One of my favorite quotes is "Yoga is not just a work-out, it's a work-in."
Something amazing happens when you begin working on something new. Whether it's skiing, playing piano, painting or Yoga; you can feel that rush that comes as you begin to develop the skills necessary to accomplish the activity. In yoga, we refer to this as Tapas. It's zeal, energy, the desire to continue.
Hatha Yoga begins as a practice with physical focus. We learn to direct the movement of our bodies, breath, internal functions and Prana through effort.
Fitness activities such as HIIT, running, Crossfit, cycling, acrobatics, etc. can help us to develop strength, mobility and physical ability. They do not qualify as Yoga practices, but do align with the idea behind Asana (postures). The more we move our bodies, the better we understand them and more control we have over them.
Beyond these work outs are the practices of Yoga that encourage wellness within. Pranayama (intentional breathing techniques), Satkarma (purifying techniques) and Bandha (pranic movement) are just a few of the practices that cleanse the physical body.
Combining the techniques of physical fitness (work outs) and Hatha Yoga can bring about general physical health and wellness.
As we keep working, practicing, and learning more, Tapas can begin to fade. Our workouts become less enjoyable, the task becomes more challenging. Our interest decreases or we become bored with the repetition. When this happens, we can become frustrated because it doesn’t feel as exciting as it did when we first began. We want to be better, to feel what we felt. We want to access what we had before or quickly become adept at something new. The challenge becomes greater and the work more difficult. This is the point in our practice when it's time to return to Svadhyaya or self-study.
Refect upon where you began and how you used to feel. Consider that which has changed about your physical body. What feels different? What do you wish to continue to change? In doing so, you begin shifting your practice from simply being about the workout and, now, being about working-in.
Stick With It
Yoga can be tricky. It offers us great gains, growth, and wellness. Each of us has the ability to maintain and move forward on our paths. However, as these tangible, physical rewards seem to decrease, the challenges begin. We must learn to honor our limitations, push ourselves further and work-in.
Be an observer of your self. Notice the subtle changes in your appearance, wellness, thoughts and general outlook on life. Stick with the practice and you will soon be practicing Yoga everywhere. As you do so, you will continue to reveal your Self.
Guest Blog by Ashley Burns
Traditionally, healthcare providers treat mental health conditions with medication and forms of therapy. Alternative methods of treatment are not considered as often. One alternative method for specific mental health conditions, yoga therapy, and thrives on a calm and patient environment. Yoga inspires body awareness through poses and controlled breathing techniques. When yoga therapy is used as complementary treatment for both anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, it can reduce physical stress responses such as high heart rate, blood pressure and respiration levels in the same vein as exercise and self-soothing techniques.
Multiple studies reveal how yoga therapy can improve mental health and become proper treatment for symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders, according to a Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Controlled breathing techniques, which are a significant aspect of yoga, can aid in the treatment of depression. In 2005, a German study evaluated two different groups of women with emotional distress; one group practiced yoga and the other did not receive any intervention. The yoga group practiced yoga two times a week for three months. The researchers noted that the women in the yoga group reported improvements in stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue and other factors associated with emotional distress at the end of the study. The women also reported less physical pain and better sleep compared with the control group.
Along with depression symptoms, yoga therapy has also been shown to help with PTSD symptoms. Individuals with PTSD experience unwanted flashbacks or nightmares, a feeling of constant fear or danger, depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and more, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. A study revealed that a group of United States active duty military personnel deployed in Iraq who practiced yoga felt less combat stress than a group that did not, according to an article in the Huffington Post. In the study, 35 United States Air Force and army personnel participated in nine sessions of the “Yoga Warrior method,” a mash-up of hatha yoga and sensory-based occupational therapy techniques. After the nine sessions, the yoga group reported increased feelings of relaxation, reduced anger and sleep improvement.
Yoga therapy has proven to be a capable addition to the treatment of people with depression or anxiety disorders like PTSD. A handful of descriptive preliminary studies show that yoga therapy can improve the symptoms of the participants with specific conditions. Yoga therapy is a low-risk option for all involved, so medical malpractice or side effects aren’t as widespread as they are in traditional healthcare.