Yoga. To many, the word conjures up images of Instagram perfection and beautiful backgrounds. Thousands of years ago, the poses (asanas) were only part of the defining point of a yoga practice. Yoga by ancient definition means “union.” A union of spiritual, emotional and physical practices of wellness. The poses are an integral part, but not comprehensive whole of the practice. Patanjali, one of the forefathers of yoga defined yoga as, the neutralization of the vortices of feeling.” An intense definition, but the meaning of yoga must encompass all that it is, in a few words.
In this modern day of technology and constant stimulation, it is essential to unplug from your phone and laptop and connect with yourself. The benefits of yoga intertwine the spiritual, emotional and physical goals of the practice. Yoga has even been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. The physical benefits are easier to notice, but the spiritual and emotional impacts cannot be underestimated. The first step to a yoga practice is openness for change and self-improvement. The rest of the benefits will follow:
The beautiful Instagram pictures exemplify the increased flexibility regular yoga practice results in. However, there are many other physical benefits that are not as easily photographed. Yoga practice increases the functioning of the immune system, the digestive system, circulatory system and bone health. By toning and strengthening the muscles and ligaments, yoga can help prevent injury and increase an individual’s metabolism.
Pranayama (breathe control) increases the functioning of the respiratory system. Certain sequences can help with insomnia, but overall yoga helps to increase energy levels in an individual. The physical benefits are often noticeable with a consistent practice. Health benefits of yoga can be even further multiplied by practicing outdoors as nature has its own beneficial effects.
When my 3-year-old niece gets upset, my sister has taught her to belly-breathe. This has a calming effect on her and can prevent a temper tantrum. Practicing yoga is calming and can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Participating in physical activity releases endorphins in the body, which makes people feel happy. Yoga increases concentration and ability to focus on a task at hand.
One of the most important aspects of yoga is being present and mindful in your body. Not comparing your current state to anyone else and manifesting a non-judgmental relationship with yourself.
Yoga encompasses all religions, spiritually the practice seeks to remind its followers that they are part of a bigger picture. We are connected to other beings and the environment. Contrary to some beliefs, the practice of yoga does not aim to convert anyone to a religion. Yoga is not a religion. The practice aims to seek a higher consciousness or meaning behind everything we think and do.
Everyone comes to the mat for a myriad of reasons, relieving stress, moving on your mat after a hard day at the office, or to try a new pose seen in passing….The pull towards stepping on the your yoga mat may even vary day to day. However, whether the practice is home-based or in a studio, it will help improve your moods, increase energy levels and bring a new level of self-awareness, among other power benefits. The versatility of a yoga practice can alter depending on your schedule or how you feel. It can vary from a 5 minute mindful child’s pose to a vigorous 90 minute vinyasa flow. Any practice can make a positive impact in your life and begin a ripple effect towards those around you. Yoga can be incorporated into a wellness plan including nutrition counseling, meditation, and mindfulness.
By Lauren Shaffer, Certifed Yoga Instructor and Wellness Guru of Pittsburgh