What is yoga?
The original intention of yoga was to connect the body, mind and spirit. Sadly, the state of yoga today is to see it as "exercise", a way to tone muscles and maybe sneak in 30 seconds of Savasana (final resting pose) if we're lucky.
I have been fortunate enough in my own training to experience yoga as an integrated practice- one that not only brings attention to the body, but also works towards this body-mind-spirit connection. It is this integrated practice that has truly brought transformation to my life.
Modalities of Integrative Yoga
There are several modalities we practice in my integrative yoga class:
All classes begin and end with grounding practices (noticing our body, mind and emotional tone, aka, spirit). We then do movement, whether rigorous or gentle, to bring attention to the body.
"Let your breath guide your movement"
I say this a lot in class, but what does it mean? It means, for example, when your inhale begins, you lift your arms overhead when your exhale begins, you lower the arms. You do the movement in time to your breath, not the teacher's, not the other students'.
Why? Because moving to the rhythm of your breath creates the mind-body connection. It brings us out of our heads (where we spend the most time, stressing and fretting) and into our bodies. This is key to building a mindfulness practice.
Moving in time to our breath also allows us to slow down, which is key in this fast paced world.
Slowing down-harder than it looks
This is not power yoga. We move into and out of poses slower than other yoga classes you may be used to- and we hold poses longer. Why? So the body can really start to experience each pose in a more authentic way. The goal is to experience each pose, not to get through as many poses as possible in one hour.
Why is moving slowly so hard? Because we are wired to do everything fast. Fast is good, slow is bad. Fast is productive, slow is wasteful. In yoga, this is just not true. Yet because we are conditioned to move fast always, when we try to slow down, we can actually feel anxious at first. It may not feel good in your body at first. If this is the case, go at the pace that is comfortable for you. Even if you can slow down just a fraction, this will help build your mindfulness practice.
At least once a class, we will set ourselves up in a restorative pose. This is a pose that is designed to be held for at least 4-6 minutes and is supported with props such as blankets and blocks. The idea is that by holding a restorative pose, the body starts to release tension as the parasympathetic nervous system moves us towards a state of calm.
Are you sure a foot massage is yoga?
If you've been to my class, you've probably experienced a "mindful foot massage". How is this yoga?
a) we are slowing down
b) we are connecting to our physical body - not robotically, but with care, with attention. We look at our feet, we notice how they feel, and we tend to them with care
c) as we connect to our body, we learn to take care of ourselves without needing doctors or medicine (to a certain point). We start to notice patterns in our body and we know which movement will relieve us of pain.
Balancing your system with Acupressure and Reiki
Acupressure is a vast field in itself. For the purposes of our class, we apply light pressure to various points on the exterior of our body which aids to clean out toxins from our major organs, as well as works to improve digestion, sleep and even congestion.
Reiki is a healing modality which originates in Japan. There are subtle energy fields in each person's body. As a Reiki practitioner, I place my hands on your head, shoulders, or feet near the end of class which causes an energy exchange between us, bringing your system into balance. Some people feel warmth from my hands; others feel different sensations.
There are people who are not comfortable receiving Reiki and that is absolutely your choice. You are always welcome to opt out.
Benefit of Breath Awareness and Body Scan
We bring attention to our bodies at least once a class. We may practice breathing patterns common to yoga, or we may do a simple breath awareness meditation (simple observation of inhale and exhale). What are the benefits?
Observing our breath allows us to come into our "rest and digest" or parasympathetic nervous system. It allows the mind to slow down and it builds the mind-body connection.
Similarly, a body awareness scan (where I name body parts such as eye, nose) and you bring your awareness to them, is designed to achieve the same goal: slowing down, connecting to the body, bringing calm and ease to the physical body and thus, the mind.
Savasana- final resting pose
We all know the word, but what is the purpose of savasana? This final resting pose- where you set yourself up comfortably, and just be- allows you to integrate the entire practice. To bring the mind-body-spirit connection, which is the entire purpose of an integrative yoga practice.
Note: many people do doze off during savasana. There is nothing "wrong" with this; it is just an indication to just how tired many of us are.