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:
Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
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 pehealthsite of mind
Supports the development of inner strength and confidence
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
Reduces anxiety levels
Lowers blood pressure
Improves athletic performance
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.