Every day, each one of us craves to pursue something that we haven’t been able to try before. We are constantly looking for adventures that we think will help us grow into becoming a better person. However, at some point in our lives, we run out of things to do. Yes, we’ve experienced the world and yes, we’ve found some pieces of ourselves through these adventures but you cannot deny the feeling that a part of you keeps crying out to find something more than what your adventures has led you to find – a calm and fulfilling experience that would help you further discover parts of yourself.
Yoga is one of the most popular exercises people do nowadays. It doesn’t just let you stretch a few muscles every now and then but it also helps you connect with your inner self which could help you discover new parts of yourself you never knew existed. Yoga is all about coordination, proper breathing, and meditation.
What is Yoga?
The word yoga came from the Sanskrit word yuj which essentially means unity. The beauty behind yoga is that it allows the union of the mind, body, and soul to the Divine Spirit which helps us achieve a happy and fulfilling life. It lets us be able to focus on our inner awareness and energy which makes us appreciate the beauty of the world beyond our five senses.
Patanjali is a famous and one of the first yogis that specialized in the philosophy of yoga thousands of years ago. In his texts, he had described yoga as possessing “eight limbs” or “Ashtaangas” in Sanskrit. According to him, the first limb reflects ethics and morality which teaches other yogis to conduct their activities in the most ethical way possible. The second limb is about observances – guaranteeing that the mind remains uncontaminated after purification. The third limb is about empowering the body and soul through “asana” or “physical postures”. The fourth step talks about the most important step in yoga – the Pranayama or the control of breath. The fifth limb, pratyahara, teaches yogis to withdraw to the five senses that could only bring pain and suffering. Dharna is the sixth limb. It means concentrating on the breathing and fixing your mind on one thing. The seventh limb is meditation. Finally, the eighth limb is about Samadhi where the yogi seems to be in a deep sleep but is fully aware of the happenings around him. This is the step where the yoga practitioner is believed to have connected with the universal spirit.
It is believed that once a person achieves all these steps, he has reached the ultimate goal of yoga: self-realization. It is where a person achieves a state of thoughtlessness in his mind releasing all the tension and freeing the mind from all sufferings the world brings. In this state, he has attained a spiritual perfection.
The History of Yoga
Yoga has been practiced by the Indians for thousands of years. It is believed to have existed even before the dawn of religion and other belief systems with Shiva as its first practitioner and guru.
The oldest mention of the word yoga was in the ancient texts of Rig Veda which contained hymns, songs, and mantras that were used by the ancient priests and Brahmans. It was then gradually developed and refined by the Brahmans as well as the rishis (seers) who documented it to the Upanishads – another ancient text with over 200 scriptures.
Around the 2nd century, a particular rishi named Pitanjali developed and created the yoga sutra which has a detailed description of the classical yoga. In his work, Pitanjali primarily mentioned the eight steps in yoga that would lead to enlightenment. Because of this, Pitanjali is considered as the father of yoga. Even now, the principles of yoga sutra is still incorporated to the techniques of modern yoga.
A few centuries after, another discipline was created. This didn’t involve the ancient teachings of the Veda and instead, developed a practice where it involved embracing the body as a way to achieve enlightenment of the mind. They believed that it would help in rejuvenating the body and in prolonging life. This was then known as the Tantra yoga which embodies radical movements that helps in cleansing the mind and body.
Fast forward to the modern times, the practice of yoga was brought all the way to the west. Its influence was further amplified when Swami Vivekananda delivered a breath-taking lecture on yoga. Hatha yoga was strongly advertised in India in the 1920s with the influence of T. Krishnamacharya, and Swami Sivananda who produced over 200 books about yoga.
Since its origin, millions of followers still strive to achieve the ultimate state of self-realization. Up until this day, yoga still remains to be a discipline that many people choose to follow. Hatha yoga is practiced by all kinds of people, even the elderly ones.
The Benefits of Doing Yoga
Though the main point of yoga is to focus in achieving spiritual oneness, regular yoga practice can also give a person a lot of benefits other than spiritual. Not only does it give a person a chance to experience relaxation, it also plays a role in defending the body against certain diseases.
Here are some of the surprising benefits of yoga to our body:
- Lowers the Risk of Depression
Yoga helps in reducing depression in most people. A research study has claimed that regular yoga practice can lead to the increased levels serotonin – a happy hormone – and reduces the release of monoamine oxidase that and cortisol which essentially decreases the chance of developing depression. Even simple yoga postures like child’s pose, leg’s up the wall, or even a more challenging one such as king dancer pose could help in eliminating stress. A few minutes of deep breathing lets you get back on track and focus on the good things.
- Promotes a Healthy Heart
Regular practice of yoga could also help increase a person’s heart rate. Postures such as pranayama, vajrasana, and baddha padmasana can help in achieving a healthier body as well as eliminating depression. A lot of studies have proven that practicing yoga religiously helps in improving the cardiovascular conditioning and lessens the incidence of heart attacks. It could also influence the body’s oxygen uptake during exercise. Adding yoga to your daily routine together with a proper diet could help you achieve a healthy heart.
- Helps in Weight Loss
Weight loss is probably one of the top reasons why people practice yoga. Although it doesn’t burn calories as much as going to the gym, it still influences weight loss in other ways.
As we dive in deeper to the discipline yoga brings, we also become conscious of what food we take into our body and the desire to live a healthier lifestyle emerges. Furthermore, since yoga reduces stress, it reduces the incidence of stress eating as well therefore preventing a person from consuming more than the intended calorie intake in a day.
- Lowers the Blood Pressure
Yoga has a great influence in dropping blood pressure levels. Postures such as padmasana, pranayama, as well as shavasana keep the body and mind in a relaxed state. Moreover, a study published in the British journal The Lancet showed that yoga cause a more larger drop in the blood pressure than by just simply lying on a couch. Another study has also shown that practicing yoga regularly showed the effectiveness of yoga in controlling hypertension.
- Helps Control Blood Glucose Levels
Lowering blood glucose levels could reduce the risk of kidney failure, diabetes and blindness.
Decrease in the blood glucose levels has also been shown by people who regularly practice yoga. It caused the lowering of the LDL or the bad cholesterol and an increase in the HDL or the good cholesterol. In most diabetics, yoga has been proven to be an effective technique in reducing the blood glucose levels. It also helps in lowering the hormones cortisol and adrenaline which helps the body react more to the effects of insulin.
- Increase Flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the most obvious results shown by people who practice yoga. A person doing yoga for the first time would have a hard time reaching certain parts of the body but as they go, they will eventually be able to increase their flexibility. This is because regular practice of yoga improves join lubrication making it more flexible.
The importance of flexing regularly cannot be stressed enough. If the hamstrings are too tight, it can lead to the flattening of the lumbar spine which could cause pain in a person’s back. Other body pains could also occur as a result of inflexibility.
- Improve Immunity
Regular muscle stretches could also have a positive effect on the function of the lymphatic system. Yoga increases the flow of the lymphatic fluids, helps massage the organs through different postures, and teaches breathing techniques that could help reduce stress and fight diseases more effectively.
It is important to remember that in yoga, consistence is the key in achieving all its benefits and more. Continued meditation could take you to deeper levels and could lead you to unearth things within yourself. Clear your mind, grab a mat, and start enjoying the wonders of yoga.