Union and Connection
In Sanskrit, the word 'Yoga' means union or connection. Whilst it has become a popular 'sport' in the West, mindful practice of yoga as awareness of the breath, body and mind can have powerful benefits for physical, mental and spiritual health. There are many definitions of yoga and many forms, but yoga is not about achieving the perfect posture, turning into a pretzel or looking good on the mat!
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
True yoga is a noticing and finding union of breath and body in meditative movement or stillness. With mindful awareness of imbalance, differences between left and right, tension and relaxation, it is possible to make subtle adjustments and restore balance, strength, energy and healing to our being on all levels.
The average person takes over 23,000 breaths per day! Mostly this is unconscious and happens without awareness, after all, if every day was spent focusing entirely on the breath, we would have little time for anything else!
Through bringing conscious awareness to the breath however, we can train our bodies to breathe differently and more fully. Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and in doing so, regulates and calms the body. In stressful situations the sympathetic nervous system activates and results in shallow, fast breathing. Taking a minute when you are anxious to mindfully breathe, notice areas of tension and relaxation and focus on slowing down can immediately relieve and bring calm to a situation.
When practicing yoga, awareness of the breath (and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system) allows the body to release, stretch more deeply and find stillness.
"Saying you're too stiff to do yoga, is like saying you're too dirty to have a bath!"
Peter Clifford - Anahata Yoga
In an ordinary day, we sit, walk, stand and occasionally run. These habitual and repetitive movements are all linear and exercise similar muscles. No matter how stiff or inflexible your body feels, the simple actions of twisting, bending and rotating the joints, muscles and fascia in different directions increases flexibility, tones and realigns. Holding and easing into asanas allows the body to relax into a position, allowing muscles to lengthen, fascia and connective tissue to release whilst strengthening the core.
Taking time to stretch when you wake up and before sleeping is a great way to start and end the day. Yoga does not have to be practiced for an hour at a time in a gym or studio - five to ten minutes twice a day can have an immediate impact to release tension, promote relaxation and increase wellbeing.
Styles of Yoga
If you're unfamiliar with yoga, the many styles and variations can be a little overwhelming! To help you identify which may be a good fit for you, we have included a brief description of the styles of yoga on offer at Gratitude Vietnam!
Using props to support the body, restorative yoga places a focus on being at peace in body and mind. Truly an opportunity to switch off from the world, restorative yoga offers active relaxation through relaxing into positions for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. This is a fabulous yoga practice for those seeking rest and deep relaxation.
Yin yoga is similar to restorative yoga in that positions are held for a longer period of time, typically between 1 to 5 minutes. Yin yoga focuses on deeply releasing fascia and connective tissues and primarily targets the lower half of the body, This practice also activates the energetic channels in the body (meridians or nadis) to release blockages and promote deep healing, peace and stillness of body and mind.
Hatha is a general term for yoga practice that incorporates asana (posture) and pranayama (breath) to bring peace, balance and stillness to mind and body in preparation for deeper meditative and spiritual practices. Most yoga practices fall under the category of 'hatha' unless practiced purely for their physical benefits (which you could argue is then not technically yoga!).
Vinyasa (Flow yoga)
Vinyasa yoga is moving meditation! With focus on the breath as the body seamlessly transitions between asanas, Vinyasa yoga is practiced with the intention to connect every action in life with movement towards what is most sacred, or important to us. Vinyasa is a flowing and dynamic practice and a fabulous way to energise at the beginning of the day.
Yin Yang Yoga
Yin Yang yoga combines gentle stillness with movement and flow. Opening with breath focused flow and energising Vinyasa Yoga, the first half (or 'Yang' part of the class) promotes flexibility and strength. This is followed by the stillness and active relaxation of Restorative Yoga (the 'Yin' part), allowing the body to integrate the benefits of fluid movement and
Gentle yoga is great for all levels - beginners and advanced practitioners alike. An opportunity to slow it down, to cultivate breath with pranayama exercises, to start to loosen and move prana (energy) through the body with a carefully curated sequence of poses.