The word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body-especially the main channel, the spine-so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon". This refers to the balance of masculine aspects-active, hot, sun and feminine aspects-receptive, cool, moon-within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.
Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
Two American yoga teachers are most often credited with the near simultaneous invention of Power Yoga on opposite coasts: Bryan Kest, based in Los Angeles and Beryl Bender Birch, based in New York. Both were part of the second generation of American Ashtanga students, in that Kest originally learned from David Williams and Bender Birth from Normal Allen. Williams and Allen were both among Jois's first western students. Kest went on to study with Jois in Mysore, India. Bender Birch, who had previously done Sivananda,Kundalini, and Iyengar yogas, worked with Jois during his trips to the U.S. in the 1980s.
Kest and Bender Birth both used the term Power Yoga to differentiate the intense, flowing style of yoga they were teaching from the gentle stretching and meditation that many Americans associated with yoga. Bender Birch has said that when she first started calling her classes Power Yoga, she still taught the Ashtanga sequence of poses.
Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment. Meditating is deceptively simple. A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, "Nothing happens next. This is it."
When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for "fight or flight." While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.
No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract it by learning how to produce the relaxation response,a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.
When the relaxation response is activated:
Your heart rate decreases
Breathing becomes slower and deeper
Blood pressure drops or stabilizes
Your muscles relax
Your muscles relax
In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice.
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