Yoga is an individual practice, and we all begin our Yoga journey at different spots. It is easy in athletic pursuits like Tennis, Climbing, Swimming & Running to mark your development. Progress is not so easily measured in Yoga. The question becomes: How do I know if I am improving if I can’t easily mark my progress with a physical measure?
In the West, we are attached to labeling our level of ability. We are taught to go for the gold, and we are encouraged to be competitive with our bodies. Exercise regimes like CrossFit play to the desire of many to see how much they can lift, because the visual representation of 180lbs on a barbell communicates a form of measurable improvement to their brain. Similarly competitions like the Tough Mudder & Spartan Race offer easily measured results for those who chose to participate, a contestant either finishes the obstacle course or they do not.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that the practice of Asana is intended to be a prescriptive one (i.e. a practice that is tailored to the needs of the individual). Additionally it is important to note that every human has a different skeletal structure, which could result in an inability to practice certain postures. While it is tempting to choose to mark your progress through the accomplishment of a seemingly difficult posture, that could be dangerous and is not advisable
In the West we are taught to ‘push it’ & ‘leave it all on the field’, however this mentality can lead to forcing the body to do what the mind wants which can result in injury. Yoga encourages quieting the mind so that it can listen to what the body wants to do. This type of internal listening is counter-intuitive for Americans during exercise.
I came to Yoga as a former Collegiate Varsity Athlete with a wrist injury. At that time, I still believed that exercise needed to be fast paced, sweaty and required an almost dizzying rapid heart rate. Initially as a result of my wrist injury, even basic poses like Table were challenging for me, it was infuriating. I thought to myself, “I don’t know if Yoga is for me. I am just going to get more pissed off when I go to class because I can’t put any weight on my wrist.” Quickly I realized that I had to release my subconscious desire to measure my progress by my ability to do a Hand Stand.
As soon as I began to let go of the need to have a visual physical representation of my progress I allowed my self to cultivate internal listening.
The exercise of quieting the mind cultivates our ability to listen internally. The world we live in is full of sensory information and the mind is easily distracted. The mind is programmed to examine available options, eliminate some choices and make a selection. The challenge in quieting the mind comes from embracing a no mind state. A no mind state is one in which the individual is simply present and is not reflecting on choices made or to be made.
The truth is that mind is the most difficult muscle to exercise. However, in yoga the progress of the mind is the more accurate measure of progress than the achievement a particular pose. I challenge you to begin to notice how well you can quiet your mind and listen internally. The next time you take to your Yoga mat let you body tell your mind what to do, and let your ability to listen be your indicator of progress.
My Grandmother was instrumental in my upbringing. A spitfire, funny, go-getter she only has a 2nd grade education; yet, she taught me many things about my culture and history. She educated me in the ancient ways of the Taino & African Spiritualist healers through oral tradition. Now at 89 ½ the strong woman, who reared an entire neighborhood, spends her days in a senior home fighting a disease that is eating her memories. Alzheimer’s disease steals your memories, and erases your ability to complete small yet vital tasks like eating, talking and walking. For the aging, the issue of memory loss is one that predominates their thinking, however memory loss is something that can affect any of us at any time. When confronted with the truth of aging and memory loss the question becomes: “Is there any way to help fortify our brains so that we can minimize memory loss, even if we are diagnosed with Cognitive function disease like Alzhiemer’s?” Countless studies have discovered that Yoga may be the answer.
3 key aspects of Yoga known as Pranayama (mindful breathing), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) can be instrumental in the fight against memory loss. Used in combination, the 3 afore mentioned aspects of yoga have been proven to increase brain health, cognitive function and memory retention at any age.
The “SA TA NA MA” exercise utilizes Pranyama, Dharana and Dhyana. This chant has been widely studied over the last decade, the chant brings our awareness to the truth of who we really are. Studies have shown that spending 8-12 minutes reciting the “Sa Ta Na Ma” chant while touching thumb to index, middle, ring and pinky fingers, respectively, produces measurable benefits in the human brain. The act of touching the thumb to the each fingertip stimulates energetic pathways to the brain which when activated bring the biorhythms of the brain into balance.
Practicing the “Sa Ta Na Ma” chant has been proven to improve the mental function of individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as those without the disease. One group of Scientists found that individuals who were effected by Alzheimer’s and performed the “SA TA NA MA” chant for 12 minutes using the corresponding finger positions experienced “positive changes in mood, anxiety, and other neuropsychological parameters, and these changes correlated with changes in cerebral blood flow” . These findings directly contradict the widely held belief that there is nothing that can be done to improve the brain function or memory of someone living with Alzheimer’s.
Its important to note that a cognitive function disease diagnosis is not the only cause of memory loss. Doctors at the Calm Clinic highlight the correlation between stress, anxiety and memory loss noting that while they seem unrelated memory loss and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety and stress cause the release of Cortisol which is a toxin to the brain that has been directly linked to short term memory loss.
Working with Pranayama, Dharana & Dhyana will inevitably increase an individual’s mindfulness. The truth is that "[b]y simply becoming more aware of what you think, feel, say and do, you train your brain to become more organized and calm,…Stress diminishes, and life begins to feel more pleasant and rich." On a biological level the combination of focusing on your breath, concentrating and meditating will help not only improve cognitive brain function but also increases brain size, reduces stress, improves brain chemistry, and improves blood flow to the brain. Luckily 8-12 minutes of the secular practice detailed below, can really save your brain. I have incorporated this practice into my life, and use it often. I have seen a change in my stress levels, memory recall, and overall well being. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself!
“Sa Ta Na Ma” Exercise:
First Round – Using your normal speaking voice for 2 minutes
Second Round – Using a whisper tone repeat the steps above for 2 minutes
Third Round – Void of vocalization, silently intone the sounds and repeat the steps from round 1 for 2 minutes
Fourth Round – for 2 minutes repeat round 2
Fifth Round – for 2 minutes repeat round 1
Keeping our energy balanced is critically important to remaining healthy and happy. We can all use tools that help us to stay steady, productive and balanced. Yoga is a wonderful tool that can help you to not only manage but also transmute and shift your energy.
For those of you who may be unsure if you know when you energy is out of balance; here is an example:
Tom is usually high energy, with a positive outlook but the last 2 or 3 days he has been easily irritable, suffering from Poor Sleep, and hasn’t been super motivated. Tom is energetically out of balance. Thankfully, Yoga exists!
Yoga will help you manage your energy with more ease over time. The actions that you take on the mat are nurturing the seeds of self-awareness & self-management which bloom when you are challenged off your mat. The marvelous thing about Yoga is that it can help you learn these skills with out even realizing it.
Here are 3 ways that Yoga will help you manage your energy that are guaranteed to make you a happier human:
Awareness is important. Yoga means to ‘yoke’ thus the philosophy is predicated on the idea that we, each, work towards attaining unity of heart, mind, spirit, and body. When you consistently come to your mat and face the physical challenges of the practice, the by products are plentiful. Someone who has a consistent practice will inevitably come into a deeper understanding of themselves. There is component of personal mastery that comes from the self-discipline required to be consistent with your Yoga practice. Once you are more connected with yourself, you will also begin to key into the various moments in your day when you may be triggered, or may have acted out of character, or behaved in manner that was inappropriate. Yoga will sharpen the picture so you can see yourself more clearly.
2. Yoga will help you become more PATIENT
Things have a way of happening at their own pace. This is one of the greatest lessons Yoga can teach you. When you give your self permission to surrender to this deep truth then you also give yourself permission to be a happier human. Yoga teaches you patience first with your body, then compassion & acceptance of yourself as you are. Then, from a place of empathy and understanding we start to be inevitably become more patient with others. Remember, that the speed with which our Yoga practice increases our capacity to exercise patience is related to our efforts to surrender and simply participate in the process of personal growth.
3. Yoga will help you be more MINDFUL
Yoga helps you learn to live in the present. Being in the Present is what
Mindfulness is all about. We all suffer from becoming distracted and Yoga can help to nip that in the bud. Its hard to be distracted when you are balancing on one foot with your hands in the air. The practice of being mindful on your mat encourages you to be more mindful off the mat. Slowing down to be present, take in the moment and truly live.
Curious if you Yoga can make you a happier human? Go out and give it a try. Want some more insight and inspiration on your personal growth journey? Check out my Podcast “WIN LIFE with AWILDA RIVERA” available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Overcast, Anchor, Pocketcast and ALL SMART SPEAKERS! Want to read more about Yoga visit my site: www.AwildaRivera.com . Until next time, Namste!
 This is NOT a medical diagnosis, this list is not exhaustive and is intended to give the reader context to understand how they maybe able to identify a difference in themselves energetically. ****if you have symptoms that have persisted for 2-3 weeks that could be a related to a mental health challenge please contact a licensed physician immediately.
 This can vary based on the person, for some people this means 3 times a week for others daily based on their physical threshold and what they are focused at this juncture in their personal development journey
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**All blogs written by Awilda Rivera, unless otherwise indicated therein.