Yoga is an ancient system of Indian philosophy. The Sanskrit word yoga has been interpreted in many different ways but it is widely accepted as meaning ‘union,’ as in the union of our physical, mental and spiritual selves. It is said that the union of these aspects of ourselves enables us to experience our true nature. On a more practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions.
The science of yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point. When the body is out of balance disease will manifest – yoga aims to bring the different bodily functions into harmony so that they work for the good of the whole body and unite mind and body.
Yoga is described as having 8 limbs
Yamas and Niyamas: Ten ethical precepts that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family and our community.
Asanas: Physical postures designed to keep the body strong, flexible and relaxed. Their practice strengthens the nervous and other bodily systems and can remove blockages in the flow of prana (life force or energy).
Pranayama: Breathing practices aimed at developing our lung capacity, and the control and constancy of movement of prana.
Pratyahara: Sense withdrawal – the drawing of one’s attention toward silence rather than toward things.
Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – 3 stages towards returning the mind to original silence. Meditation.
However we choose to define yoga we can see that in the west most people are attracted to the physical side of the practice, namely asana and pranayama. This is an excellent place to start and for many people will be the foundations on which a deeper practice is built. When people experience the stillness of the mind that can be achieved through ‘physical’ yoga; when they experience the union of mind and body; when they find a place of inner peace that is seldom found in everyday life – they are beginning a wonderful journey. For many people yoga becomes a lifetime practice.
Benefits of a regular yoga practice
Yoga has many benefits. The list below is by no means exhaustive:
Improved Strength, Flexibility and Fitness – Yoga postures stretch and strengthen muscles and put joints through their full range of movement. The result is greater flexibility and improved muscle tone. Combined with appropriate breathing, they provide exercise that increases fitness without being tiring.
Improved Posture – Postures encourage grace of movement and improved posture as they work on realigning the skeletal structure of the body and training people to hold themselves properly.
Agility and balance – Yoga postures increase balance making you more agile and giving you more confidence in movement. As a result you are less likely to have accidents.
Health and energy levels improve – Yogic breathing strengthens the diaphragm and encourages deeper, freer breathing. As this becomes more habitual energy levels and health improve radically.
Relaxation and Stress Management – Stretching muscles helps them to relax. Deep relaxation is a key ingredient of yoga and is conducive to deep, refreshing sleep. This relaxation feeds into your daily life, reducing your stress level and making you more relaxed generally.
Better general health – The energizing, relaxing and balancing effect of yoga all serve to boost the autoimmune system, helping it to prevent and fight illness and disease.
The list of illnesses acknowledged by the medical profession as ‘psychosomatic’ grows every year. The peace of mind which yoga brings serves to heal and prevent these illnesses and symptoms.
Yoga exercises massage and tone the internal organs and balance the glandular and endocrine systems. They thus serve to regulate the chemistry of the body helping it to remain free from disease.
Live longer, live healthier – Many people who take up yoga find that they are able to live an active and healthy life well into their seventies and eighties.