Voyage Into The Self
Yoga has become an interesting fitness trend in America. Incidentally, Yoga can be an excellent way to get in shape, lose weight, etc. If this is all you do with Yoga, though, you are missing quite a bit.
Yoga is another method of contacting and expressing the self through the body. If you pay attention, going through these exercises will give you a chance to become more familiar with your body. When you learn to maintain a state of deep focus (through Yoga or any other exercise), you will begin to gain deeper and deeper insights. Properly focused Yoga practice will not only make your body more limber, it will also create greater flexibility of perception. Increasing flexibility of perception is how we start to open the doors to true freedom!
So how do we use our focus to deepen our Yoga practice? There are a variety of methods, but I will give you three to start with. To have a deeper experience while practicing Yoga, you can focus on the muscles being stretched, the breath, or the feet.
Focusing on the muscles being stretched is very powerful. As you relax into the posture, you can smile into these muscles, and deepen the stretch. Sometimes (particularly for beginners) focusing on the active muscles seems to amplify discomfort. If this is the case, then you can loosen your focus to the general area of the stretch, or choose one of the other objects of focus.
Focusing on the breath is a classic meditation as well as an excellent method of deepening your practice of Yoga. Breath-work in Yoga is typically referred to as Pranayama. If you are doing a Yoga workout, switching asanas (positions) to work up a sweat, the best thing to do is mindful diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe deep into the belly and pay attention to the sensations that arise in conjunction with the breath. If you are holding a single asana for an extended period of time, you can use the same breathing method, or you can play with the breath of fire. The breath of fire is rapid diaphragmatic breathing; see if you can use your abdominal muscles to draw in a deep (not long) breath and exhale the breath quickly. Start slowly with the breath of fire, and add speed as you grow more comfortable.
The final point of focus that we will cover for Yoga practice is the feet. Focusing on the feet has a very grounding effect; it reminds you of your connection to the Earth. If any of the other methods are too uncomfortable, or if you find yourself getting distracted, you can always bring your focus back to your feet. Pay attention to your feet, and how you connect with the Earth as you transition through asanas.
Regardless of which point of focus you choose, you will gradually develop more and more mindfulness. This can transform your experience of Yoga. One of the many benefits of having an active meditation (Yoga, a martial art, walking meditation, etc.), is how easy it is to bring it into the rest of your life. Still meditation (sitting or standing) is also very useful, but the state of insight gained there is a bit more difficult to carry into your day-to-day routine.
Yoga is a powerful method for health and growth. As you develop your focus and insight in your Yoga practice, you will be able to enjoy more insight and awareness in every moment of every day!