Last summer my yoga took me to Italy, where I practiced yoga and meditation every day in a remote farmhouse in Tuscany, surrounded by hills and forests. By autumn, yoga again took me travelling, this time to Peru, where I hiked the Andean mountain range.
I was with a small group of yoga teachers and as we travelled through Peru we delivered yoga sessions to the local villagers. The villages are embedded into the mountains with stunning views of ancient Inca trails etched across a remote landscape. The people dress in amazing coloured ponchos woven from Alpaca wool; the ladies wear thick alpaca woollen skirts and the men woollen trousers. Everyone wears sandals on their feet and everyone has a huge smile to give a weary hiker.
The direct translation of yoga is to ‘unite’ and this can mean to unite body and mind through poses and mindfulness. However, it can also mean to unite people; people attending yoga classes together, people united in performing the same poses as one in a class and even a bunch of yogi hikers turning up in a remote Peruvian village to teach an impromptu yoga class.
One of the places we visited was a weaving business run by a local lady who employs ladies in the village to weave beautiful clothing to sell to tourists and also to export. The ladies are empowered to sell their own garments and keep the main percentage of the profit. However, weaving is hard work and they spend many hours sitting in a hunched over position while threading strands of wool to create colourful and intricate patterns. So, yoga was the perfect answer for them, to get up and stretch their bodies and to have some yoga fun.
The benefits of yoga can be far reaching and diverse, because each individual finds their own ‘yoga space’. For some it’s the physical aspect of the poses; the strength that builds in the muscles and bones through completing a series of asanas (poses). For others it’s the space to be mindful (dharana); to raise their own self-awareness of the energy that flows around the body and how the breath (prana) helps us to manage our nervous system.
The benefits of yoga on the body can be seen in numerous ways; increasing flexibility in the joints and muscles, promoting strength in the muscles and bones, increasing blood flow around the body helping to supply the heart, lungs and muscles tissue with oxygenated blood and the maintenance of correct posture to support the spine which helps to improve balance.
The benefits of mindfulness include; helping to create focus and concentration, aiding rest and relaxation, engaging the para sympathetic nervous system to release tension and stress, encouraging a deeper sleep pattern and building an inner strength to help trigger coping mechanisms.
‘Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self’ (The Bhagavad Gita).
You never know where yoga might take you; I spent New Year’s Eve this year in a Yurt high on the cliffs on the English south coast…but that’s another story.