As humans, we can be very disconnected from our bodies, each other and from nature. We yearn for something to fill that gap, occupying life with so many different distractions … We forget to be present, to notice our breath, to listen to the birds, laugh with our neighbours, watch a storm, stretch like a cat or even observe our own bodies fully… Doing these things in a conscious way can help us to feel more alive, happy, fulfilled and in time to feel more connected to ourselves, those around us and our world.
Many yoga poses (asanas) were named after and reflect the movements of animals. This came about when ancient sages in India observed how animals live in harmony with their environment and own bodies. Early practitioners of yoga would experience the effects of a posture including how the hormonal secretions could be stimulated and controlled. For example the ‘rabbit’ or ‘hare’ pose helped them to influence the flow of adrenaline responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. This imitation of animals helped to maintain health and meet challenges of nature.
The Sun salutations or Surya Namaskara are a dynamic group of asanas that were handed down from enlightened sages as a greeting of honour and respect to the sun. Connection with the sun or solar energies are encouraged during practice, a further way in which yoga can help us to connect with natural energies, sunrise being the best time. Similarly, the Moon salutations are intended to connect us more with the lunar cycle.
So what’s yoga all about?
Yoga is not just a form of exercise. It means ‘to unite’ and Traditional Hatha Yoga uses a wide range of practices to bring harmony to the body and mind. The word Hatha represents polar energies, both in nature and in our bodies, for example hot and cold, male and female, good and bad, positive and negative, consciousness and the soul, etc. Hatha Yoga practices can help us to balance these opposing energies by unifying them, enabling us to attain spiritual prosperity and physical and mental well-being. We may as a result experience more unity consciousness or ‘oneness’ in our lives.
The practices of Hatha yoga are set out in the latter six of the eight limbs of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These include:
- physical postures (asana),
- controlled breathing (pranayama),
- withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara),
- concentration techniques (dharana)
- and meditation (dhyana).
- They can lead to ‘spiritual realisation’ (samadhi).
The other limbs are the ‘Yamas’ – ‘universal vows’ to give guidance on living in society and the ‘Niyamas’ – disciplines for purification.
So again, why yoga and nature?
A good yoga practice (amongst many other benefits) is purifying and helps to harmonise body and mind. This may help us to feel more connected and at peace with the world around us. One of the Yamas or vows for example is non-violence (ahimsa) towards ourselves and others. It recognises our intimate connection to everything on the Earth and in the Universe.
Traditional Tantra is an energetic approach to yoga and a complex tradition from ancient India. It is a living body of knowledge which sees everything in the universe as interrelated and interconnected. Hatha Yoga with Tantra is practised with the awareness of Earth energy, cosmic energy and relates this to the energy system in the body, as defined by yoga philosophy.
Therefore during a yoga class, I may encourage observation of energy in the body. Hatha yoga recognises that holding the asanas for at least 2 minutes not only allows for a deeper opening of the physical tissues but also an energetic response more profoundly than if held for shorter times.
The potential benefits of Hatha yoga are many, here is a summary:
- creates flexibility in the physical body
- tones the muscles and strengthens the bones
- increases circulation of blood and bodily fluids
- tones and massages the internal organs
- improves the functions of the endocrine system
- rejuvenates the cellalar body, glands and organs
- rejuvenates and balances the central nervous system
- may cure disease in the body
- calms the heart rate
- releases prana (vital life force) into the body
- activates the chakra centres, stimulates the nerve groups
- increases brain activity
- helps to clear the nadis and meridian pathways
- kundalini awakening (rise of primal energy) – this is not taught but practices will help to prepare the physical and energetic body for such an awakening
- prepares the body and mind for meditation and union with divinity
After yoga practice, I find this purification and union, alongside the physical, mental and emotional benefits, enable me to be much more receptive and sensitive to the beauty and connectivity in nature. My mind, body and senses are clear. What better place to be therefore, after yoga, than in nature herself, to experience greater connection with the air, water, earth and perhaps even fire! And to observe plants, animals and the intricate connection between everything – ourselves included! I invite you to have your own experience of yoga and nature.
Satya Loka School of Yoga and Traditional Tantra’ manual
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses by Dr. David Frawley