Yoga is an ancient Hindu tradition that combines physical, mental and spiritual exercises for one to attain union of the body and mind.
Over 5000 years old and with over 840 000 postures, yoga will lead its student to a lifetime of discipline and constant self study.
A very strong body and mind is required as well as a keen intellect and strong will.
So yogis developed exercises for the body and mind to build on the necessary strength of body, mind and spirit to pursue this path.
These exercises were combinations of asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), kriyas (cleansing techniques) and meditation that we know as yoga.
Not only is yoga a vast amount of postures it is a way of life, consisting of proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet and positive thinking / meditation.
This is why it becomes a discipline in which to follow rather than just an exercise regime, a discipline that will keep the body and mind youthful and radiant.
“The expression of the spirit increases in proportion to the development of the body and mind in which it is encased. Therefore, yoga prescribes methods to train and develop the physical body and mind. The highly trained body must first of all be strong and healthy. The goal of all yoga teachings is how to concentrate the mind, how to discover its hidden facets, and how to awaken the inner spiritual faculties.”
Swami Vishnu-devananda, Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
Yogis see life as a triangle of birth, growth, change, decay and death. All babies are born in a yogic state with full range of movements, clean internal body free of toxins, non-attachment to material goods etc.
Even breathing the full yogic breath to allow maximum oxygen capacity of the lungs.
At a young age the cell rejuvenation (anabolic) process exceeds the decaying (catabolic) process, which keeps the body ever growing. The process then maintains equilibrium from the age of 20-35, after this period the catabolic exceeds the anabolic process, which leads the body eventually to decline.
This is why ancient sages developed this integral system to slow down the catabolic (decaying) process in order to keep the physical and mental faculties strong and healthy for their spiritual journey. They mimicked their surroundings and environment to build on strength, flexibility and agility, which explain some of the postures names e.g., kakasana (crow) tadasana (mountain).
Deep and controlled breathing reduces anxiety and improves focus both physically and mentally. This breathing allows the body to relax and stretch further, deepening your own practice and warming the body from the inside.
Yoga postures are all about building core strength.
The slow focused movements require a strong core and the contractions of the body forms a static contraction resistance-training workout.
Flexibility and Agility
Regular practice will increase flexibility and range of movement while relieving tension in the muscles. This alone will help with any physical problems relating to tension and arthritis in particular, contributing to increased mobility.
Often ignored in physical workouts but one of the most effective ways to correct muscle imbalances or body mechanics. These balance postures also stimulate muscle growth similar to isometric resistance training exercises.
Yoga can be practiced at a high or low intensity that provides a workout for any individual needs.
The variety of styles range from very energetic, vigorous movements that result in an aerobic workout, to a more slow paced practice that creates an intensive strength training and balancing workout.
Any of these styles when performed correctly results in a stabilising blood pressure and improved heart conditions.
As you practice yoga your mind will become stronger as your body does, you will see the results physically from the exercises, which will naturally cause a mental shift.
Along with this your confidence will grow, affecting your ability in all areas of life.
A strong body requires strong will power, determination and self-respect, so as you work on strengthening postures for a long period of time or to your limits, you are challenging and building on your mental strength.
As you perform balance postures your focus and concentration will increase as well as the ability to direct the energy inwardly on areas of the body.
Your body and mind begin to work together and you can see for yourself the effect the mind has on your physical body.
An unfocused, unclear mind will show in your physical body as lack of balance.
Co-ordination is using the mind to tell the body what to do.
Many postures use alternate sides of the body to work on co-ordination, this is using the mind to learn to control and correlate the body in these postures, so again you can see, it’s the mind talking to your body telling you which side needs to balance, relax or stretch more.
The relaxation postures will have a directly beneficial effect on your sympathetic nervous system (which prepares the body for emergencies in the form of muscular tension, anxiety, elevated heartbeat rate and breathing, sweating etc).
So by using yoga techniques, the effects stress has on the mind, that effects the body physically, can be reduced leading to less tension in areas of the body, muscles become more relaxed leading to more power behind muscle.
“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul.”
Meditation is a whole different mind game in which the mind is to be totally cleared of any thoughts, it is a process of many lifetimes where the mind can detach itself from the body and its whole environment with no awareness of time and lead to enlightenment or self realisation but can only be achieved through meditation.
Asanas translates as “seat”, the whole point of physical yoga postures is to build a solid seat in which to guide the inward energy upwards along the spine which is why spine mobility is essential.
The physical exercise of yoga creates the energy internally and meditation directs the energy.
You need to be able to sit for long periods of time with the back straight and no slouching for energy to circulate in the body.
Asanas gives your body a seat in which to practice meditation without distraction of the physical body.