26 Jul Yoga
DOES YOGA MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER? (Yes, yes it does!)
Yoga is to vegan life what your mechanic is to your car – a support system, a service centre, a means to navigate a new road safely and calmly. Aside from making your body stronger and suppler, it supports you being a kinder, more compassionate person. You could call it a panacea for life, really.
Western Australia-based Yogini, Karen Grant from Yoga Inspiration in Perth, experienced this first hand.
“I’m Irish, so I have the propensity to lose my patience quite quickly at times, especially in traffic. When I began practising yoga 17 years ago, I quickly noticed that I was experiencing far fewer incidents of road rage,” she laughs.
“Seriously though, the principles of yoga, known as Yamas and Niyamas instinctively parlay into a life that is lived with greater respect for self and others, which includes every living being on earth – from our loved ones, to cats, dogs, cows, sheep, fish and right through to a mosquito or a cockroach.
“With this in mind, yoga is not only the perfect support system for a vegan life, but we actually find that most people who practice yoga eventually end up following a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Just as petrol propels your car, so too yoga drives a vegan life.”
One of the first Yamas is Ahimsa, or a life of non-violence. It’s a principle that Ghandi worked through and he is famed for saying it is the first principle of yoga.
“Ahimsa is about being kind to yourself first and foremost, and then to others and every other living being,” explains Grant. “Once you understand this principle and the others in yoga, it is a slow awareness that creeps into your consciousness and you naturally progress from there.”
The benefits of yoga don’t stop there. In fact, it’s a form of exercise that extends to almost every aspect of life, enhancing it holistically and beautifully. It works wonders on your digestive health, mental health, general outlook and consciousness. Here are just a few aspects of life you can expect to be enhanced when you begin your yoga journey.
YOGA HELPS MINIMISE STRESS AND ANXIETY
Yoga teacher Kate Kendall, from Flow Athletic in Paddington recalls her stress levels falling dramatically when she brought yoga into her life.
“When I initially discovered yoga 13 years ago, I was not in a great place mentally,” she recalls. “I had been on anti-depressants for a number of years and I thought that was the only way I could cope.
“I actually began practising yoga out of vanity – I wanted longer, leaner limbs. It did change my body, but what I initially noticed was a change in how I felt. It was quite raw and emotional – I could feel! Yoga puts you in direct contact with your feelings.
“I also noticed that I started to sweat the small stuff a lot less. For me, and for many of my students, the combination of measured, deep breathing, the dynamic Vinyasa that is expelling excess energy and being present, leaves you with a beautiful sense of calm. This creates a gap where you would otherwise react instantly in a situation where you can instead sit and be more mindful and come from a loving place.”
YOGA BOOSTS SELF-LOVE
Karen recalls having an intensely critical self-dialogue in her pre-yoga years. “I was actually really awful to myself and spiralled into extremely negative thought patterns. The principles of yoga have caused a self-awareness and love that means I am far less likely to spiral into that thought pattern.
“Yoga embraces the principles of being a nice human and living a kind life. It begins with that self-transformation that then enables you to extend that compassion to other living beings. It allows you to set an intention and check in with that as you move through life. You stop and ask yourself, “why am I doing this? Is it kind? Is it respectful? Is this action in accordance with my intentions?”
Karen espouses the yogic practise of Kriya, a technique that is part of the spiritual path, to bring this intention front of mind.
“The most well-known Kriya is the Hum Sa Kriya, which is about moving energy. It is about moving the energy up and down the spine and clearing out any blockages. This Kriya helps to stop negative thought patterns, it ‘tricks’ the mind into thinking it is doing and thinking something.”
A relatively simple technique, anyone can practice Hum Sa Kriya at home, says Karen.
“Bring attention to the base of the spine and inhale to the sound of ‘hum’. As you inhale, set your mind and bring the energy from the base of the spine, drawing it up to the brain imagining it is coming up through the front of the spine. As you exhale, release the energy down the back of the spine down to the base.”
YOGA IMPROVES SLEEP QUALITY
“Practising yoga harmonises all of our systems,” says Kate, “which allows for better quality of rest and sleep. However, we recommend that people practise regularly – a few times a week, to really get these benefits. Four times is the ultimate goal. The ones who live their yoga get all the juicy benefits from it. You are harmonising circulation, blood flow, digestion and oxygenation of the body, all of which contributes to restful, restorative sleep.”
Karen suggests those struggling with sleep listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation, which quite literally translates to yogic sleep.
“It guides you into the blissful state between being awake and being asleep, where you are just about to fall over the edge into a deep slumber. Your awareness brings the body into a hypnogogic state which is the state between awake and sleeping, where you are just about to fall off the edge and sleep, but you don’t. It is a really wonderful way to get to sleep.”
A quick search in the App store will bring up several amazing Yoga Nidra apps.
YOGA SUPPORTS DIGESTION
The deep breathing – long inhalations and exhalations – involved in yoga positively affects circulation and digestion, but the postures also play a vital role in a healthy digestive system.
“The spine twists are particularly beneficial,” says Kate. “Each time you exhale in a twist, it is like you are rinsing out a dirty sponge. Also forward bends coupled with the right breathing, can really help the digestive system. If you are in a forward bend, your body is folded in half. When you exhale, you draw the navel to the spine, which is great for the health of the digestive organs, detoxification and regularity. It is like giving your internal organs a little massage.”
Kate suggests an early morning practise for best results, before you eat breakfast.
YOGA IMPROVES MENTAL CLARITY
“This comes about because of a combination of all of yoga’s benefits – deep oxygenation of the blood, improved circulation, the inclination to follow a healthier lifestyle and improved digestion and gut health,” says Karen.
Kate adds: “You have a more sustainable energy, which automatically keeps you clearer headed. Furthermore, when you are holding a posture for a lengthy period of time, it becomes meditative. It is a moving meditation and when combined with the breathing, it creates a clearer consciousness.
Karen recommends finishing each day with an OM meditation, to further enhance your practice and mindfulness.
“The Hindus believe that before the universe was created, there was nothing except a vast space of potential,” she explains. “When the Big Bang happened and the universe was created, the first sound that was heard was OM.
“OM is the supreme sound of the universe and everything else comes from that. If I am stressed, cloudy in my mind or I have a million things on my mind, I will sit and get my Mala beads and do a round of 108 OMS (108 is an auspicious number in Buddhism and the philosophy of yoga). This takes about 15-20mins and it builds the vibration in the body. You will feel the energy rising through the body. All the cells are vibrating as these ripples of energy created by the vibration of the OM elbow out the thoughts that are swamping you.”
Interview with Lifestyle and Beauty editor Shonagh Walker