Why Do Yoga?
By: Alice F. Gallagher, CYT
The Mind-Body Connection
Many athletes come to yoga because they want to gain flexibility. They soon learn, however, that the practice of yoga has so many more benefits than loosening up tight hamstrings. And while it is important to maintain a flexible and fluid physique, there are so many other, just as important, benefits to a regular practice of yoga.
The word yoga comes from sanskrit and means to yoke, or connect, and the purpose of yoga is to unite all aspects of the body so that the practitioner can connect with his or her true self and be ever present in his or her own skin.
In yoga, we identify five aspects to the human being: the physical body, the mental body, the emotional body, the energetic body, and the spiritual body. Very often, these bodies are not in sync with each other and the end result is that one does not perform to his true potential. If you ever ran a marathon or competed in another endurance race, you have probably noticed mental fatigue working against you, instead of for you. Your mind can play all kinds of tricks on you if you are not practiced in the art of controlling all aspects of your being.
The way that yoga connects mind and body is through the breath. The breath acts like a bridge between the mind and the body by keeping you in the present moment. Through breath control, you also gain control of the other aspects of your body. The next time you feel fatigued when working out, turn your attention to your breath and breathe deeply. Notice the fresh prana filling your body as you inhale. Conversely, observe how the exhale calms you and helps you focus on the task at hand. Soon you will feel rejuvenated.
The Beauty of Opposites
Most, but not all, yoga taught in the West is some version of Hatha Yoga. Hatha is a sanskrit word derived from the word Ha, which means sun, and Tha, which means moon. Just as the name implies, Hatha Yoga is the practice of opposites, and one of its goals is to purify the body and mind through physical practice designed to balance opposite energies within the body. The yin-yang of the practice is evident as most poses are designed to stretch and build strength at the same time. Poses are designed to coordinate the flow of energy within the body, which helps to achieve mental stability and focus.
In my opinion, no yoga class is complete without meditation. Currently, the benefits of meditation are making headlines as a way to cope with the stresses of every-day life and to improve physical well-being. Meditation is controlled awareness or the absence of awareness. Many beginning yoga students resist meditation because we have been taught from an early age that we must always "do" to be a contributing member of society. It is difficult to ignore that ethos, completely unwind, and not "do" anything but relieve the brain of its constant chatter. With practice, one learns how to let go and reap the many benefits of meditation which include peace of mind, clarity of mind, and purity of heart by ridding the body of toxic thoughts and emotions.
If you have been curious about yoga, come give it a try. Its benefits are immeasurable. With all of the different classes available today, there is a yoga style for you.
Future newsletters will take an in-depth look at a featured asana (pose).