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5 Things You Should Learn in Yoga Class (But Probably Aren’t).

It’s possible to take hundreds of yoga classes and still be ignorant to yoga’s fundamental theory and principles. Here are 5 things you should learn in yoga class that you probably aren’t.

I took classes several times a week for years, always paying attention to my teachers, but some seriously important information about yoga was simply never discussed.

When I went through my teacher training eight years after my very first yoga class, I was shocked to realize that I actually had no idea what yoga really was about: not only had I been practicing in ways that were more harmful than helpful for eight whole years, but I felt like I had missed out on experiencing something deeper.

I’ve since learned of yoga’s potent powers, which can be attained if we practice correctly and understand the target we’re after. When we dedicate so many hours to yoga every week, shouldn’t we be making the absolute most of it? 

Whether you’re a beginner or have an established practice, here are the principles no student should miss:  

1.  Practice yoga on an empty stomach. 

Firstly, this means waiting four hours after a heavy meal and at least one hour after a light meal (such as fruit). Our digestive systems need a lot of energy to function properly. It follows that redirecting that energy to yoga postures can disrupt digestion. And since digestion is the cornerstone of health, practicing yoga on a full stomach could negate the health benefits you’re after.

Secondly, don’t drink anything a half hour before or after your practice. It’s also not a good idea to sip water throughout a class (although styles like hot and bikram yoga that induce sweating may advise otherwise).

2.  The best time to do yoga is in the morning before breakfast. 

This is when your stomach is inevitably empty—as it should be when doing yoga. It’s also a way to prevent injury. Our bodies are naturally more stiff when we first wake up than at the end of a day’s activity making it unlikely to overstretch. Morning joint and muscle stiffness will begin to subside as you develop your practice.

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The two hours leading up to sunrise, named brahmamuhurta in Sanskrit, are especially conducive to yoga and meditation. This is when the atmosphere is pure and quiet. The mind is relatively empty of thoughts, alert and fresh.  You may feel more determined to take on challenging asanas (yoga postures) in the morning than you do at the end of a long day. 

The second best time to practice is around sunset, when yoga can relieve fatigue from a hard day’s work. It’s a wonderful way to relax and unwind. However, an evening practice will limit you as some yoga postures and breathing exercises are too invigorating and stimulating to do before sleep.

Though morning and evening are best, yoga can be practiced at any time of day as long as you adhere to the guidelines on eating and drinking. It may not be realistic for you to wake up at five AM to do yoga. You will benefit no matter when you choose to practice, so find a time that works for you and be consistent, practicing around the same time every day. Yoga will naturally become part of your daily routine as regularity creates discipline. 

3.  Each yoga posture has a purpose and benefits.

Even those who have never practiced yoga know that it makes the body flexible. However, this is only one of its many physical effects. Yoga’s benefits go far beyond flexibility, reaching the deepest layers of the body. 

See also: Each Yoga Pose Has It’s Benefits: Top 25 Favorite Poses

Every asana, or yoga posture, has a physical purpose. Each one targets some area of the internal body; stimulating organs and glands so that they properly function, strengthening muscles, or improving joint mobility. They bear effect on all body systems: nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, digestive, respiratory, urinary and reproductive.

Many asanas target the spine in some way. After all, yogis say that you’re only as young as your spine is healthy. Most yoga postures make the spine strong, supple, and flexible; all the while improving circulation and nourishing the nervous system. 

A well-rounded yoga sequence will have positive effects on the entire internal body.  

Yoga might strike an uninformed student as an obscure game of twisting and convoluting the body, but once you know the vast physical benefits of the poses, you’ll probably be more enthused to continue your practice.  

4.  We can get so much more out of yoga than just exercise—it’s actually a spiritual practice. 

Yoga is undeniably a phenomenal form of exercise.  It improves the functioning of all body systems without putting unnecessary stress on the body. It’s powerful effects are not limited to the physical, however; nor is its ultimate goal restricted to the body alone. Yoga is a science with a spiritual aim, meant to bring us to a higher state of awareness.

Yoga is considered a sadhana, or spiritual practice. It’s not simply exercise but a deep, vast science that traditionally incorporates many practices to raise consciousness and awareness. Traditional yoga includes poses and postures as well as ethical codes for living, meditation, breath control, ritual, mantra and pure diet.  

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It teaches us how to harmonize our bodies with mind and soul. Yoga is concerned with the inner self, a higher consciousness, and the goal of self realization or enlightenment.  Yoga’s ultimate aim is to guide us to true happiness and everlasting bliss. 

If you only do yoga for a workout and aren’t interested in it’s spiritual effects, your practice will still have a positive influence on your health.  But it’s important to know that a greater yogic philosophy exists should you choose to learn it in order to make the most of your practice.

5.  Practicing with awareness is imperative. 

This includes being conscious of the sensations throughout the body, the posture itself, the synchronization of breath with movement, and noticing any thoughts or feelings that may arise. In the beginning it may feel like asanas are only concerned with the physical because they focus on movement of the body, but when done with awareness they influence and harmonize all levels of being- physical, mental, emotional, psychic, pranic (life force) and spiritual. It’s tempting to let the mind wander to all manner of affairs when you’re practicing, but being mindful and observant is essential to receive yoga’s maximum benefits.

It would be a shame to miss out on yoga’s greatest effects. Knowing how and why to practice make all the difference in taking yoga from a workout to a means of being our best selves, inside and out.

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Reference:

Swami Satyananda Saraswati.  Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha.  Bihar, India:  Yoga Publications Trust, 2008.  Print.

Mindful bonus with Yoga’s Richard Freeman:

Relephant Reads: 

Things Your Yoga Teacher is Dying to Tell You (but Probably Won’t) 

A Yogini’s Biggest Mistake(s)

5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for Yoga Teacher Training

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: PexelsWiki Commmons

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Reply to Mark LaPorta cancel

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Mark LaPorta Jan 22, 2019 6:01am

some of these are important.

magnuslamagne Jan 7, 2019 3:34am

Trying to think thoughtful thoughts
Yet my mind is restless
Trying to walk an eight-fold path
Yet my feet won’t move
Trying to mind the air that breathe
Yet my lungs are weary
Trying to see truth in life
I reach for the BIBLE and learn about the ways of JESUS

Ankur Mar 31, 2016 1:03am

There are a lot of words in Vedic-Yogic tradition which get lost/distorted/diluted in translation to English; maybe because of cultural differences and the effect it has on language.

Words like Maya, Sadhana are almost always wrongly translated to mean ‘illusion’, or ‘spiritual practice’.

Sadhana, though is essentially a spiritual practice but the literal meaning of sadhana is ‘to align’, it can be described as act of aligning. A sadhu is a person who has dedicated his life to aligning his being with the universal/super consciousness. Yoga means union.

Some traditions in yoga maintain that yoga is not just an excercise, as pointed here beautifully but also a way of life: yoga is forever and throughout; yoga is in union, with so many dimensions of experience through the manifest reality, EVERY MOMENT! You are/can be in state of yoga while taking a walk, while waiting through a traffic jam, while having a meeting, while working. Yoga is not an excercise, it is a state and practice at all levels and states, practice of yoga of breath, practice of ypga pf postures, practice of yoga in sex, practice of yoga in relationships, practice of yoga in work and in life makes one a ‘yogi’,meaning ‘one who has dedicated his life to, and/or is in the state of union’.

Doing asanas without awareness of each moment and of our ever changing multi dimensional experiential filed, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and energetically with the help of breath and movement and postures is a Waste, there is no ‘union’ happening then, it is then reduced to just some and sadly, only a physical activity.

In our popular modern culture today, (the mostly americanised ‘global’ culture we all are being fed), we tend to segregate things into neat categories, and feel good about it. Eg., Physical problems/symptoms, are different and separate from mental/emotional problems and symptoms, that spiritual practice and economic practice, are different, that mind and body are separate things! Categorisation is fine to just study a subject in depth, but it seems that such demarcations start seeping into our psyche and we start ‘believing’ that spiritual practice and daily living are separate, that,for example, a headache or a skin infection or even a serious disease like cancer has nothing to do with what we ‘ingest and/or nourish’ everyday; not just food, but beliefs, emotions, thought projections and our deep level emotional wounds/sorrows etc.

All these beliefs start reflecting when we consider yoga as just another commodity available in the market of various ‘excercises’. With no disrespect to all the other forms of exercise, confining yoga to a ‘thing you do FOR …..(add your own reason: spiritual practice, weight loss, exotic tradition adventure, or to fit in, or to feel good about yourself etc.)’ is the biggest trap! We can’t apply the sense of ‘what is this gonna do for ME’ to yoga.

Yoga is not a dress, or a vacation.

Yoga is certainly not just ‘postures’.

Yoga is a way of life, an every moment work. Work for union. Union with our shadow selves, union with our deep rooted stuck patterns of perception and beliefs, union with the infinity and beauty of life, union with all that is manifest and that which is not, and union with awareness of being, forever..Till we are being GIVEN this breath to witness the world in all its wonder and horror and beauty.

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Julie Bernier

Julie Bernier teaches women the art of self-care so that they feel their healthiest and happiest in their own unique bodies. This holistic approach to individualized wellness is rooted in the ancient Indian knowledge of ayurveda: a complete medical science and way of life which explains that our wellbeing blossoms when we align ourselves with nature. Julie is a registered ayurvedic practitioner with the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, a Certified Massage Therapist, and a classical hatha yoga teacher. She studied each of these modalities in the US and straight from their source in India. Connect with Julie at trueayurveda.com and check out her upcoming events in LA: ayurvedic cooking basics and ayurvedic skin care.