Yoga is for the mind. Shutting down the outside world, we attend to what’s happening inside and focus on the breath. Quieting the mind and ceasing mental activity, brain waves slow down and we settle into the present moment. Completely relaxed yet wholly energized, we experience the bliss of dynamic stillness. The mind is vitally present –a concept so efficient, so pure, and so intelligent. In Hatha Yoga, the mind expands practicing asanas, moving in and out of postures while staying connected with the breath as we move. The body feels an inner flow of energy streaming throughout and radiates harmony, peace and power.
Yoga frees the self. It creates balance through unity. Body, mind and spirit unite as each posture brings acceptance, surrender, balance and openheartedness. In the body, Yoga brings balance between muscle and connective tissue, integrating the ‘hard and soft’ of our flesh. In the mind, it merges reason and intuition, integrating ego and soul. In spirit, it marries masculine and feminine energies, Shiva and Shakti, eternally fusing in a cosmic dance of destruction and creation. Yoga yokes the self in wholebeingness, and breath is its essence. Breath, awareness and alignment develop a strong and supple, receptive and responsive body and mind. Yoga creates space in both body and mind connecting us with spirit. New strength is discovered. This strength yields unbridled power, as the body comes alive with all its juices flowing. The new energy is unparalleled to anything ever before experienced.
Yoga is for everyone. Many people turn to yoga to learn to relax or become more flexible. Those sedentary lack muscle tone, range of motion and can barely tolerate stretching due to strain, pain or discomfort. Doctors recommend Yoga to patients who are physically and mentally stressed. In asana practice (postures), we learn how to let go of tension and relax. Bodybuilders, runners and athletes produce hard, tight bodies. Sports enthusiasts develop muscular imbalances from repetitive, uneven use of muscles, and ‘nine-to-fivers’ compress the muscles of the spine sitting in an office all day and tense muscles in the neck and shoulders working at a computer. A committed Yoga practice benefits by opening up dead, shut down spaces within. It revitalizes circulation and removes toxins and by-products of lactic acid and scar tissue. Yoga oxygenates and alkalizes the body, reversing the negative effects of ‘becoming fit’.
Yet Yoga is so much more. It unites opposing forces within, Yin & Yang, the feminine and masculine energies that animate us. Yin (feminine) energy expresses in our connective tissue: stable, unmoving, stiff and unyielding. Its hard, inelastic characteristics refer to the tissue around joints, ligaments and fascia (broad bands of connective tissue). Yang (masculine) energy represents in muscle tissue, the moving, changing, soft and elastic characteristics that refer to muscles and their tendons. Muscle and connective tissue co-exist in the body. They represent opposite aspects of physical power –the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ of it. As we move our bodies, bend our joints and stretch muscle and connective tissue, we engage the whole bodymind uniting opposing Yin Yang energies.
Yoga is a means of self-discovery. Withdrawing from the chaos of the world, we find a quiet space within to experience a state of consciousness unbound by space or time. Leaving the material world and its trappings, we connect with intuitive awareness, the higher realms of consciousness and awaken the higher self that opens us to universal laws and cosmic truths. Yoga is passage into altered states of mind that become a vehicle for transformation, self-healing and transcendence. Ultimately, it is the conduit into cosmic consciousness.
The world of the Yogi has many paths. The path of the acetic Yogi departs from the modern day Yogi. The former seeks detachment from the physical universe; whereas the latter endeavors to experience reality beyond the material world remaining anchored in it. The modern Yogi aims to bring divine consciousness down to life on earth, without conceding that physical reality is an illusion. Contrarily, the acetic Yogi refers to physical reality as Maya, the world of illusion, and enters altered states and multi-dimensions via meditation, chanting sacred sounds (mantras), devoting to Vedic scriptures, indulging in ritual using mudras and yantras, and moving energy through the chakras awakening mystical energy (kundalini) along the spine. Both Yogis consciously evolve the spiritual aspect of being, and both hold the energy for the other because Yoga frees the mind from judgment. True Yoga brings realization that behind a reality that is always changing, there also exists a reality that never changes.
Pilates is a mind-body technique that brings mental awareness to how we carry ourselves –how we hang in space– when we talk on the phone, drive in our car, sit at the computer or stand in a grocery line. Spinal awareness seeps into consciousness, and this sensibility attunes us to the etiquette of energy and the power of our energetic anatomy.
Pilates awakens the core. Unlike weight training that generally works one isolated muscle group at a time, Pilates initiates all movement from the core abdominals using breath and alignment to employ the entire body uniformly with every exercise. Specific emphasis focuses on ‘The Powerhouse’, the lower, transverse abdominals, which are supported by stabilizing muscles of the low back, gluteals and scapula. These supporting muscle groups anchor the body to efficiently utilize the core. Strengthening while lengthening, Pilates engages muscles from the inside out, leaving the rest of it (arms, legs and neck) free to move efficiently and effortlessly with grace and ease.
Envision a brick building. It only takes one brick out of place to weaken the entire structure. Spinal imbalance reveals muscles that are weak, misaligned or asymmetrical. As creatures of habit, we use our stronger muscles and avoid using the weaker ones –throwing the body further out of balance! Poor body mechanics creates faulty neuromuscular patterns; and over time, trauma settles in connective tissue that holds congested energy. The result is stiffness and rigidity. Areas deprived of free-flowing oxygen become vulnerable to fatigue, inflammation, strain, pain, misalignment, injury and disease. More hazardous is the commensurate onset of respiratory imbalance that alters our biochemistry. Shallow breathing reflects improper oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and potentially leads to breakdown in all bodily systems.
The Pilates Mat Technique engages us in a one-on-one relationship: bodyweight and gravity, without the use of equipment. Mat work is good for a beginner because coordinating breath with movement demands concentration and presence. It’s less complicated without use of the larger pieces of Pilates apparatus.
The Pilates Equipment uses coiled spring resistance to strengthen, lengthen and tone. The central piece of equipment, The Universal Reformer, is a bed-like platform with a moving carriage that slides along tracks with springs. The practitioner pushes or pulls against a metal bar or leather straps. Exercises are performed reclining, standing, sitting, and kneeling. Alignment is maintained when tracking the muscles correctly to energize, strengthen, lengthen and balance. Another major piece of equipment, The Cadillac, (also known as The Trap Table) is a bed with chrome framework and attachments from which leg springs, a push-through bar, and trapeze swing suspend. Other pieces, The Ped-A-Pul, Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel, The Neck Corrector, Toe Corrector, Magic Circle, Jumpboard, etc. facilitate total body conditioning.
Joseph Pilates told his students, “You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions and have a completely new body in 30 sessions.” The Pilates Method is unique in that it creates space, balance and freedom in the joints while strengthening, lengthening and integrating the muscles of the entire body.