Why I Love Yoga?

I don’t talk about yoga that much…maybe because it’s a little too important to me. I don’t actually think I’d be able to do everything I do without it. And I’d certainly be a lot more miserable—physically, mentally, and spiritually. And that’s the thing about yoga—even if you don’t intend it to, it deeply impacts all three parts of your self. It’s like exercise for the threads that connect us to ourselves and to everything else.

Yoga

Yoga

A Spiritual Connection Can Protect You in a Crisis

I’m not one of those naturally flexible yoga bunnies who traipse down the street in yoga wear with a sticky mat strapped to my back. No, I do yoga at home. And I’ve been fortunate to have two amazing teachers in my life. I do it at home because I don’t want my yoga to be about comparing myself to anyone else—I need it to be about me, and I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to afford private teachers.

My first teacher gave me a very strong foundation. But as students often do, I outgrew her. She also taught me what not to do. For instance, I am convinced that I don’t need to become a Hindu in order to be a good yogini. And the definition of guru to me just means teacher—not some mystical holy being. We are all mystical and holy; it’s just that some people are more awake than others.

I was very fortunate many years ago, when we published Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar’s latest book, to get to meet him. He came to our New York offices, and everyone said, “Don’t touch him!” But he came right up to me and grabbed my hands. Then he took off his clothes (he was wearing his little blue yoga panties) and did a headstand. He was 87 at the time.  Now, I’m not the kind of person to do weird stuff in front of others (I’m basically shy), but when I was invited to do a headstand for Mr. Iyengar and have him spot me, well…I couldn’t resist! (It’s actually one of my favorite poses.) The picture I have of me in my Armani pants doing a headstand with Mr. Iyengar is one of my most valuable possessions (although I also know that possessions are meaningless, really—and, by the way, I no longer wear Armani).  Rumor has it he also drinks coffee, so I can really respect that man!

My current yoga teacher, Holly Walck from Jai Yoga is a little bit of a rebel, but she’s amazing. In fact, I will never trust a yoga teacher who doesn’t have a sense of humor. Holly does! There are many weeks when she shows up at my door and I am literally barely holding it together. And two hours later I am reborn. Because part of what is great about yoga—and what I love about it—is that it also acknowledges the importance of rest and reflection.  The fact that each class ends with Shivasana is essential.  Yoga reconnects me to my body, and in that reconnection, it balances my mind and restores my soul.

It’s not the “be all and end all” for me. Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave it all behind and go to India. Yoga is the beginning, not the end. As Mr. Iyengar said to me in a letter…”savor the nectar of yoga.” It is sweet and good and beautiful and filled with love.

Yoga for Beginner : Bridge Pose

It can take a lot of effort and will to consistently show up for your practice. Some days you may feel too tired to come to class or too distracted by other obligations to practice at home. But when you do make the effort, you know how sweet the results can be. Your efforts can lead to a feeling of overall physical and mental well-being that spills over into the rest of your day.

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose

In Chatush Padasana (Four-Footed Pose), a variation of Bridge Pose in which you grasp your ankles with your hands, you work hard and experience a sense of ease at the same time. Though it’s a strong backbend, it has a soothing effect. The back of the body is actively engaged, creating a strong, stable arch that allows the front of the body to soften, spread, and open. The pose strengthens your hamstrings, buttocks, back muscles, and spine while it simultaneously stretches your quadriceps, groins, abdomen, and neck muscles. Your chest lifts and expands, which leads to longer, deeper breaths. Though the back body is strongly working, the heart and mind are at ease. In the midst of effort, the pose invites you to surrender into an effortless state.

The name Chatush Padasana, which literally means “four foot pose,” contains a teaching. In the pose, it’s essential that your weight is distributed equally among your feet and your shoulders-as if you were standing on four feet-in order to form a steady and even foundation for this soothing backbend.

To explore this, begin your practice of Chatush Padasana by pressing down evenly with the feet as you lift the hips halfway. Rotate the inner upper arms away from the chest to bring the shoulders down and underneath the chest. This action broadens your collarbones and allows you to press the backs of the arms to the floor so that your shoulders can now take a more active part in forming the base of your Bridge. When you continue to lift the thighs, buttocks, and back ribs, you will feel how much more you are able to lift and open the chest.

Taking time to work with the shoulders is essential. If you focus only on lifting the hips, your knees may spread open and your thighs may roll out, which can lead to compression in your lower back. Instead, when you stand on your shoulders and simultaneously press down through your feet, you can open your chest more fully so that your spine arches evenly from a balanced foundation.

While most backbends are energizing, Chatush Padasana has a calming effect on the nervous system that comes from the position of the head and neck in relation to the chest. In other backbends, the head is typically tilted back. But in Chatush Padasana, the strong actions of the arms, legs, and back lift the chest and bring it toward the chin. As the back of the neck lengthens, the chin is gently tucked in toward the chest. In the Iyengar Yoga for Beginner method, this pose is taught as a preparation for Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) and is said to calm the flow of thoughts and relax the mind.

For this reason to do Yoga, this pose is often taught at the end of a practice. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to witness the transformative moment when your physical effort leads you to a quiet mind.

Introduction to Yoga

Kamlesh Barwal is an International Sri Sri Yoga teacher with The Art of Living. Over the past eleven years, she has travelled worldwide teaching people of all backgrounds, cultures and religions how to effectively manage their mind and emotions, eliminate stress, live in harmony amid diversity and bring greater peace and joy into their lives through simple yet profound Yoga techniques. She also specializes in training teachers in Sri Sri Yoga. Known for her graceful yoga posture practice, her classes are a blend of simplicity, fun, humor and lot of well explained yoga philosophy and knowledge.