My cousin whom I hadn’t seen for some years, came across a photo of me on the internet in a yoga posture. It wasn’t the most difficult of postures, but nevertheless a challenging one. Her question was “… is that actually healthy?” The comment made me laugh.
Yoga has increased in popularity in the last two decades, and luckily nowadays many health practitioners and also GPs, recommend it as both a preventative and curative medicine. Yet it is still worth exploring more closely, to remind us of Yoga’s many benefits.
Luckily the things essential for our survival like, healthy food, drink, exercise, and also sex are by nature pleasurable experiences for us humans. Just think of children consistently wishing to move, run, and even contort themselves. Yoga has the potential to satisfy this urge inherent in us all, also when older. I remember the comments of various yoga practitioners over the years, that although they weren’t too keen on sport when growing up, they loved practicing yoga postures.
It is a form of ‘exercise’, which can be adopted by everyone at any stage in life.
In Yoga, the focus is not on one isolated movement or activity, but it is an all-round, whole practice, which leaves you feeling balanced, grounded, light and happy. Who could possibly resist it? 🙂
When discussing the effects of individual yoga postures in our Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher-training program, we are always marveling at how long the growing list of benefits is, for each and every posture.
Here is a brief, but by no means exhaustive summary, of the many physical benefits of practicing Yoga: – Next to an astonishing increase in both flexibility and strength, you are detoxifying on a deep level; your immune system is experiencing a great boost, your balance will improve, your core strength will increase, you will become lean with a refined muscular structure, you feel good about yourself, you’ll have healthier teeth, gums, hair, nails, skin… simply put, you’ll start to ‘glow’, feel connected, and very much yourself.
Where there is physical strength, emotional strength is easier to attain. Yoga also accesses our ‘emotional body’. It allows us to experience happiness, sadness, frustration, anger, irritability, delight, and joy etc. All of this is linked with the intent to observe these feelings, acknowledge them, and accept them to be real and valid. Over time, positive emotions will prevail and external disruptions and upheaval will leave you unshaken.
Through the diminishing of emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion, and pride, you develop and increase your strength of character. This will result in great emotional stability.
Mental Clarity, Concentration, and Intelligence
Here is where the big difference between ordinary exercise and Yoga becomes apparent. Yoga is a mindful discipline. You are moving with the breath, which not only makes any posture much more effective and powerful, in terms of increased energy flow, therefore detoxifying, and unblocking any congestion, and removing build-up around joints and organs etc. You are also asked to remain mindful of each inhalation and exhalation you are taking, training your mind to stay present, despite any external distractions. You learn to ‘direct the focus of the mind exclusively toward one object, and to sustain this direction without distraction’ (Yoga Sutra I.2).
The unique Yoga practices of Pranayama – breath control, Pratyahara – controlling and inwardly directing the powerful energy of the senses, and Yogic Meditation, are powerful challenges for our ever-racing mind. With regular practice you will gain great mental clarity, the ability to concentrate over a long period of time, an increase in confidence, and you will feel much more capable in almost every aspect of your life. The consistent practice of all the different aspects of Yoga will assist you in becoming an all-over better person; happier, more contented, capable in all areas of life. They will ultimately open you up to a path, which has the potential to lead you to liberation and freedom.
Enjoy the journey!