Yoga Is Innercise: The Principle Every Yogi Needs Know
Not so long ago, when MindBodyGreen published my first article '8 Ways Yoga Can Promote Weight Loss', another article came out that said exercise won't help you lose weight. And it's a great article. It suggests, and I hope I'm paraphrasing correctly, that we need to cultivate attitudes of self-love, and realize the essential role of nutrition. I agree completely. However, it put yoga in the same category with exercise. Yoga is innercise. It's the opposite of exercise.
True yoga, practiced correctly, with the proper technique, form, alignment, intention, focus, breath, care and love, will heal. At every level. Even at the level of the mind. It's that powerful.
When we do yoga there is a presumption that we're using it as a means of nurture and nourishment and inspiration -- connecting to the Supreme Entity. If people use it as a means of self abuse, self-flagellation, then I don't know what they're doing. They probably should attend one of my classes sometime. If someone is thinking or feeling, "Man, this is tough, gritting teeth, ugh, I hate my body, I hate where I am right now, I hate what I did last night, if only I could do this pose, I could make up for it and achieve all my goals!" Is that yoga? Never was, never will be. It could be considered exercise.
The intention of my article to use yoga for weight loss remains aligned with the principle of yoga as innercise. Reading that article closely, you'll find yoga for weight loss actually works according to healing, invigorating and restorative principles. It makes it clear that both the teacher and student are aware that how you lose weight through yoga is by healing deeply those parts of yourself that are out of balance - the liver, the metabolism, the nervous system, the mind, etc. If you think that yoga is about burning calories, think again. It can be an intense practice but intensity with intelligence. Mindless exertion will drain you and sap you vital strength. Whereas yoga is working with a very deep understanding of nature and aligns you with that.
Yoga is infinitely more subtle and powerful than exercise. Because yoga works on completely different principles. Exercise works on the principle that you work your body so that it becomes exhausted, broken down. Then when you rest really well, and eat fantastic nutritious food, you will recover, plus one. So assuming you eat wisely and rest wisely, and you don’t exercise too intensely too often, hopefully you end up better than before you started.
Yoga is innercise. Innercise functions on a different principle. In yoga we are using the science of slowing the breath, tensioning (also know as lengthening) the nerves, massaging the glands and organs, and circulating the blood and lymph. In this way in yoga we are constantly building up a massive storehouse of energy and strength and vital force. Yoga heals through the increased circulation of the blood, lymph, oxygen, electricity, even consciousness, around the body. Essentially yoga is moving energy with love and intelligence around the body. Think of yoga as the combination of a moving meditation and a self massage. Is there ever any tearing, or exhausting, or breaking down? No. That is why yoga is called innercise, because it efficiently increases internal flow.
Exercise tears you down so when you recover you'll be stronger -- no pain no gain. Whereas yoga can and should be done every day. Why? Because it should actually give you energy and require minimal energy. I teach and mentor many yoga teachers and I often ask them, 'How much energy should you use in this posture?' And because they're incredible people they always seem to answer, 'Just enough.' Correct! You should feel good now, and feel good later. If you immediately feel refreshed, relaxed, calmer, centered, connected, creative, then you know it's the real deal.
You should never force or push the body into an asana. Forcing and pushing the body is missing the point of yoga all together. There is a saying that poets and women should never be coerced. It will only result in suffering, and the desired result will not materialize. Similarly, never use force in teaching or practicing asana.
Finally, it's ideal to do yoga postures with a higher purpose. A small goal in mind is okay - only weight loss, only flexibility. But they are secondary outcomes of your yoga practice. And they happen naturally in time as we practice regularly with a pure intention and love. The primary goal of yoga postures is to connect to the higher self by strengthening the nerves, balance the glands and organs, and circulating energy around the body. Thereby the flow of energy will bring about health, longevity and tranquility of mind.
If you remember this when you are practicing yoga postures, you will find that you will progress much faster. But even just as importantly, you will really enjoy your yoga practice. It will be a joy; it will be light and a great pleasure. I always say that the secret of having a regular personal routine is not judging yourself; just loving whatever your best is at the time.
To learn a deep secret principle of how yoga works click here.
To learn more about meditation or yoga, check out The Essential Guide To Meditation With Charlie Knoles and The Complete Guide To Yoga With Tara Stiles.
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