Why Do Yoga

why do yoga?If you are new to Yoga, it’s worth your while to discover just how beneficial this simple age-old practice can be.

According to a study by Yoga Journal, 20.4 million Americans adults practice yoga, and the number of Americans who practice yoga has shot up by nearly 30 percent in the past four years.  Over 75% reported they began yoga to primarily improve flexibility and cited the other desired benefits of overall conditioning, stress relief, improved general health and fitness level. This is good news for American’s health.

There’s nothing new age or new about yoga. As a tradition literally thousands of years old, yoga has evolved into well-honed practices to improve the body, harness and calm the mind, and free the spirit. The physical exercise, called “asanas” stretch the body to lubricate the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons; tone the nervous system; improve circulation; remove toxins; release tension; and increase flexibility.  Pranayama, yogic breathing techniques, combine to enhance the overall body mind experience by cleansing and nourishing the physical body and clearing the mental clutter and cultivating calmness and equanimity.

Will Yoga Ease Modern Day Stress?

Neurobiologists have been studying the interaction between the body and the mind, and their findings show what yogis have been saying for thousands of years: functionally, the body and mind are inextricably bound together.  Yoga’s unique approach of yoking the mind, body, breath into a practice offers a safe, natural method for reducing anxiety and stress. By calming the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (responsible for “stress response”) it activates the parasympathetic branch and “relaxation response” whereby restoring mind-body balance.  In addition, yoga reduces cortisol and adrenalin levels in the body by returning it to a physically stress-free state, making it less susceptible to illness and more prone to resiliency and vitality.

Who Should Do Yoga?

Yoga is for everyone – male, or female, young or old, flexible or stiff, well or sick, healthy or injured -regardless of your flexibility, strength, or overall fitness.  Yoga is an ideal and smart balance to any form of physical exercise or sport just as it is a complement to meditation or other mind based practice.

Think of yoga as a health inducing remedy. A lot of people think they have to be healthy to do yoga.  But the point is to use your body as it is at the present moment, whether your lower back hurts, you just broke a leg or you’re a well-tuned athlete.  Yoga calls upon you to use all the sensations – the sensation of wellbeing, the sensation of pain, the sensation of sickness — to make an inquiry into your body, breath and mind.

Yoga as Medicine?

Yoga pose - malasana squatYoga is not a panacea, but a powerful medicine indeed for body, mind and spirit. More than a hundred scientific studies found yoga to be effective treatment for variety of medical problems from heart disease,  depression, breast cancer, Parkinson’s, arthritis, back pain, mental health, osteoporosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.  Sadly most of this work is unknown to the average physician.

Dr. Timothy McCall, MD, author of “Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing” and an MD for over 20 years, shares “yoga is quite simply the most powerful system of overall health and well-being I have ever seen. This single comprehensive system can reduce stress, increase flexibility, improve balance, promote strength, heighten cardiovascular condition, lower blood pressure, reduce overweight, strengthen bones, prevent injuries, lift mood, improve immune function, increase oxygen supply  to tissue…”  Even the well-known Dr. Oz promotes yoga techniques on a regular basis for a host of maladies on his daily television show.

Is Yoga a Religion?

Yoga is not a religion.  It came out of ancient India and was not a form of Hinduism.  Although there is certainly a spiritual dimension to yoga, one does not need to subscribe to any particular beliefs to benefit from it.  Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics alike practice yoga and draw what they will from the practice.  Above all, yoga is a path.  The longer you put into the journey the farther it can take you.

Is Yoga for You?

From the simplest of reasons: yoga makes you feel better—its effects are almost immediate.  When practiced regularly, yoga reliably increases our sense of physical health, emotional well-being, mental clarity, and spiritual connection.  Yet in the end, to really grasp what yoga can do, you need to experience it yourself.  Try a few sessions let your experience dictate whether you continue.  Just maybe yoga will change your life.

For more depth on yoga’s benefits, read “Why Do Yoga” by Dinabandhu Sarley, a leader in the field of spirituality and human development for more than 30 years and former CEO of the largest center for yoga study in North America, Kripalu’s.

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