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. 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.
So what’s yoga all about?
Yoga is not just a form of exercise. It means ‘to unite’ or ‘mental peace’ depending on which Sanskrit root of the word ‘Yoga’ we focus on.
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.
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!
Satya Loka School of Yoga and Traditional Tantra’ manual
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati