Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practised for health and relaxation.
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female practitioner, a yogini.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas(observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).
Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
The word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.
Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
How Is Yoga Different From Stretching or Other Kinds of Fitness?
Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali’s eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.
I’m Not Flexible—Can I Do Yoga?
Yes! You are a perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that’s a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to play tennis in order to take tennis lessons. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible.
This newfound agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being.
Other physical benefits of yoga include:
- Increased flexibility.
- Increased muscle strength and tone.
- Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
- Maintaining a balanced metabolism.
- Weight reduction.
- Cardio and circulatory health.
- Improved athletic performance.
- Protection from injury.
- Perfects your posture
- Betters bone health
- Protects your spine
- Drains Lymphs and boosts immunity
- Drops your blood pressure
- Regulates your adrenal glands
If you are one of the many millions of maturing adults looking to slow down the hands of time the answer may be as simple as turning to your yoga mat. According to a new study, intensive daily yoga practice is linked to an increase in two key substances linked to youth and longevity: Growth hormone (GH) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS).
The study is one of the first to explore whether yoga impacts biochemical markers of healthy aging. As we age, the amount of GH and DHEAS in our bodies decreases markedly. GH, or somatotropin, is a peptide hormone known to stimulate cell growth and reproduction. In other words, it is related to the generation of new tissues like skin and muscle. DHEAS is an androgen (hormone) produced in the adrenal gland. It is linked to immune function and heart health among other factors.
Previous studies have shown that regular exercise is associated with increased levels of GH and DHEAS throughout the lifespan. A group of scientists in India decided to test whether this would also apply to regular yoga practice.
Forty-five, “untrained” adults (30 male) ranging in age from 34 to 53 years were assigned to either a yoga group or a waitlist control condition. Those in the yoga group engaged in yoga practices of increasing intensity, 6 days per week for 12 weeks. Participants in the control group engaged in their typical activities.