Unity Woods Yoga Center Fall 2009 Newsletter | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

Unity Woods Yoga Center Fall 2009 Newsletter

A couple of newsletters back I wrote about how the Unity Woods logo came into being and what my thinking was in creating it, and the significance of the various components. As there wasn't space then to talk about the three words that appear at the points of the triangle, I said I would do so in subsequent newsletters. In the last newsletter, I discussed the relevance of the first of the three words: health. Now we come to the second: serenity.
Needless to say, health and serenity are not separate and distinct. Our physical health unmistakably affects our mental health. And this being a two way street, our state of mind plays a huge role in the quality of our physical health. Unity Woods teacher, Alyson Ross, recently presented a program at the Bethesda studio on Yoga and the Physiology of Stress in which she described the current state of research regarding the effect stress has on physical health. The data is powerful and unequivocal in connecting the importance of our reactions to stress to our physical well-being.
But serenity has meaning and importance beyond physical health. The word derives from the Latin word serenus, which means clear as well as calm. Clarity and calmness are important benefits of yoga. Indeed, one of the common portrayals of the yoga practitioner is that she is calm and serene. How many ads have you seen on TV and in magazines of a woman in a white leotard sitting in half lotus on a beach or in a forest glen, eyes closed, a gentle smile on her face, obviously in a state of quiet bliss? (Of course, it's not the yoga that's responsible for this, but the anxiety medication she just took or the new car she bought.) Even in everyday life, however, real examples of this common conception exist. People in the building where I teach have often commented on the calm demeanor of the students leaving from their classes, and unless these students are all secretly popping stress meds in the lavatory, the yoga is clearly having that effect.
There are a number of reasons why yoga has such a calming effect. The physical activity of doing the postures, just as with any exercise, stimulates chemicals in the brain that engender a state of happiness and contentment. And by directing attention to the subtleties of the postures, the mind is drawn from its usually scattered nature to a more focused, one-pointed state. This focused state allows the practitioner to let go, at least for a time, of many of the day-to-day worries that can produce distress and anxiety. Furthermore, the guided relaxation that comes at the end of class (or throughout the class if it's a restorative class) teaches the student to recognize where she is holding tension in her body and mind and how to let go of that tension.
Breathing is also a powerful contributor to creating serenity. The shift in breathing that occurs when the poses (asanas) are done properly relaxes the mind, and the more direct practice of pranayama (yogic breathing) promotes this calming effect to an even greater degree.
On another level, one of the important things the sincere and persistent student of yoga learns through his practice is that there are things in his body and mind he can change, things he can't, and that with practice, he can begin to distinguish between the two. This discriminating wisdom helps to foster an attitude of acceptance of the ways things are that brings about contentment. The realization that he also has the power to change the causes of his discomfort energizes him and carries him forward in his efforts toward that end. And finally the conflicts within him that come from uselessly struggling with the things he can't change begin to fall away.


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