Perhaps you are celebrating the summer solstice—or longest day of 2016—with classic American pursuits like swimming, shopping, working long hours or exclaiming over the latest online political uproar. Yet if you haven’t tried it, there’s no time like today—the International Day of Yoga—to join the 36.7 million Americans actively practicing yoga. That’s a gain of almost 17 million people since 2012, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study.
Mona Shah Joshi, director of the Art of Living Foundation in Georgia and meditation instructor for the foundation, is here to help you get started.
“The combination of yoga and meditation is one of the most essential ways to find happiness within yourself,” Mona says. “Our very nature is to be happy. And we are often looking for happiness in external situations. When you are able to tap into that inner source of happiness, then you radiate happiness regardless of the situation outside.”
She offers a simple yoga pose and breathing exercise to help you begin.
- Stand with your feet comfortably apart.
- Slowly raise both the arms sideways until they are horizontal.
- Exhale, slowly bend to the right side and place the right hand just behind the right foot (as far down as you can stretch).
- The left arm is straight up, in line with the right arm.
- Turn the left palm forward.
- Turn your head and gaze at the tip of the left middle finger.
- Remain in the posture for 10–30 seconds with normal breathing.
- As you inhale, slowly come up.
- Repeat for the left side.
- Prevents flat foot.
- Strengthens calf, hamstring, thigh and waist muscles.
- Makes the spine flexible, improves lung capacity.
Read more: Four Yoga Poses to try Right Now
Alternate Nostril Breathing:
- Sit up straight but comfortably and close the eyes. Use your right thumb and ring finger to alternately block one nostril so you can only breathe through the other nostril.
- Start by exhaling out the left nostril, breathe in, then switch sides. Switch sides after each inhalation.
- Breathe normally at your own relaxed pace with some attention to completing the exhalation but without forcing it.
- Calms the mind in as little as a few minutes.
- It is an excellent practice before meditation or to calm intense emotions.
Yoga in a traditional sense is not just the stretching exercises that we understand them to be in the United States, but it’s a combination of all of the above: yoga, breathing, meditation, all of that together.”
The movement relaxes the body and brings you back to the present moment, and the breathing helps eliminate stress. About 85 to 90 percent of our stress and toxins can be eliminated through the breath, she says, adding that most of us use only about 25 to 30 percent of our breathing capacity.
“Is it any wonder that we are so tired at the end of the day?” she asks. “So when you’re doing all of this, it really brings about a transformation, even in a new practitioner.”
A rich history
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, yet the 2016 study shows that 74 percent of American practitioners have been doing yoga for less than five years. Mona notes adventurous new incarnations of yoga that have recently appeared, including aqua, aerial and even equestrian yoga!
“But there’s such a beauty to the original practice of yoga itself that should not be overlooked,” Mona says. “You don’t need any equipment. It’s just stretching with awareness of what’s happening in the body and breathing with awareness of what’s happening in the mind and bringing yourself back to the present moment. And that is so powerful that no other tools are required.”
Bring only yourself
“Anyone can start practicing today….You will emerge more joyful, more centered, more relaxed and happy and better able to face all the challenges that come at you.”
Learn more about the International Day of Yoga, the Art of Living Retreat Center and other upcoming yoga events happening near you.
Donna Stokes is Executive Editor of Live Happy magazine.