The Universal Appeal of Yoga

Yoga has been practised for 400 years and is a system of exercises which are very easy and effective at increasing a person’s overall health and well-being.  Yoga instructors and students alike will often talk about phrases like “being in harmony with oneself and surroundings” and indeed this is a primary goal of Yoga. The Best Yoga benefit is to achieve a unity of body, mind and spirit in a oneness with the world around us.  Yoga will teach a person to stimulate internal organs including the likes of the prostate, which is practically never exercised by any other discipline.  It will teach you to apply pressure upon glandular areas of the body and it will combine this with meditation and breathing techniques that will grant you the ability to turn your concentration inward to examine your feelings and thoughts.

There are a number of different aspects of Yoga, but one of the most appealing is that this is a set of exercises that anyone can enjoy and benefit from.  It does not require any expensive equipment or a special setting, it can be practised by anyone, man or women, rich or poor, young or old, healthy or ill.  Perhaps it’s greatest appeal has always been that it is a set of beneficial exercises that anyone can do at any time and in any place.  Yoga is even a safe form of exercise for pregnant women and prenatal Yoga classes are often recommended for expectant mothers.  A specially tailored prenatal yoga class will help prepare women, physically and mentally to become a mother.  It gives her a number of useful tools for coping with labour and the strengthening of the body means that the recovery period after giving birth will be much shorter.

There is a preconception amongst many men that Yoga is a female pastime, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yoga provides numerous benefits to men:  decreasing stress, assisting in relaxation and increasing power, stamina and flexibility across the board.

Senior citizens can get a number of benefits from a yoga course and are often the first to praise the mental advantages such as an increased attention span and a better memory both long and short term.

Even young children will benefit from a Yoga regime by stronger bones, increased circulation and a better disposition resulting from breathing exercises and the relaxation of the exercise.

Regardless of the person Yoga has a number of lasting benefits and will aid in a wide variety of different health issues.  Regular practitioners of yoga will live an overall enhanced lifestyle, are more likely to have a strong memory and better stamina combined with a stronger sense of balance.  Even late starters can use Yoga to combat a range of health disorders from Blood pressure to arthritis to breathing orders.

It’s no wonder when you consider all the different benefits of Yoga how very popular it is, and the fact that it is a regime of exercise that is open to everyone is one more big advantage of it.  It means that families can stay fit and healthy together and include everyone from the youngest child through to the oldest family members.  The exercises can be performed at varying levels of difficulty and intensity, which means that two people at completely different levels of strength and flexibility can go through the same motions and both benefit.

Four thousand years ago Yoga was practised in India, today it is popular all over the world and in numerous different styles and forms.  Not only is the popularity of this form of exercises remarkable, but so is the results and benefits that people are getting from Yoga every day.  The benefits can be broadly split into three different groups – physical benefits, mental benefits and spiritual benefits.  Which benefits are most important to an individual will vary based on their preconceptions and motivations, but anyone can experience beneficial results in all three areas from a prolonged use of Yoga.

Physical Benefits of Yoga

The first types of benefits are those purely on a physical level.  Yoga is at its core a group of exercises.  Some disciplines will use these exercises to prepare the body for a deeper meditative process, but they will still experience physical benefits from performing them as exercises.  The deep breathing exercise has immediate health benefits due to increasing the intake of oxygen into the system.  This oxygen is transported by the blood to our organs and tissues, which will become sick without sufficient oxygen and nutrients.  Frequently these tissues and organs are starved of nutrients due to a number of reasons including poor air intake or quality, bad circulation or disease within the body.  Yoga increases the oxygen intake, removes blockages in the circulation to ensure it’s safe delivery and also stimulates the lymphatic system to aid in the removal of toxins from our system, leaving our bodies autoimmune system more free to deal with invading disease or viruses.

Beyond this internal health which many people take for granted, Yoga will also greatly increase a person balance, flexibility and muscle strength.

Mental Benefits of Yoga

Many people see this as the most import benefit that we can gain from Yoga.  It will, of course, depend on what your priorities are but the mental benefits of Yoga are certainly impressive.  The ability to focus on one’s breathing has a natural consequence of allowing extraneous thoughts to melt away and a state of calmness to be introduced.  This is not a feat to be taken lightly as it provides a valuable skill in the ability to remain calm amidst turmoil.  A mother can use this when everything happens at once in the home, a businessperson can use it to focus on a single task despite everyone around him being panicked or a soldier can use it to block out the bullets and noise and focus on an important task.

Yoga also requires a high level of discipline from those practising it – both the discipline required to perform the exercises themselves and the discipline needed to stick to a regular exercise regime.  Again this is something that comes surprisingly easy to people once they have mastered the basics of the Yoga breathing exercises.

Spiritual Benefits of Yoga

 

Generally, newcomers to yoga will not understand these benefits for some time.  There are a number of benefits that can fall into the ‘spiritual’ category.  Yoga itself is built around a philosophy that includes its own set of ethics, but these are seldom taught as part of Western Yoga practise.  Instead the spiritual benefits we talk about tend to be a persona acceptance of yourself and contentment with your place in life.  For some people it goes beyond that but discussing spiritual feelings is always difficult to do so broadly.  Overall the level of spiritual satisfaction you get is likely to depend on your own personal beliefs.

There are many different reasons for taking up and practising Yoga.  For one person they may be ill and looking to rejuvenate themselves.  Another will want to maintain and improve their current level of health.  Some people like the mental challenge…and for some, it is a physical challenge that can be overcome.  Some people may use Yoga as a relaxing form of stress relief.  The great thing about Yoga is that all these people are going to find what they are looking for and so much more.

Yoga has a long list of benefits, both physical and mental, associated with it.  Yoga can assist in the recovery of a heart attack through its blood lowering and distressing effects.  There has been a considerable amount of research done into heart patients and Yoga, most notably by Dr Ornish who is now also the best selling author.  Dean Ornish has no reservations in recommending Yoga both as a way of recovering from heart attacks and also avoiding future heart problems.  Yoga has also been reported to be very beneficial to people with diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis due to its ability to assist with balance and muscle tone.

Yoga gently works muscle groups around the back and spine of spinal injury sufferers and because it puts very little stress on the muscles while still working them thoroughly it is a fantastic way of strengthening this part of the body.  Regular Yoga for back pain sufferers can result in complete restoration of their range of movement.

As we age most of us become frailer and less co-ordinated in our movements, but Yoga can help us age more gracefully by ensuring we are always in control of our body and mind.  In fact, most Yoga sessions are filled with a slightly older crowd who recognize the ongoing benefits it gives them.

Yoga is also a strength building discipline that allows even progression in the arms, the legs and the trunk or core of the body.  Many of us take strength for granted until it fails us, but increasing your physical strength will benefit you not just with lifting heavy objects, but also in everyday tasks like getting groceries or mowing the lawn.  It even makes it easier for us to move ourselves!

As well as strength Yoga will greatly increase the range of motion we are able to achieve, particularly in the spine and joint areas.  Once again this is often something we take for granted unless it is missing.  The act of reaching up to put something in a cupboard is natural to many of us, but for others it can cause a jolt of pain down their back, they simply cannot move their arm through the range of motion needed to reach up, or when they do their grasp is not strong enough to grab anything from the cupboard.

It’s important not to just focus on the physical benefits of Yoga because the mental benefits are at least as impressive.  Simply put Yoga will focus and sharpen your mind.  Each posture is performed with a focus and an awareness of your body and your breathing.  This is not a gym session with mind-numbing reps or chatter between exercises.  Whatever you are doing during a Yoga session is done with an absolute focus on the movement, the body, the breathing and the moment.  Breathing is something that most of us do wrong most of the time.  We are accustomed to taking shorter, quicker breaths, but with Yoga, the breathing is deeper and fuller.  These deeper breaths will make the mind calmer and more focused.  Yoga enthusiasts often describe this calmness as a sense of well-being.  The deep breathing also makes it easier to release the stress and negative thinking that accumulates in us.  Just as the physical blocks are removed through increased blood circulation during the exercises, so the mental blockages are removed by the clarity of thought.

Yoga is not a discipline you simply know or do not know; it is an ongoing learning process.   There are a huge number of different postures and each posture has a number of different variations on how it can be performed.  This never-ending sea of options keeps the body stimulated and engages the mind constantly.  Behind the postures and exercises themselves, there is a complex philosophical system based on the writings that Yoga derives from.  Not many people think of a complete code of ethics including steadfastness, truth, self-inquiry and an opposition to stealing, harming others and hoarding when they think of yoga, but these ethical issues are a central part of the system on which Yoga was founded.

The different postures, breathing exercises and the deep philosophy of Yoga all lead to the same end – a deep contemplation.  Because Yoga relaxes both the body and the mental tension and stress are greatly reduced.  This is highlighted during a Yoga class by pauses for us to get in touch with how we are feeling and reacting.  Ending the class in a point by point contemplative meditation performed on the back is common.

 

Yoga is an exercise, but it is also a meditative process, a code of ethics and a confidence and character building course all rolled into one.  It’s no wonder the group of people who attend the classes are so diverse.