Pose (Vajrasana) or simply sit on a chair with your feet on the floor and back straight. One of the exercises, the Hissing Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama), may be practiced even while standing or walking.

ELEMENTS OF A 'YOGA FOR LIFE' CLASS

Classes will consist of varying combinations of the following:

  • Eye movement exercises (Nethra Vyamamam) and warm-up stretches
  • The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) This is a set of six to eight poses that are repeated and linked together in a series, each pose flowing into the next. It is recommended that a yoga session begin with a few rounds of Sun Salutation to loosen and warm up the body (see inside back cover)
  • A selection of individual poses: back bends, forward bends, twists, balancing poses and inversions
  • A guided, deep relaxation process
  • A series of breathing exercises (Pranayama)

DEVELOPING A PRACTICE AT HOME
In order to derive the most benefit from yoga it is important to develop at least a simple practice at home. If you can do just twenty minutes a day you will notice the difference. You will experience increased flexibility, improved mental focus and greater emotional steadiness. In this amount of time you could do a couple of rounds of sun salutation and a twisting pose, practice your shoulder stand, and do a few minutes of breathing. Choose a quiet time and place to do your practice. Soft music may be conducive, but do not try to watch TV or listen to the radio.

BASIC INSTRUCTIONS

RELAX: Yoga postures are not done with strain. Be gentle with your body. If you push it, your body (and your mind) will rebel. Maximum flexibility in the long run will result if you relax:

  • Before each pose,
  • As you are coming into the pose,
  • During the pose,
  • As you are coming out of the pose!

BREATHE: Use your breath to relax. Take deep, slow breaths. As you inhale imagine breathing into the area you are stretching. Exhale and release, imagining the breath removing tension and toxins from that area. Let go and allow gravity to assist you instead of willfully pushing yourself. Do not hold your breath unless instructed to do so.

WEAR LOOSE CLOTHING*: It is important that your clothing be loose around the waist so that your diaphragm can move freely. Tights and a T-shirt or leotard are best. 'Sweats' are also fine.

HAVE AN EMPTY STOMACH: Don't eat for at least two hours before you begin. You need to be able to move your diaphragm, compress your abdomen, and do inverted poses without discomfort.

USE A THICK BLANKET: Especially in the beginning, you will find it helpful to use a folded or rolled-up blanket for support in certain poses until you develop more strength and flexibility. You may also want to cover yourself with a blanket during deep relaxation. Blankets are provided in class.

USE A 'STICKY MAT'*: You may practice many yoga poses comfortably on a carpeted or wood floor; however it is important to do standing poses, twists and some other poses on a non-slip surface. If you are tensing muscles and exerting effort to keep your feet or hands from slipping, you cannot fully relax into the pose and focus all your energy and attention in the areas you are stretching. A sticky mat provides the best surface for practicing yoga. (You may purchase a 'sticky mat' at Yoga For Life for $24 + tax)

PRACTICE WITH A PILLOW OR YOGA BOLSTER*: In class you will learn how to develop better extension and openness in the back, abdomen and chest by lying across a pillow or yoga bolster. Practicing this at home will prepare you for the back bends and forward bends we will do in class.

CHOOSE YOUR LEVEL OF PRACTICE: You can choose the level of stretch that is comfortable for you. An easier variation should be practiced until it can be done with ease before moving up to a more difficult variation. Some poses help your body prepare for more demanding ones. Only attempt those poses for which you have done the appropriate preparation. Come out of each pose when you need to, without waiting for my signal.

CHANGE YOUR PRACTICE DURING MENSTRUATION: It is best to avoid all inverted poses and those that increase body heat. Either refrain from yoga practice altogether during the first three days or do only cooling postures. (Ask instructor for suggestions.)

TAKE APPROPRIATE MEDICAL PRECAUTIONS: If you have any medical condition for which you are (or should be) under the care of a physician or chiropractor, it is advisable to consult with her or him before beginning yoga or any program of physical exercise. The instructions and recommendations offered in this class are in no way intended as a substitute for medical advice.

ASK FOR ASSISTANCE: Please catch my attention during class if you are in doubt about a pose. For more in-depth help, I am available after class or you may set up a private yoga session.

DRINK WATER: After a class, drink water during the day to wash out toxins that have been released.
I recommend purified water because studies have shown the chlorine in tap water to be harmful.

ENJOY! I hope you continue to practice and enjoy Yoga . . . For Life . . . and reap its many benefits.

* Sticky Mats, straps and sand bags can be purchased at Yoga For Life. Yoga bolsters and blocks may be special ordered.

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