The Benefits Of Yoga: Physically, Mentally + Spiritually

The Benefits Of Yoga: Physically, Mentally + Spiritually

I started practicing yoga in my mid-twenties. The first class I went to was a 90-minute Hot Yoga class because I was going through a heartbreak and, like many young women who are in emotional pain from the end of a relationship, wanted to work out at the gym to make my body as amazing as possible -- almost like payback to make him feel sorry for what he was missing. Yes, I first went to the yoga studio for superficial reasons, but thankfully, what I got from it are benefits that are above and beyond the physical. I have been practicing yoga for more than a decade now and have been teaching since 2015 and my journey in this on-going practice continues to enlighten me on and off the mat.

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”– Etty Hillesum

Yoga is a popular rising fitness activity all over the world among all age groups. But just like when I started, many are only practicing asana -- the physical postures -- without realizing that yoga is so much more than being able to contort your body. Yoga, has the potential to make positive changes in your life physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Many studies show what ancient scriptures dating back thousands of years have already documented: that yoga keeps one healthy and helps foster a connection to a higher consciousness no matter what your spiritual or religious background. In fact, the roots of yoga go beyond only Vedic scriptures from India. Scholars are discovering and translating manuscripts which trace yogic practices to Jainism, Sufism, Buddhism, and even Ancient Egypt.

Yoga Means to Unite

The word “yoga” is originally from Sanskrit, and literally means “to yoke” or “to unite.” The practice of yoga is meant to unite the body, mind, and spirit to be free from suffering, hardship, and if you want to take it a step further, the cycle of death and reincarnation. Yoga is a practice that combines physical postures, sometimes woven together in a series called vinyasa, with breath control techniques (pranayama), in order to prepare the body for meditation -- the method to free one’s self from their own mind. Along with this, rules on how to live a good life are also included in yogic philosophy such as practicing non-violence and compassion, non-stealing, telling the truth, being in selfless service to others, devotional practices, and others.

All together, yoga as a complete system is gaining such popularity because no matter where you are in your practice -- whether you are following a yoga video on YouTube or going daily to a Satsang (a talk on yogic philosophy and lifestyle) at a local Ashram -- the benefits of yoga are already within your reach.

Physical Benefits of Yogasana

Starting with the easiest to measure, observe, and study, yoga has many physical benefits no matter what your age, body type, current activity level, or range of motion.

Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can improve the following areas:

  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Weight Loss
  • Back Pain Relief
  • Arthritis Relief
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Mobility and Quality of Life

Modern life is mostly sedentary. We are constantly made to sit at a desk, in a car, in front of a screen, etc.. and clean, walkable areas in cities have become a luxury. If practiced purely as an exercise to get the body moving, yoga is an excellent activity that can strengthen and lengthen muscles and tendons, lubricate joints, increases your range of motion, and allows you to be more aware of your body and how to take care of it.

Depending on the type of yoga class you take, the practice can be intense and rigorous or gentle and relaxing. Power Vinyasa, which is quite popular at many modern yoga studios, may use upbeat music as a soundtrack to a class that combines traditional asana which flow from one to the other with every inhale and exhale. These types of classes usually get the heart rate up, focus on core strength and stamina, while also increasing your flexibility to get into more advanced versions of the poses the longer and more regularly you practice.

There are also Hatha Yoga classes which will allow you to hold poses for longer periods of time and will also increase strength, balance, flexibility, and stamina. Hatha Yoga may be approached in a yang, or more activating way, or also in a gentle more yin way such as with Restorative Yoga or Yin Yoga classes.

 SOURCES:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/physical-benefits-of-yoga

https://www.thegoodbody.com/yoga-statistics/

Other Health Benefits of a Regular Yoga Practice

Going deeper than skin and bones, researchers have also found that yoga can have positive, lasting effects on chronic and even terminal diseases. These are just some of the health issues that yoga can help:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Liver Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels
  • Lymphedema Relief
  • Sleep Disorders

How does a regular yoga practice do all these? As a gentle way to exercise, the body will naturally become fitter, healthier, and better equipped to fend off disease that aggravate imbalances in the body. The breathing exercises also help to lower heart rate and sugar and cortisol levels and regulate your adrenal glands which make you happier.

When the asana and pranayama practices are followed by a few minutes of meditation, the benefits are magnified. Research shows that regular meditators have heightened activity in the left prefrontal cortex which directly affects increased happiness and immunity functions.

SOURCES:

https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/count-yoga-38-ways-yoga-keeps-fit

Mental Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation are some of the activities that even allopathic doctors are starting to prescribe to patients. It seems like modern medicine is finally catching on to what vedic sages and yoga practitioners have already known: Yoga heals.

Here are just some of the documented ways that yoga and meditation can help you mentally and psychologically:

  • Improved Focus and Concentration
  • Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD
  • Improvement at School and Work Performance
  • Mindfulness

Yoga emphasizes being present in the now. Not lingering on the past which cannot be changed or worrying about a future which has not happened yet.

Schools in India, the US, the UK, and some parts of Asia are seeing so many benefits to yoga and meditation that they are adding yoga to the curriculum and even replacing punishments like detention with meditation time with dramatic positive results so far.

It’s not only schools that are seeing the benefits. Veterans and trauma survivors who suffer from PTSD have shared that yoga and meditation helps to get back a sense of normalcy in their lives and helps them to confront their demons in a safe way on their own terms.  Many offices are starting to incorporate meditation rooms for their employees to destress while at work and prisons are seeing that meditation and yoga programs offered to prisoners help with rehabilitation and reintegration back into society, and even lowe incidents of violence among inmates.

SOURCES:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-hardy/201305/take-stand-yoga-today

http://www.worldyoganews.com/uk-boarding-school-give-teachers-emergency-meditation-kids-calm-rowdy-kids/

Spiritual Benefits of Yoga

The most popular treatise on yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In it, the mythical sage defines yoga as the quieting of the mind. It is through this quieting of random thoughts and seeing through the illusions of the world that one can connect to their higher selves or the consciousness of a greater power.

These are some ways that yoga fosters a stronger sense of spirituality:

  • Connection to Consciousness
  • Devotion to the Divine
  • Discipline and Effort for Spiritual Self Improvement

The full practice of yoga includes following the Yamas and Niyamas -- The ethical guide to living according to yogic principles. These guidelines encourage practicing non-violence, always living in truth, not stealing, and living within your means without comparing yourself to others. Some observances to be followed include continued study and self-discipline to dive deeper into uniting body, mind, and spirit.

And these are only the first two of the eightfold path of yoga according to Paranjali, with the ultimate goal being surrender of the individual to the Cosmic Consciousness.

I am mindful to use words like Consciousness rather than god because I do not want to add to the misconception that yoga is a religion. Yoga is a practice that has been adopted and adapted by many faiths of various cultures throughout history to attain the similar goal of liberation and reunion with the Divine, whatever you believe that divine nature to be.
 

SOURCES:

https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-spiritual-mental-and-self-discipline-benefits-of-yoga-9cac5e051a0f

https://kripalu.org/resources/yoga-s-ethical-guide-living-yamas-and-niyamas

https://yogananda.org/patanjalis-systematic-eightfold-path-of-raja-yoga

Many volumes of books and millions of websites exist that praise the seemingly infinite benefits that yoga can offer. People from all walks of life are sharing how yoga is helping them get healthier, heal from chronic pain or a tragedy in their lives, and even experience spiritual awakenings.

My yoga journey still continues as I experience many of these benefits first-hand. From maintaining a healthy body, which is why I initially started going to yoga classes, to observing how I am mentally more stable and able to keep my emotions more centered without dismissing them, and even finding my own path towards spiritual connection -- yoga has been a treasure that many others are also happily discovering for themselves.

 

 

Article Guest Written By Jan Diwata who is a travelling yoga teacher and innerdance facilitator. She has held space for immersions and workshops across Asia, Canada, the Middle East, and Europe. She continues to deepen her knowledge and practice of yoga, not only as a physical exercise, but as a spiritual path and incorporates her learnings with her roots in the ancestral wisdom from her Philippine heritage of healing and connection to the Divine. She is available for bookings anywhere in the world. Connect with Jan over at http://www.jandiwata.com. Read more of Jan's articles on The OM Collective here>>>

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