We have all heard of yoga before, and even if you aren’t part of the practice or are a complete expert, most people understand that yoga is both a mental and physical exercise, which some might even call spiritual.
If you have practiced yoga before, you might find that it helps with a little more than just your muscles, but that it can feel a bit like meditating sometimes.
Perhaps you have noticed an absence of this spiritual side while practicing and are looking to understand the history and teaching of yoga more in depth.
Put simply there is more to yoga than just the physical, and you might be wondering what you can gain from this spiritual and mental side to the practice.
In today’s article we are going to cover the basic understandings of yoga, why it’s practiced by so many across the world, and ultimately what yoga is all about, what it teaches us, and what we can gain from it.
Keep reading to learn more about the basic understandings of yoga in all its facets. Find out more below!
What Is Yoga?
As mentioned, yoga can be part spiritual, part mental, and part physical, and you are free to balance these how you like. Simply, yoga is a set of poses and stretches, often combined with breathing exercises or even mantras.
For many the practice of yoga helps them find flow between their mind, body, and soul. For others, yoga is simply a way to relax and stretch and improve their general joint health. Yoga can be practiced at home, or can be done in a class with others, led by a yoga practitioner.
It’s worth mentioning that historically, especially in Asia, Yoga is quite a sacred practice that is quite esoteric. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are very intertwined with yoga, for many of these people yoga is about a lot more than just stretching.
In the East, a Yogi, what we would call a yoga practitioner in the West, can often be a spiritual leader who has a special relationship with the spiritual.
Most people, certainly in the West, will practice yoga simply for its physical benefits. Yoga is a low impact exercise that is really good for joint pain, joint flexibility, and general posture. If you have a stretching routine in the morning, you can consider this yoga in many ways.
In the simple act of stretching that occurs through yoga poses, there are many studies that show how it helps joints. One study suggests weekly classes relieve symptoms of lower back pain, other studies show that yoga can help with balance, bone strength, and more.
If you want to embrace the physical side of yoga simply work your way through the poses. Yoga poses can be super basic and done by anyone of any age or athleticism, but there are also lots of expert poses for those who want a little more from their yoga workout.
As you progress through the difficult poses your body will become really flexible and benefit greatly from this – just be sure not to push too hard and to embrace minor developments each session.
Roger Cole, an Iyengar yoga teacher and psychobiologist, suggests ‘Relaxation is built into every yoga session.’ Even if you don’t want to touch the spiritual, esoteric stuff, there is loads to gain from practicing yoga simply for mindfulness.
On a simple level, the self-care of yoga, its ritual, and the natural breathing control that takes place when posing, is extremely beneficial for most people’s mental health.
If you work in an office, for example, practicing yoga, while great for physical health, can also help stave off tiredness, mental fatigue, stress, and even depression.
One study with coal miners showed that yoga improved the subject’s mental health greatly along with their physical health. Another study compared brain training with yoga and found that those who practiced yoga in the study performed much better than the other group on a test of visuospatial memory, a part of our memory that we use for depth perception, navigation, balance and more.
These studies, even without treading into spirituality, your mental health can really improve as a result of practicing yoga.
Yoga isn’t some new fad, but is an Ancient practice that originated back in the Vedic period (1500 – 1100 BCE) of India. Many ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts refer to yoga in great detail, and was a meditative practice more than it was a physical practice.
Yoga allowed these religious practitioners to meditate and by combining the body and spirit, to reach new spiritual states and understandings. A lot of this has to do with controlling certain energies that may exist within our bodies
Modern yoga wouldn’t exist without the teachings of these ancient Indian texts. This is why many yoga poses also have names in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language – ‘adho mukha svanasana’ is more commonly known as downward-facing dog, for example.
You may have embraced these ancient Indian practices without really knowing. Breathing while in a yoga pose is very much a form of meditation that is ancient and has been practiced in Eastern religions for centuries (see also: “What Religion is Against Yoga?”).
Many of those who practice yoga a lot and become experts in the practice may embrace some of these more ancient texts to branch out their understanding of yoga.
Kundalini yoga is an interesting example, while disputed among many, the practice involves chanting and meditation and many believe that with practice you can access altered states of mind and divine energy.
No matter how seriously you take the esoteric side of yoga, there is much to learn from the ancient history and tradition of yoga that goes back centuries.
Those who have an expert practice and understanding of yoga are likely to explore this side, while beginners can learn more from its physical benefits.
As you can see, yoga is about a lot more than just stretching, but is a unique form of mindfulness that creates a balance between the body, mind, and spirit that can be beneficial to pretty much anyone.
The basic understanding of yoga is that through mindfulness, meditation, and stretching we can gain a better understanding of our own bodies and mind. Yoga helps us control our energies, how we feel, and can enlighten us to nuances of the self that help us understand our mind and bodies better.
In essence, yoga is whatever you want it to be, for many it’s purely a physical exercise that can alleviate a niggling back problem.
For others, the mindfulness that yoga brings can really relieve certain mental issues they may be having, and help them feel more connected to their bodies, or it can simply be a social thing like a dance class.
For some, it’s a deeply sacred and religious practice that allows them to escape their bodies and become closer to their religious beliefs.
Whether you embrace the physical and mental benefits of yoga, or explore its rich history and tradition, there is so much to gain from practicing yoga, whether that’s on your own in the morning or joining a community of people who enjoy the practice.
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