You’ve probably heard about the connection between meditation and yoga, but did you know that yoga is way more than just stretching, twisting yourself into a pretzel, and holding poses for long periods of time?
Yoga encompasses so much more than just the physical. If you look up the definition of yoga, you may find that it means “union” or “to connect, unite or yoke.” As an experience yoga teacher (E-RYT) and life long student, I like to think of yoga as the connection between my mind, body, and spirit – all the things I do to make myself a better version of myself.
Yoga actually has eight limbs. In the Yoga Sutras these are known as: the yamas – moral disciplines or moral vows which include non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, using resources wisely, and letting go of greed; the nyamas – positive observances that include cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self study, and self-surrender to a higher power; the asanas – the postures, poses, and stretches which we are going to dig into deeper later in this article; pranayama – Breathing Techniques; pratyahara – mindfulness, being so focused in the moment that you don’t notice the distractions; dharana – focused concentration; dhyana – what we know as meditation; and samadhi – the ultimate state of bliss or as some call it, enlightenment.
I was surprised to find out when I was learning about the history of yoga, that the actual physical stretching and poses were practiced so that students could better sit for long periods of time. One of the practices that would involve a long period of sitting was meditation – hence the connection.
Stretching (asana practice) provides both physical and mental preparation for meditation. You can make your sessions more productive and comfortable by working on your flexibility. You’ll be able to sit longer and more comfortably. See what the perfect combination of stretching and meditation can do for your total well-being.
There are many physical benefits of stretching – here are just a few:
You are able to sit more comfortably. A limber body adjusts more easily to any pose. You’ll be able to sit relaxed on a chair, a meditation cushion, a mat, or even the floor.
You can recover your posture. Slumping in front of a computer or television screen shortens and tightens your muscles. Stretching exercises, when done correctly, can help to correct your alignment and carry your body weight more efficiently. You’ll look better and be protected from many common injuries. Some people actually recover inches that have been lost to slouching over the years, and measure taller than before they started their practice.
You will be able to breathe more effectively. Controlling your breath while stretching will teach you how to breathe slower and deeper. Stretching also revs up your circulation, letting the blood and oxygen more easily reach every part of your body.
You can sit longer while meditating. Even a few minutes of meditation can produce dramatic results. However, the most valuable realizations often come from being able to sit for longer periods of time.
Stretching isn’t limited to only physical benefits, there are also mental and spiritual benefits:
The more you practice, the more you are able to shift your attention inwards. Stretching promotes mindfulness. You are able to focus more on your body movements, position, and breathing. External cares drop away.
Being able to focus will also heighten your awareness inside and outside of meditation. You’ll find that your mind is more open, your intuition grows stronger, and you will discover greater knowledge within yourself.
You will feel more energized throughout the day. You’ve probably noticed that even small body movements can help you wake up when you start to drift off during a boring meeting. A nice long stretching session every day is an ideal way to increase the energy flow throughout your body.
You will worry less when you are more focused on what you are doing. You’ll realize there is no point in worrying about the broken dishwasher or your child’s report card. They will all be worked out at some point in time. You’ll see faster results from stretching when you engage both your body and mind.
Since stretching boosts your concentration, you can apply that ability to your meditation session as well as all your other daily activities. Set the intention to focus on something specific while meditating. Sometimes it is as simple as focusing on your breath See how long you can watch your breath. Bring your attention back each time you catch it drifting away. Don’t get discouraged if your mind wanders, that is very common at first, and even though it gets better over time, it can still happen with the most experienced meditators.
If you are new to the physical side of yoga, there are many free videos available, as well as beginner classes in the community centers, yoga studios, and fitness centers. If you prefer to try it on your own, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Practice sitting poses. The traditional lotus position awakens your energy level and quiets your mind. If you’re just starting out, a half lotus or easy sitting pose will generate some of the same benefits.
Do some twisting – either seated, standing, or lying down. Twisting from the waist squeezes out toxins. It helps your circulatory system and internal organs function better. It is also beneficial if you need some relief from gas or bloating (sorry if that’s TMI).
Strengthen your core muscles with basic things like leg lifts, sit ups, planks – whatever you feel in your abs. Many stretches invigorate muscles in your back and abdomen. Be mindful if you have had back issues or currently have back issues, and get some professional advice before doing any strenuous core work. If you are able to push yourself you will be able to sit longer and have more energy for your daily tasks.
Try to release any neck tension. Sitting and sleeping in awkward positions can create chronic neck issues. If you have difficulty lowering your head to your chest, try some gentle head rolls and other movements to put things back on track. If that isn’t working, I’ve personally had some amazing success combining chiropractic care with my yoga practice.
Wiggle your toes, rotate your ankles, and point and flex your feet. You might be surprised to discover how much your toes can move once you give them a break from being squeezed into shoes all day. Curling and spreading your toes, and getting movement into the other parts of your feet will cut down on foot pain and help stabilize your balance – especially helpful for those of us living in the north this time of year.
Recharge your meditation practice by training for flexibility. Increasing your range of motion reduces stress and muscle soreness. You’ll feel more supple and peaceful during your meditation sessions and all the hours in between.
Find your purpose – find your joy!
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Did you find a few more ideas of your own? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and as always please reach out with your thoughts.