Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has been practiced for literally thousands of years. The main ideological idea of yoga is to form a union of the personal self with the universal self – thereby attaining divine consciousness. The use of meditation, breathing and various poses has always been a part of yoga.With the introduction of yoga into western culture, the health benefits of yoga have been largely popularized and solicited. But what are the health benefits of yoga? Are there other benefits to yoga besides physical health? We attempt to explore this question in detail with this article.
Physical Health Benefits of Yoga
Anyone who has seen the practicing of yoga asanas (physical poses) can determine that there is some physical benefit to performing these poses. Yoga poses vary in difficulty from beginner to advanced poses that require extreme flexibility and stamina. Therefore, it can easily be concluded that yoga poses (asanas) can significantly increase flexibility, agility and stamina. But yoga can benefit the body in more ways than the obvious three. Here is an outline of how yoga can benefit the body physically:
Flexibility and Muscle Tone: Not only does yoga help with flexibility, but it helps with the flexibility of joints and ligaments that we rarely use in everyday activity. Virtually every ligament is affected in most yoga asanas and therefore our ‘entire’ body learns to be flexible. In addition to ligaments and tendons, muscles that may not be used in everyday activity are forced to flex and relax repeatedly, significantly increasing muscle tone and helping you to lose weight.
Lubrication of Joints, Ligaments: By performing Yoga poses, the body starts to lubricate your joints and ligaments (some of which have been relatively dormant and thus not lubricated), helping to not only reduce the chances of joint issues, but also helps the body become more flexible in general. It has been proven that even some basic yoga poses induce the body into lubricating certain rarely used joints – even if they aren’t being directly stimulated in the exercise.
Detoxification: Detoxification is a big part of yoga, and is sometimes exacerbated by techniques such as “hot yoga” or Bikram’s Yoga. By messaging all of your organs and glands, and by flexing all muscles and using all your joints, yoga helps ensure that your entire body is getting optimum blood circulation. This helps nourish your entire body, and cleanse your body of any toxins.
Internal Organs and Glands: An integral part of most yoga techniques, yoga poses are virtually the only widespread exercise that actually massages your internal organs. This is not unintentional – many yoga practices like Ashtanga Yoga, specifically target your organs. Many organs and glands are targeted in yoga asanas including the perineum and prostate, with numerous benefits.
In addition to the above points, yoga as a form of exercise can also help you lose weight. The reasons are multiple – first of all, simply exercising your body takes energy – which burns calories and fat, which in turn helps you lose weight. Exercising also helps increase your metabolism, allowing you to metabolise foods faster and thus not allowing them to turn into fats for storage. Exercising by performing yoga can also make you more active and full of energy, facilitating other exercises you may not normally participate in (taking the stairs, walking or cycling instead of driving, playing sports, etc.
Yoga, particularly Ashtanga Yoga, can also help align the joints, particularly the spine. In many cases, spine-aligning yoga poses are used as physical therapy and sometimes in lieu of a chiropractor (or indeed prescribed by one). By aligning the spine and other joints, one can rid themselves of back, leg and foot and neck pain.
Other Health Benefits of Yoga
Besides the physical benefits of yoga, there are many other health benefits. For example, many yoga practices, including the ever popular Bikram Yoga, not only practice yoga poses, but also breathing control and mental focus. As hard as it is for some to believe, simple breathing exercises can actually help with some of the most prevalent and dangerous health conditions today. For example, tests have shown that practicing proper breathing techniques akin to Yoga Pranayama can significantly reduce blood pressure, which can in turn reduce the risk of both stroke and heart attack.
Yoga also focuses on mental focus. Using meditation techniques and focal points to clear your mind can help eliminate the single largest contributor to illness – stress. By using meditation techniques, you can significantly reduce stress in your life, and generate an overall sense of well-being. Stress, which is related to hundreds of illnesses and disorders, is something that can be overcome, subdued and eventually completely eliminated with yoga meditation and mind cleansing techniques.
Beyond the Microscope: Spiritual Health and the Secret of Wellness
In addition to all of the above health benefits of yoga, we as a Western society sometimes overlook perhaps the most important benefit of yoga – spiritual healing and well being. Whether or not you believe in an internal ‘spirit’, it’s usually quite easy to point out people you know who can be said to be spiritually ‘balanced’. Balancing the spirit is a culmination of physical and mental wellbeing. Yoga is a perfect example of how to create spiritual well being in your own life. Basically it amounts to this: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind = Healthy Spirit.
Keeping yourself healthy, reducing stress, knowing your body – all of these are direct benefits of yoga. By meditating, reflecting and contemplating, you can use yoga to find an overall balance in your life. Depression, anxiety, compulsion – all of these can be controlled and eliminated through the use of yoga mental and physical techniques.
And although not all of these benefits can be qualified with a microscope, it’s quite certain that if you start asking those who practice yoga, they will never have a negative thing to say about it. Often they will invite you to join. There is no tithe, no declaration of commitment, no oaths, and no rite of passage. Simply bring your yoga mat and you’re ready to start your new life of well-being and balance.