YOGA: an ancient science of wellbeing
The below blog post originally appeared as an article for Great Holland Village Voice magazine, June/July 2016 issue.
Yoga has gained tremendous popularity in recent years. So much so that last year marked the launch of the inaugural international yoga day (21st June 2015). The day was celebrated with events held in towns and cities across the globe, bringing the message of yoga to a wider audience.
What is yoga, exactly? Perhaps an image of someone stretching themselves into strange postures comes to mind! Well yes, practicing exercises to keep the body healthy and strong is certainly one aspect. To understand yoga we need to take a look at its origins. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word ‘Yog’, meaning union. Originating in the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago, yoga was developed by the sages and philosophers of the time. They would take great care of their bodies, be mindful of diet, proper breathing, and live in harmony with their surroundings. They did all these things to create optimal living conditions in order to turn their attention inwards, pursuing the spiritual path. It can be hard to contemplate on the true nature of existence when your mind is preoccupied with scattered thoughts, feuds with the neighbours, or poor health!
Yoga can be thought of as a ‘toolkit’ to help us find balance within our lives. Suitable for everyone regardless of religious belief, age, gender, etc. it is a truly universal practice. For those who adopt principals of yoga it becomes integral to daily life. Broadly categorized into four paths:
Raja Yoga – the path of scientific enquiry. This path includes physical exercises and breathing techniques. Through control of the senses we learn by direct experience.
Karma Yoga – the path of action. Observing our actions and the impact they have on others. Karma yoga can include selfless service (perhaps volunteering for a worthy cause). It helps to break down ego, allowing one to become humble and develop love and compassion for all.
Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge. Learning through study of the ancient yogic scriptures.
Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion. By adding structure to how we express our own beliefs, for example by regularly visiting our place of worship, devotional singing, or simply connecting in our own way each day, we can channel the mind to focus on the divine.
Why practice yoga? The multiple health and wellness benefits in themselves are surely a good enough reason to try yoga, even if we’re not looking for enlightenment! Findings of modern science are now supporting many of these powerful claims. Here are just a few great reasons to try yoga:
Strengthens the heart. Like any aerobic exercise, yoga helps to give the heart a good workout. In addition, the inverted postures allow gravity to supply the heart with a rich supply of blood. The heart muscle is then stretched, allowing it to pump blood more efficiently with each beat.
Holistic exercise. While many exercises may only focus on the muscles or the heart, yoga is designed to strengthen the entire body. The postures work on balancing internal systems such as the digestive, nervous, and endocrine systems.
Promotes self-healing. Yoga helps us to control stress, a risk factor of many major diseases. By working on difficult emotions, yoga also targets the root cause of various health issues. Balanced emotions lead to healthier lifestyle choices which in turn reduce our risk of disease.
Exercises the spine & supporting back muscles. This helps to strengthen the back against injury, correct misalignments from poor posture, as well as maintain overall flexibility.
Muscles and Joints. Postures use the body’s own weight to help con
dition and strengthen the muscles. Keeps the joints mobile and promotes fluid circulation in the joints.
Mental benefits. Postures such as the balances help to improve concentration. Yoga can also help to improve memory as well as reduce stress.
Spiritual benefits. Yoga can help us to find a sense of peace. Many people feel calm and rejuvenated after practicing yoga. They are energized physically, mentally, and spiritually.