Yoga is touted as being one of the best forms of physical activity for enhancing flexibility and overall strength. A quick examination of yoga’s history, however, reveals that its initial purpose had very little to do with improving joint range of motion or strength.
Yoga was originally about spiritual development and mind-body awareness practices aimed at cultivating a higher level of consciousness; strength and flexibility were simply welcomed side effects of the practice. The philosophy of yoga and its founders is about seeking truth, separating ego from spirit, and training the mind through movement. This is accomplished through a series of connected poses (yoga), connecting the breath with the movement vinyasa), and clearing the mind through meditation.
Why is this valuable to overall health and fitness? Because stress and distraction are primary themes of modern living. We are pulled in different directions and asked to fulfill multiple roles, and complete (successfully) a long list of responsibilities—every single day. The mind is “plastic” and, therefore, malleable and capable of conforming to various stimuli and messages. Many times, these influences are subconscious and we fall into a pattern of distracted thinking and living. This ultimately contributes to increased stress levels, depressive thoughts, anxiety and feelings of isolation. Establishing a regular yoga practice has the power to shift the pendulum in the opposite direction and help individuals strike a balance while striking poses.
The benefits of yoga include the following:
- Reduces stress
- Improves mood
- Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
- Improves posture
- Boosts immunity
- Improves blood flow
- Improves balance and coordination
- Improves strength and muscle definition
- Decreases total-body tension
- Results in deeper sleep
- Improves certain digestive concerns
- Offers a sense of peace of mind
- Supports the development of inner strength and confidence
- Builds awareness
- Is transformative and restorative
- Improves focus and concentration
- Establishes and deepens one’s spiritual connection to the world
- Promotes positive energy
- Provides a channel to expend negative energy
- Quiets the mind
- Offers pain relief from many chronic conditions
- Supports a healthy metabolism
- Assists with weight management
- Improves energy levels
- Reduces risk of injury
- Offers an avenue for artistic expression
- Sharpens intuition
- Reduces anxiety levels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves athletic performance
- Increases libido
- Allows one to unplug from media and other sources of stimulation
- Improves outlook on life
- Cultivates healthier relationships and lifestyle habits
While many individuals seek fitness advice because of the desirable physical outcomes (better body composition, enhanced muscular strength, weight management, etc.), the practice of yoga offers a greater holistic benefits package. Its focus is on creating a greater sense of self-awareness and consciousness expressed through an artistic physical challenge.
We are confronted daily with demands and social media stimuli and information—some good, some harmful, and some truly terrifying. The challenge lies in learning to navigate the constant stream of information without losing our sense of self or the ability to be in control of how and what we think. Yoga is not the only avenue to conquering the mind and developing self-awareness, but it is one of the most effective as it leverages the mind-body connection to shift thought patterns while eliciting positive physical adaptations. Truthfully, as spiritually freeing as yoga is, it’s quite physically challenging as well. So, it’s not surprising that consistent practice also develops many aspects of physical well-being.