Chances are, you know someone who is practicing yoga. They may be followers of a certain spiritual discipline, or they may be in it for practical and health reasons.
While yoga is mostly associated with health and fitness, its primary goal is to help you connect and be in alignment with the universe. It’s a means to reach your higher self. Yoga is about attaining awareness—and reaping the health benefits along the way.
It’s been utilized in American gyms for its ability to build aerobic capacity and strength. But, some elements get lost in translation. According to David Surrenda, CEO of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, too often, the focus is on the physical gains and not on the inherent cores, which involve teaching self-awareness.
But, despite its proliferation, yoga still holds within it surprises in the form of numerous potential health benefits. Let’s find out what these are and get to know more about yoga in the process.
A Brief History of Yoga
Yoga has been around for thousands of years. In fact, it’s believed that this spiritual practice began at the dawn of civilization, where the god Shiva became the first yoga guru. Shiva then shared his knowledge of yoga to the legendary seven sages who traveled to different parts of the world, from Asia to South America, to further spread the master’s teachings.
One legend tells of how hatha yoga, a type of yoga, was founded. An orphan boy, Matsyendranath, founded hatha yoga. In the legend, he was abandoned at the shore by his parents when a whale gobbled him up.
This whale dove down deep into the ocean where, as luck would have it, Shiva and Parvati were talking about the mysteries of yoga. Our protagonist went on to listen to the exchange for 12 long years!
Historically speaking, yoga’s actual history has been obscured and uncertain in many places, owing to the oral transmission of its sacred texts and the very secretive nature of its teachings. What we do know is that the practice can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago. However, according to some researchers, yoga could go back up to 10,000 years.
Yoga’s long history has been divided into four main periods: pre-classical, classical, post-classical, and modern yoga. Each of these periods is characterized by innovation, practice, and development.
Types of Yoga
There are many different types of yoga currently being practiced today, some of which you may be familiar with:
Great for beginners and employs a classic approach to breathing and exercises.
Paying attention to both the spiritual and the physical, this yoga type entails releasing the trapped kundalini energy in your body.
This yoga type focuses on precise movements and alignment. This is a great option for individuals with injuries as Iyengar yoga allows them to work slowly and methodically.
Ashtanga yoga is best for advanced practitioners. This type entails physically demanding postures, which may be challenging for beginners wanting to go into the discipline.
Considered to be the most “athletic” yoga type, Vinyasa involves coordinating the breath with movements to create a flow, going from one pose to another.
Want to break a sweat while doing yoga? Then, Bikram yoga may be your cup of tea. This type involves doing a sequence of poses in a sauna-like room.
Yoga and Its Benefits
According to the American Osteopathic Association, yoga has numerous physical benefits:
- It increases your flexibility.
- It aids in the development of muscle strength and tone.
- It paves the way for better respiration.
- Yoga may be able to give you more energy and better cardiovascular and circulatory health.
Aside from physical benefits, your mind gains something from the practice, too. According to Dr. Natalie Nevins, a certified Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, yoga can help you manage stress. With regular practice, yoga can also promote mental clarity, as well as body-and-self-awareness.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the abovementioned benefits backed by science.
Yoga can help reduce stress, which, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on your mind and body. In a study on alcohol-dependent individuals, yoga was recommended as part of therapy. Results show that stress hormone (cortisol and ACTH) levels were reduced and that yoga was able to extend an antidepressant effect on the subjects.
Aside from being a stress-buster, yoga can also relieve anxiety. In a recent study, it was found that yoga led to a significant decrease in the anxiety levels of college students.
It involved the participants undergoing and completing six weeks of yoga before they took their final exams. The results suggest that yoga can be used by administrators to aid in relieving the anxiety of students.
Decreasing Back Pain
Lower back pain can interfere with daily activities and even sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it affects around 80% of adults at some point in their lives.
A 2017 analysis shows that yoga may be used to provide lower back pain relief. Moreover, yoga may help improve back-related function. In lieu of physical therapy, yoga may be used to relieve back pain as it may just be as effective.
As Complementary Therapy
Yoga is fast becoming a popular choice as a complementary therapy for individuals who seek to improve their quality of life. In a study, senior citizens were subjected to six months of Hatha yoga classes to determine its effect(s) on their cognitive function, mood, energy, and overall quality of life. The results of the study showed significant improvement in the quality of life, as well as the physical abilities of those in the yoga group.
In yet another study, yoga’s effects on women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer were observed. The study found that integrating yoga to the therapy yielded positive results. The results showed a significant decrease in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The results suggest that yoga may be used to gain a better quality of life and to aid in stress reduction.
Aside from the following conditions, yoga may be used as a complementary therapy for stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and colitis.
Yoga in Daily Life
Let’s face it, daily life is far from perfect. Life gives you lemons in every turn, and sometimes all you really need is the chance to get away from it all. While yoga isn’t exactly a cure-all, it can provide you with a way of life that focuses on having a sound mind and a sound body.
Remember that humans aren’t just physical beings; we’re mental and spiritual beings as well.
Yoga balances out these three separate components. It aims to develop the different aspects of your daily life, from your physical health to your spiritual health. Yoga also helps usher you toward self-realization and self-knowledge. Along the way, you’ll learn how to show love and kindness, exercise empathy, and practice respect toward all forms of life.
Practicing yoga daily can help you have better relationships and better control over your body and mind. Each session can leave you feeling rejuvenated, optimistic, and energized.
With all of the potential benefits that it has, what’s not to love about yoga?