When people think of yoga, they most often think of the physical aspect: poses, flows, and contorting the body into positions to improve flexibility. But that’s really only one part of the overall practice.
Yoga is underpinned by five key principles, believed to make up the foundation of living a healthy life. Here’s what they are and how they can help you to live more healthily both on and off the mat.
Proper Exercise (Asanas)
A typical Western yoga class focuses primarily on this element of the practice. The postures and poses that make up the physical side of yoga are called asanas, and they are designed to improve flexibility, strength, and overall fitness. A more vigorous yoga workout will also raise your heart rate and give you a cardiovascular workout.
You can embody this principle by making time for physical exercise every day. Combine stretching with strength training and cardio for optimal all-over fitness.
Correct Breathing (Pranayama)
How often do you breathe deeply? Doing so increases oxygen intake, boosts lung capacity, and lower heart rate. Yogis believe that pranayama helps to connect the mind with the physical body.
When you find yourself getting stressed, pause to check in with your breath. Breathe in deeply for four counts, then exhale completely for four counts. Repeat a few times and you’ll find that you feel calmer and less stressed.
Our busy modern lifestyles are not conducive to proper relaxation. But rest is vital for physical health, restoration, and mental clarity. Many yoga classes end with savasana, also called the “corpse pose”, a whole body relaxation posture.
Incorporate the principle of savasana into your life by remembering that rest is vital. Taking the time to pause, do nothing, and sink into relaxation isn’t indulgent or a waste of time. It is essential for good health.
Yogis often follow and recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet. You don’t have to go completely veggie unless you want to, but your diet should focus as far as possible on whole, nutritious foods. Aim to get plenty of fruits and vegetables, pulses, and whole grains, and prioritise organic and locally-sourced food if you can. Limit your consumption of meat, white flour, fried foods, sugar, and alcohol.
Meditation and Positive Thinking
Yogis know that the mind and body are intimately connected. This means that the way we think has very real implications for our health. By shifting negative thoughts to positive ones and practicing gratitude every day, we can live more happily and healthily.
Just five minutes of meditation daily can have big benefits. First thing in the morning, when you get home from work, or right before bed are all good times to fit it in. Look for free guided meditations online, or just sit quietly and bring your attention to your breath. You could also try keeping a daily gratitude journal to practice positive thinking.