Yoga is a 5000 year old system of techniques for achieving overall well-being. Most people think yoga is just a set of physical exercises, but it is much more than that, it is also proper breathing, mindfulness, proper diet, cleansing and meditation. They say yoga is when we are doing everything with 100% of our awareness. Yoga comes from India and first records of it can be found in Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. There are many branches in yoga, like Ashtanga , Kundalini, Hatha, Bhakti, and so on, focusing on different aspects of the practice – breath-work, bodywork, energy and so on. Each of them has its place and benefits, but we will talk generally about the benefits of the most common yoga practice worldwide today – Hatha yoga.
Yoga means ‘union’ and refers to the union of the body, mind and soul that we achieve by practicing, meaning that we are working on all levels of our being.
These are the most obvious benefits of doing yoga, starting from better posture and balance, gaining strength and endurance, flexibility and coordination. Yoga postures, so called asanas, foster better circulation and bring fresh blood into all of our organs. Muscles become stronger and our bones more flexible. We learn how to breathe properly and as simple as it sounds, this brings about many changes to how we manage our body – we gain a new body awareness that further helps us clean our diet and avoid self-destructive habits. Yoga lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as adrenaline, cholesterol and blood pressure. There are exercises that focus on calming the mind and clearing stuck energy. With every asana, yoga brings something to each body part and each organ, incorporating both exercise and relaxation.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
Yoga calms the so called ‘monkey mind’ and brings awareness of the present moment as we have to be in our bodies when we exercise. We achieve the much talked about mindfulness and focus only on the now. This automatically relieves stress, anxiety and depression, since these are mainly caused by negative thinking patterns. So as we learn how to control our mind more, we learn how to control our emotional states. Recent studies have shown yoga is beneficial in the treatment of emotional disorders like ADHD, PTSD, OCD and even schizophrenia, probably due to the decrease of the respiration rate and the increase of the amino acid and endorphin – the happiness hormone. Sleep, digestion and intuition also improve as a result of a regular yoga routine.
Once we become balanced in our body and in our mind, we are more likely to reap many spiritual benefits, like finding meaning and purpose. There is a deeper sense of gratitude and fulfillment that brings joy and ease into our daily lives, we are just more satisfied and appreciate our experiences more. We can also have major insights that foster our spiritual awakening leading us steadily on our way to higher states of consciousness, overcoming our limited belief systems and outdated patterns of thought that don’t serve us any longer. In one word, yoga is a path to the ultimate goal – enlightenment.
In conclusion, yoga is an individual practice and there is no one right way to do it. You start where you are at now and take your time respecting your body’s limits, only pushing a little further each time. Yoga in this sense is the practice of overcoming our own limitations and perfecting ourselves. Everyone can do yoga, regardless of their age, gender, physical condition, location or religion. The best thing about yoga is that you can easily adapt it and merge it into any lifestyle, all you need is a mat, a little time and some dedication to your well-being.