Yoga's melodic path: Connecting mind, body, and spirit

Subhasini Naicker Wednesday 12th June 2024 06:44 EDT

Yoga, originating from ancient India, is much more than a physical exercise regimen. It's a holistic practice that encompasses the union of mind, body, and spirit. The word "yoga" itself means union or connection, signifying the integration of various elements of the self to achieve harmony and balance. 

While physical postures, or asanas, are a prominent aspect of yoga, the practice extends beyond mere stretching and strengthening. It includes breathwork (pranayama), meditation, ethical guidelines (yamas and niyamas), and philosophical teachings that guide individuals toward self-awareness, inner peace, and spiritual growth. With a rich history spanning thousands of years, yoga offers a pathway to well-being, self-discovery, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the universe. 

Kanwal Ahluwalia, a dedicated practitioner of Hatha and Yin yoga for over 16 years, has found profound solace and spiritual connection through her practice. Since 2010, she has been sharing her passion for yoga with others as a teacher. Introduced to yoga in her 20s, Kanwal's journey with the practice has been transformative, shaping not only her physical well-being but also her mental and spiritual growth.

Speaking about nutrition playing a role in Yoga, Kanwal said, “Yoga, of course, is closely linked to Ayurveda, its sister practice. Ayurveda includes concepts such as the dosha system, which categorises elements in the body and offers guidance on how to eat according to one's dominant dosha. This approach is highly individualised, aiming to balance each person's unique constitution. Similarly, traditional Chinese medicine offers extensive nutritional advice and emphasises a holistic approach to health. Both systems share a focus on individualised wellness and the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit.”

“For instance, the yamas and niyamas, ethical principles in yoga, guide us not only in our interactions with others but also in our self-care practices. Nutrition, therefore, plays a significant role in maintaining physical health, as it influences our overall well-being. It's about more than just what we eat; it's about how we nourish our bodies to support our yoga practice and cultivate a balanced lifestyle. From preparing the body for physical postures to calming the mind for meditation, nutrition becomes an integral part of fostering the mind-body-spirit connection central to yoga philosophy.”, she added. 

Yoga’s transformative power with Indian classical music 

When Kanwal began teaching Yoga, she integrated classical music into her practice, which proved beneficial for people, particularly those coming from stressful work environments.She said, “When you play Indian classical music during yoga sessions, there's a noticeable calming, grounding, and centering effect on people. You can literally see them relax before they even step onto the mat—their heart rates slow down, their stress levels drop, and they start transitioning into the yoga space rather than staying in the hustle and bustle of their day. Indian classical music is believed to have a strong healing role due to its resonance with the chakras, the energy centres located along the spine. Each chakra is associated with a specific sound, and playing this music can profoundly affect physical, emotional, and energetic healing."

“Indian classical music aligns with the body's natural rhythms, with different ragas played at specific times of the day or even seasons to harmonise with the body's attuned sounds. For instance, in a morning class, I play morning ragas to maximise the benefits. Many people who attend my classes may not initially understand Indian classical music, but that's part of the process. It's an entry point to something broader, making this genre accessible to larger audiences and enhancing the overall yoga experience,” she added.

Kanwal noted that while many newcomers to yoga may be unfamiliar with classical music, and many Indian classical musicians may not prioritise well-being, creating a space for deeper connections can lead to transformative experiences. This intersection allows individuals to connect with their bodies, transcend mental distractions, and feel part of something larger, be it the universe or personal beliefs. Both yoga and Indian classical music offer holistic paths to deeper, more spiritual practice beyond the physical.

A single breath has the power to either calm or induce panic

Kanwal emphasised about incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques in her classes. She said, “Most of us, myself included, begin our yoga practice with focused breathwork. A single breath has the power to either calm or induce panic. By slowing down and deepening our breath, we shift from the fight-or-flight response to a state of relaxation. Starting classes with breathwork helps ground participants and transition them from a stressed state to one of presence. This initial focus on breath also cultivates body awareness, a vital aspect often overlooked in our busy lives.”

“As we turn our focus inward through breathwork, we shift from experiencing the world through our minds to experiencing it from within our bodies. This shift is the foundation of meditation and mindfulness practices. By slowing down and entering a state of parasympathetic calmness, we can pause our immediate reactions and become more centred. Breathwork, particularly pranayama, plays a crucial role in calming individuals, complementing the physical aspects of yoga practice. Tailoring our approach based on the energy in the room, we can offer practices that either energise or relax participants, catering to their specific needs. Given the demands of modern life, cultivating calmness is often the priority for most practitioners,” she added.

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