Yoga is an olden type of mind-body workout that emphasizes on breathing patterns, and flexibility. Today, it is a common exercise not only in fitness centers but also in learning institutions, health care centers, and community groups. The practice targets both the mind and the body through a combination of techniques. These techniques include meditation, breaching styles, relaxation poses, and postures. This exercise improves overall well-being as well as mind control. Within the practice of yoga are various types and disciplines. Here, we shall take a look at the historical and philosophical perspective of yoga in addition to its many benefits.
The Historical Background of Yoga
Yoga practice started about 5,000 years in India. In the Sanskrit language, yoga is derived from the word ‘Yuj’ which refers to yoke or bind. Literally, the name yoga means ‘union’ or a technique. A male practitioner is referred to as yogi while a female is known as a yogini. Union in this sense is “that which ultimately brings reality”. The reality is the point at which individual manifestation of life begins to pop up from the ground. Yoga is therefore a way of moving towards the experiential reality where you start to understand the sublime nature of life. Being an intellectual concept, it offers a certain degree of social status without serving any other purpose. When an idea becomes the experiential reality, it starts to produce mature actions. It offers tremendous experience. Individuality is only an idea but universality is the reality. Similarly, yoga requires you to forget your ideas and embrace the new reality.
The current postures and poses were not a fundamental part of the original Indian yoga. This is because fitness was not the priority by then. Instead, the practitioners of yogic traditions focused on other aspects of life like increasing spiritual energy through breathing techniques and mental concentration. This tradition continued to grow in popularity during the 19th Century in the West. Then in the 20s and 30s, the interest exploded first in India followed by the West.
The Philosophical Perspective of Yoga Practice
Some people think yoga is a religion but this is just a misconception. The practice has a close connection to some philosophies in Buddhism and Hinduism but it has nothing to do with any religion. You don’t need to study those ideologies to practice yoga. It is believed that Patanjali, an Indian philosopher was the person behind the guidebook that yoga practitioners use to date. The guidebook comprises 195 statements and highlights the 8 branches of yoga namely:
7. Withdrawal of senses/Pratyahara
The above 8 limbs of yoga are geared towards cultivating and improving the behavior of an individual in the outer world. After that, you are able to focus on the inner self to attain Samadhi or enlightenment or liberation. Most yoga practitioners focus on postures/asana. This limb is meant to cleanse the body and offer the much-needed stamina to sustain meditation in the long run.
Difference between Yoga and Other Forms of Workouts
In fitness gyms, instructors emphasize stretching the muscles. But yoga is more than just posing to stretch. According to Patanjali’s eight-fold guidebook, the physical activities are only one part of yoga. Still, within the physical aspect, the body movements must be connected to the rhythm of your breath and the fluctuations of the mindset.
By connecting the body and the mind, yoga allows you to focus your attention on the inward feelings. The inward attention helps you to recognize your thought patterns without prejudging or trying to change them. You start becoming cognizant of your experiences one at a time. It is this perception that makes yoga practice a goal to be accomplished. As your body becomes flexible, so does your mind.
Yoga promotes self-awareness with certain breathing patterns. But this is not the case with normal gym workouts. The soothing effects of yoga on the nervous system help your body to relax better. Intense workouts cause can lead to injuries and increased production of lactic acid. This is what makes your body feel exhausted. On the contrary, yoga increases your pain tolerance hence you ca better control impulsive behavior and reset your biological clock. In essence, yoga provides holistic benefits that normal exercising cannot give including happiness, contentment, and peace of mind.
In yoga, injuries are very rare. Sometimes, overstretching and repetitive strain can cause injuries. But it is generally safer than typical exercises. You just need the right training from an experienced and qualified trainer.
The Best Styles of Yoga
You can do yoga in a number of styles. Some of the most popular include Sivananda, Iyengar, and Ashtanga. Different styles command different intense and emphasize different areas like breathing and posture. Most trainers develop unique styles by incorporating various techniques. All styles are equally important. All you need is to select one that matches your level of fitness. When looking for a yoga class, get one that lasts 45 to 90 minutes. Longer sessions provide more learning time and practice. You also want to have a moment with your teacher so they can identify your individual capabilities. Before registering, talk to the teacher about the approach. As a beginner, you can learn the poses beforehand through DVDs and online tutorials. Make sure you understand the breathing techniques properly. The problem with a DVD is that there is no one to help you correct a mistake. So, it is better to combine physical classes and DVD lessons.
The Benefits of Yoga Practice
There are many reasons you should start practicing yoga. Researchers are still working to give tangible clues on why yoga heals pain, reduces sicknesses, and stress. If you need inspirations to start rolling a mat, the following benefits should give you enough reasons.
a. Reduced Workload on the Respiratory System
As you pose in a relaxed state, your respiratory system relaxes. Yoga doesn’t increase the speed of breathing. So, you don’t need to overwork the lungs like in the case of regular workouts.
b. Preserving Joints and Cartilage
Whenever you attend a yoga session, expect to move your joints to their maximum range of motion. This keeps them in shape, protecting them from degenerative conditions like arthritis. Stretches squeeze and soak cartilages that have been dormant. The cartilage around a joint is synonymous with a sponge. Its work is to soak up nutrients when the fluid is flushed out. If neglected, the cartilage wears out and exposes the delicate bone. So, you will have something like a brake pad that is in disrepair.
c. Improved Flexibility
This is the greatest benefit of yoga. During the first lessons, you may not be able to reach your toes with simple stretches. Practice doing a back bend and stick to it. Gradually, you will loosen up and start doing poses that you once thought to be impossible. Another thing you will start noticing is the relief from pain. Most body aches are a result of tight muscle groups. For instance, when the hips are strained, they press the knees causing a wrong alignment of the shinbones and the thighs. On the other side, tight hamstrings make the lumbar spine to flatten thereby causing back pain. Moreover, inflexible muscles, ligaments, and fascia can lead to poor posture.
d. Muscle Strength
Strong muscles give you an appealing physique. On top of that, they protect you from minor falls and backache. Yoga is one way to build muscle strength when balanced with flexibility. You can attain strength in the gym but compromise flexibility in the long run.
e. Spine Protection
The spinal disks are like shock absorbers acting as a barrier between vertebrae that may compress the nerves or cause a hernia. Well-balanced yoga practice combines plenty of twists, forward bends, and back bends. This helps you to keep the disks supple all the time.
f. Improved Bone Density
Weight-bearing workouts can strengthen the bones thereby warding off osteoporosis. Most yoga postures entail lifting your own weight. This can improve the health of bones in your arms. The arms are especially prone to osteoporotic fractures. Yoga is a good way to increase bone density in the spinal column.
g. Proper Circulation of Blood
Relaxation exercises help to improve your blood circulation in your hands and feet. You need more oxygen flowing into your body cells for their proper functioning. Twisting the body has been shown to squeeze out blood from the veins, allowing oxygenated blood to circulate freely. In yoga, there are inverted poses like shoulder stand, handstand, and headstand that encourages venous blood to flow from the lower body all the way to the heart. This blood is pumped back to the lungs where it meets more oxygen. This is especially important if you have swellings and kidney issues. Another advantage of doing yoga is boosting red blood cell count and hemoglobin. With more red blood cells transporting oxygen, your platelets will be less sticky. This means a reduced level of clotting in the blood. Blood clots are often the leading causes of strokes and heart attacks. As such, consistent yoga will keep you from these ailments.
h. Increased Immunity
Stretching is a perfect way to drain the lymphatic fluid. The viscous fluid is often rich in immune cells. So, it boosts immunity by fighting infections and destroying cancerous cells. The lymphatic system is also responsible for removing toxic waste off the cells, giving you lymphedema relief.
i. Correcting the Posture
The right posture is when your head is balanced over your straight spine. Like a bowling ball, the head requires support from the back muscle and the neck. When moved a few inches for long hours, it can start to strain the muscles. Fatigue, joint pain, and backache will become your problem. When you slump, the body struggles to keep balance by flattening its inward curves in the lower back and neck. This often leads to spinal damage and other degenerative issues like arthritis.
Want to get the optimal benefits of yoga? Then you need to make it routine. Start with small manageable moves and create a habit. Even 10 to 15 minutes can be enough. Also try a class that is led by a seasoned instructor. A private setting will help you to practice safely and consistently. One last thing- always roll a slip-resistant mat and sturdy blocks to support your body. If you must rent a mat, have an antibacterial spray to keep yourself from contracting infections.