Yoga, for ANYbody and any BODY
What is Yoga?
The yoga we know today comes from 5,000-year-old Indian traditions. There are four major historical periods, starting with the oldest Vedic, pre-classical, classical, and modern. Yoga has moved from ancient scriptures or texts of how to live to sitting with a teacher and learning, all the way to a moving meditation. Throughout history, yoga has come to mean and be interpreted in many different ways, but there are a few common meanings to the word yoga. A general term for the meaning of yoga is to come together or unite. Looking at more literal terms, the word yoga comes from the ancient Sanskrit language that translates to the words union, integration, or disciple. What's great about this meaning is that it's extremely encompassing and broad. Therefore, yoga has a slightly different meaning to each and every one of us! It can be a practice for both physical and mental health. In general, yoga was designed to be a way of "healing", again this can now be interpreted in many different ways. We will leave the rest of the history for another article and head right to the different benefits and ways yoga can be utilized.
How is Yoga Used?
Throughout the years' yoga has undergone many different adaptations as it moved Western. Looking at a broad spectrum, yoga can be grouped into 4 different uses: physical fitness, therapy, lifestyle, and spiritual discipline. Let's break these four down a bit more. Keep in mind that each of these uses can be broken down further, expanded upon, and mixed and matched.
Yoga as Physical Fitness:
This is probably the most common western approach to yoga. This usage of yoga is primarily focused on the movement aspect and how it affects the overall physical body. Using yoga to improve one's physical body such as flexibility, mobility, endurance, strength, and overall body composition. Fitness is an important part of our overall health, and yoga is a means of obtaining health. The physical side of yoga has been seen within traditional yoga masters as well. They also viewed yoga as a way to keep the body healthy. This also included the mind, so incorporating both the physical body and the mental body. To use yoga as a means of physical fitness could mean attending a yoga class like yin yoga, hot yoga, or other types of Hatha yoga. Typically done in a group setting but can also be done solo or even online! As we modernized yoga, a variety of different styles have evolved to meet the needs and demands of different individuals, considering both their physical and mental well-being. As many still focus on the physical aspects of yoga many can use the mental aspect to also improve their health. They go hand in hand. Since yoga has become a moving meditation, the aspect of unity can help translate to other aspects of health and fitness parameters.
Yoga as a Healing Therapy:
This is a specialized type of yoga and relates to techniques used to restore one's health from a physical or mental injury or condition. This enables those who suffer from acute and chronic conditions to still find enjoyment and reap the benefits of yoga all while healing their bodies. Yoga as a therapy is looking to restore function within the human body. Remember, yoga is a means of healing the body, not a "cure". Yoga is not a doctor, please seek medical care when appropriate. More than 80% of Americans seek professional help for back pain at some point in their lives and yoga therapy is a tool to promote functionality. Other uses for yoga as therapy are used to improve arthritis, carpal tunnel, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and much more. This use is meant to bring back the quality of life for those who are dealing with any illness, condition, or disease. The history of yoga as a therapy has been around for a long time but recently has taken off as a separate discipline. Instructors take extra courses and training to be able to use yoga as therapy. This use of yoga is often used in conjunction with other forms of medical and rehabilitation care. As this is a specialization, this type of yoga is often done in a one-on-one setting due to the fact that the instructor is accommodating to the individual's needs. This is a great option for those who wish to be a part of a yoga practice but need more hands-on attention or a more customizable approach. Don't forget yoga is for anybody and any body!
Yoga as a Lifestyle:
Yoga as a lifestyle starts to embody more of the traditional aspect of yoga. This is taking the use of physical fitness and turning it up a few notches, from practicing once a week to doing some form of practice on a daily basis, as yoga becomes your way of life. But there is more than just movement and meditation. Yoga as a lifestyle begins to adapt to the wisdom of our ancestors and learn to become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Yoga teachings involve many aspects of daily living such as sleep, nourishment, how we interact with others, and how we focus our attention and energy. It unites all aspects of our lives which also includes the environment. Therefore being kind to ourselves, others, and our environment. This brings into light elements of the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, our moral and ethical selves. These include non-harming, trustfulness, non-stealing, and non-greedy. While other moral practices include sympathy, compassion, integrity, and patience. In other words, being able to adjust the modification of the mind, aka yoga Sutra 1.2, how can we take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one?
Yoga as a Spiritual Discipline:
Yoga as a discipline comprises all of the above uses but with the addition of finding enlightenment or finding your spiritual true self. This is viewed as the most traditional form of yoga. The term spirit relates to your ultimate nature, not necessarily looking at a specific deity (unless you choose to). Spirit can also be referred to as one and the same in all beings and things. It's fearless, immortal, and superconscious. It is transcendental due to the fact that it exists beyond the limits of the body and mind. Once you discover your spiritual self you will then reach enlightenment. Elements include study, dedication, purity, contentment, and austerity. One of the ideas of yoga is also self-purification both mentally and physically. As we purify the body as a whole we allow in more energy to find our spirit. This comes into play with the lifelong quest for overall improvements. We should be working towards bettering ourselves which can be done through studying for ourselves and studying ourselves. At the end of the day, the goal is to reach this higher power within us and becomes fully absorbed in the moment.
Benefits of Yoga:
No matter how you practice or utilize yoga in your life there is some major commonality, and that is to bring awareness and relaxation to yourself. All types and uses of yoga allow one to bring attention to something, it allows one to be present. We often live in the past, worry too much about the future, and we forget about the now or being able to live in the moment! Yoga elicits awareness, and with awareness, we have the ability to bring relaxation to our bodies. This is something we can do consciously living in the present, additionally, this allows us to bring focus to our breath. Breathing is really one of the most powerful things we do. In harsh reality, it's what brings us into this world and what takes us out. Yet, we take for granted this powerful tool. We often breathe without thinking about it, but being able to use our breath puts us in a better state of mind and keeps us in control. Awareness, relaxation, and breath control are just a few of the benefits of yoga, below are a few more (not limited to).
Reduction of stress
Reduction of anxiety
Improves immune function
Aids in the development of mental clarity
Helps to control blood pressure
Aids in improved body composition
Improved muscle strength
Improved flexibility and mobility
Improved quality of life
Overall, yoga is a tool that allows one to be in a more parasympathetic state, aka rest and digest states! We tend to live in higher-stressed environments and yoga is a way for us to cope with those stressors and bring us back to neutral. It's amazing what we can do when we take a moment to step back and just breathe! Always remember, you do you! Find a style, a use, or a practice that works for you! Yoga is a practice and practice makes progress!
Woodyard C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International journal of yoga, 4(2), 49–54. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.85485
Sengupta P. (2012). Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(7), 444–458.