Yoga is more than a great stretch. Much, much more. Let’s look at some of the wonderful benefits of all aspects of yoga and celebrate this wonderful gift we have been given.
The health benefits of yoga asanas are wide ranging.
- Flexibility is of course the most obvious one. Tight muscles can pull on our joints causing pain and even structural damage. The gentle and consistent stretching of many of the yoga asanas help to loosen up tight muscles and allow for much more freedom of movement and great posture.
- Yoga asanas, of course depending on the type of practice, build strength in the muscles which helps to support all our joints and resist that ever present force of gravity which influences us to slouch.
- With strength and flexibility comes balance, poise and gracefulness.
- The wide range of movements that yoga asanas embody are said to keep our joints well oiled allowing freedom of movement and perhaps prevention from and the easing of arthritic conditions.
- When we perform our strengthening asanas like most of the standing poses, balances and back arches we are putting load onto our bones which helps them to grow. Therefore if we have a regular strong practice our risks of contracting osteoporosis will be lessened and our ability to recover from it will be enhanced.
- The gentle twisting, pulling, squeezing, pressurising and releasing which we experience in an asana session improves our circulation and enhances the flow of nutrients to every cell and helps to carry away all the cellular waste products, keeping the body healthy.
- A consistent yoga practice has been found to lower our stress levels which is beneficial for our digestion, heart, cholesterol, high blood pressure and glandular system.
- Yoga asanas have also been found to improve depression, concentration, memory and reaction time.
Yoga breathing is another important component of a healthy yoga practice. Yoga breathing enhances all of the above benefits of asanas including cognitive functioning, lowering of stress levels, calming of the emotions, improved immune response and better circulation. Focused breathing either by itself or in asanas helps to strengthen the lungs, improving their resistance to infections and ability to recover from them in a speedier fashion.
Yoga meditation, which is an often neglected part of our yoga practice, is the heart of all yoga practices. Yoga meditation helps us physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is beneficial for our physical and emotional health in many ways:
- It slows and deepens our breath.
- It calms our mind and emotions.
- Assists with our focus and intellectual capacity.
- In fact it enhances the functioning of all our bodily systems.
But all these benefits are minor compared to the spiritual benefits of yoga meditation. As living beings we are not just defined by our ability to move, grow, think and react, but by our innate desire to be happy and find satisfaction. For those who are identifying themselves with the world of matter this desire for happiness might be sought to be mitigated in experiencing such things as more possessions, wealth, friends, power and fame. However those who practice yoga are more inclined to seek satisfaction in a less mundane realm.
Through meditation we can gradually realise that we are an eternal spiritual entity who is merely dwelling within this material realm. This realisation may prompt us to seek our satisfaction, our happiness in yoga meditation. In yoga meditation we can find a deeply satisfying happiness unobtainable in the world of matter, beyond that which other yoga practices can offer. It will all importantly help us to find that happiness and satisfaction deep within, regardless of what winds of circumstance are blowing our way.
When you, the self, are feeling deeply satisfied, the mind will be peaceful, the emotions settled and the body relaxed. So make your yoga practice complete. Enjoy asanas for your body, yoga breathing for the body and mind and meditation for the very self.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training