The practice of Yoga brings with it many physical and emotional benefits that the majority of people are unaware of. This article is quite long, so we have broken it up into two parts. The first part is an introduction to Yoga and a overview of the major physical and psychological benefits of Yoga, while the second part shows how practicing yoga daily can have a profound effect on your ability to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself.
Yoga is a science; and indeed, in many places in the world (such as India), it is referred to as a science. This is not merely playing with words; it truly is approached as a science, which means that it is understood in terms of scientific methods.
Yogic science seeks to verify cause and effect, and build principles based upon objective observations. Indeed, in many places in the world, to be a yogic master of any credibility, one must be highly educated in the sciences, including physics and the biological sciences.
This discussion on yoga as science is important for us to include because it allows us to sensibly ask the question: what are the benefits of yoga? After all, if yoga is a faith or a belief, then asking this question isn't fair; because it's one that yoga cannot answer in terms that we can objectively understand.
Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a science; as empirical and pragmatic as kinesiology, or exercise science, which seeks to understand how the body acts and reacts to changes in the internal physical environment. And even more simply than any of this: each of us has a right to ask the basic question, "why should I bother practicing yoga and what experience or benefits can I expect?"
Indeed, while the experience of yoga cannot be reduced to words – just as reading a book on preparing for a marathon isn't going to actually physically prepare you to run a marathon – the goals and principles of yoga can easily be discussed.
Here's the Mayo Clinic's take on the benefits of meditation:
"Meditation is used by people who are perfectly healthy as a means of stress reduction. But if you have a medical condition that's worsened by stress, you might find the practice valuable in reducing the stress-related effects of allergies, asthma, chronic pain and arthritis, among others."
Yoga involves a series of postures, during which you pay special attention to your breathing — exhaling during certain movements and inhaling with others. You can approach yoga as a way to promote physical flexibility, strength and endurance or as a way to enhance your spirituality.
The Mind-Body Connection
Yoga is centered on the mind-body connection. This mind-body harmony is achieved through three things:
- postures (asanas)
- proper breathing (pranayama)
Mind and body draw inspiration and guidance from the combined practices of asanas, breathing, and meditation. As people age (to yogis, ageing is an artificial condition), our bodies become susceptible to toxins and poisons (caused by environmental and poor dietary factors).
Yoga helps us through a cleaning process, turning our bodies into a well synchronized and well-oiled piece of machinery.
By harmonizing these three principles, the benefits of yoga are attained. And just what are these benefits?
- equilibrium in the body’s central nervous system
- decrease in pulse
- respiratory and blood pressure rates
- cardiovascular efficiency
- gastrointestinal system stabilization
- increased breath-holding time
- improved dexterity skills.
- Improved balance
- Improved depth perception
- Improved memory
Teachings of Yoga
As noted above, Yoga also delivers an array of psychological benefits; and in fact, this is a very common reason why people begin practicing it in the first place. Perhaps the most frequently mentioned psychological benefit of yoga is an improved ability to manage stress. Yoga diminishes an individual’s levels of anxiety, depression, and lethargy; thus enabling him/her to focus on what’s spiritual and important: achieving balance and happiness.
In part II of the Benefit of Yoga we'll reveal how yoga can help deal with stress, unhealthy habits and pain management. The benefits of Yoga go far beyond meditation and stretching, it is a way to release those toxic emotions that tend to stand in the way of living a healthy life.
Yoga was developed in India at least three thousand years ago, and is a discipline that uses breath control, meditation and physical exercises. There are number of things about yoga that make it particular appealing, chiefly because it helps to promote mental and physical well being. The purpose of the philosophy and technique is to achieve a heightened awareness, and ultimately, to attain spiritual enlightenment.
First, there are some basic principals about yoga that are an integral part of its teachings. These come mainly from the Bhagavad Gita, which is one of the primary religious texts outlining ways to achieve liberation from one’s worldly worries and desires.
There are many different types of yoga, and one of the most popular forms in the West is hatha yoga, which focuses on strengthening, toning and relaxation. Most yoga exercises focus on proper positioning of the body in various postures. One of the high points about yoga is its benefit to overall body health. Daily practice improves strength, suppleness, and circulation. It promotes relaxation and increases range of motion, which helps to reduce the likelihood of muscle strain. Many people use it as a primary source of exercise, and others use it complementarily – such as with running, to help strengthen a host of different muscles.
Yogis believe that breath is the bridge between mind and body. Pranayama are specific exercises in which the person breathes deeply, concentrating on the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils. This puts the person at ease and allows their muscles to warm up gradually. This focus on breathing allows deep muscle relaxation, releases tension, and induces a tranquil state.
Yoga can be especially useful to older people and those with disabilities who are recovering from an illness. However, anyone can benefit from the slow, gentle exercises and the positive effect they have on hormonal balance, alleviating depression, and increasing strength and flexibility. One of the best things about yoga is that it is accessible to people of all ages and physical fitness levels.
One of the important differences between yoga and a typical workout exercise is an emphasis on process. While many exercise programs encourage you to push and strain every muscle in your body, to eradicate the ‘negative’ things in your body, the positive thing about yoga is that it has an entirely different approach. It focuses on developing awareness of the body as it is, accepting and working within its limits.