Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has many physical and spiritual benefits. In this article, we highlight a few of the many physical benefits of a regular yoga practice. In general, yoga increases flexibility and strengthens various muscles, improves the immune system, digestive system, and nervous system just to name a few of the benefits. Regular practice of yoga also decreases blood pressure through better circulation and oxygenation of the body, and will also help to lower the heart’s pulse rate. When blood circulation improves, the body and its internal organs receive more nutrients and oxygen, providing a healthier brain, skin, and organs.
In the practice of yoga one uses her or his body weight for overall strength and since motions are controlled, there is a low risk of injury. Yoga poses involve long, fluid movements and the main focus is on controlling the body’s movements. This in turn can help to ease pain, loosen stiff muscles, increase mobility, and reduce symptoms of arthritis in the joints.
Yoga also improves ones focus and concentration by focusing on the yoga poses and breathing. I know for me, Dristi is one the key requirements for any of the balancing poses such as Tree pose. Dristi is a focused gaze, which is a means for developing concentrated intention.
And the most important benefit of yoga for me is that yoga heals. I know because it helped me through so many of my injuries in the last 10 plus years. Yoga rebuilt my muscles, taught me to be patient and kept me calm through ankle, knee, shoulder and many other injuries. So, I truly believe yoga is for everyone and can help anyone, just remember to go at your pace and listen to your body as a guide at all times in any form of yoga practice.
EXPLORING THE HISTORY OF YOGA
While yoga’s history goes back to 3000 years ago, the practice of yoga has been evolving over the years. Today, there are a number of different yoga practices and schools around the world. Its purpose is to help each one of us achieve our highest potential and to experience enduring health and happiness.
Contrary to the popular belief, yoga is not a fitness program although there are many physical and spiritual benefits resulting from a regular yoga practice. To be exact, the Sanskrit translation of the word derives from the word, yuj which means to unite, to join. The true meaning of yoga is union; the union of mind, body and spirit. Or in words of B.K.S. Iyengar, “Yoga means union. The union of the individual soul with the Universal Spirit”.
The ancient yoga was written and explained in the yoga sutra’s, which are the principals and basic teachings of yoga outlined in short verses. Sage Panjali, was the compiler of the Yoga Sutras explaining the theory and practice in 196 sutras which were written prior to 400 CE. The second sutra of Panjali further explains the meaning of yoga as the sensation of the mastery of the mind.
It is important to understand that there are several paths to yoga: Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Raja Yoga, offers a comprehensive method for controlling our thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. Raja yoga is also often called Ashtanga Yoga referring to the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control. The eight limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, leading a yogi to enlightenment. We will explore the eight limbs of yoga at another time.
Bhakti yoga, refers to a spiritual discipline meant to bring the yogi to a state of pure love of the divine. Through prayer, worship and ritual one surrenders oneself to the divine, channeling the emotions into unconditional love. More specifically, the term Bhakti refers to the devotional interpretation of Vedanta. Vedanta is one of the 6 popular India classical schools of philosophy.
Karma yoga, is the yoga of action for which one purifies the heart by selfless service. In this practice one detaches oneself from the fruits of his or her actions and offering them up to the divine. And lastly, there is Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge or wisdom, which requires strength of will and intellect where one uses his mind to inquire within.
Although Raja Yoga is the most popular practice form of yoga in the west, there are many ways for which one can achieve the ultimate state of yoga or Samadhi. Finding your individual path, is part of the journey to enlightenment.
Yoga By Pooneh