The Benefits of Practicing Yoga
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years in the east and, while only recently having been introduced to the west by Swami Vivekananda in the late 1800’s, has quickly become practiced and enjoyed by tens of thousands in the western world. While having its roots in the eastern Hindu religious tradition and thus being fundamentally a spiritual practice, it has often been employed in western contexts for the physical and mental benefits which it brings to the practitioner.
Yoga is performed by moving the body into various postures which not only build muscle strength, but also increase the stamina in the body to hold such postures for long periods of time.
Our muscles also become toned due to the extensive periods which the poses are required to be held. Studies have shown that practicing yoga as little as one time a week can not only increase stamina and strength, but decrease blood pressure, reduce stress and promote better sleep. Joints also receive many benefits from practicing yoga. Cartilage maintains its health through motion as fresh nutrients are only received when the sponge-like cartilage is squeezed and the old nutrients are flushed out and new ones soaked in.
As we engage in the various poses and postures, slowly our flexibility is increased. The great thing about yoga is that you can start at whatever place you are at and you will begin to see improvements almost instantly. Many people associate yoga with strange positions such as placing feet behind the back, or twisting into a shape resembling a pretzel. While these positions can be attained through many years of disciplined training, flexibility for the average individual is also improved through yogic postures.
Pain reduction is another great benefit of practicing yoga. It has been shown through scientific studies that those with lower back pain report a reduction in the amount of pain in the lower back, and also have reduced the amount of pain medication required to make it through the day. Improper posture is one of the greatest causes of back pain, and as yoga helps one to become more flexible and strengthens back muscles, it promotes a better posture.
The benefits of yoga are of course not limited only to the physical state of the body, but extend also into the mental realm. The term yoga itself is a Sanskrit word which has been translated as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind”, and therefore is directly related to the mental aspects of a human being. Yoga has been shown to greatly reduce mental stress and anxiety and can induce feelings of calm and relaxation in an individual.
These states are encouraged through the practice of meditation, which disciplines the mind to free itself of all worry or thought in order to allow space for the discovery of self to take place. The yoga postures themselves also help engender the ability for concentration as one has to have great focus in order to hold the poses.
A clear mind brings along with it many benefits, one of which is that of increased creativity. An individual who is living with stress, tension or anxiety has a much more difficult time receiving creative inspiration. Through yoga, as stress is alleviated and anxiety lessened, the practitioner will find that creative inspiration is suddenly flowing again. Individuals who are looking for a way to boost creativity may want to consider doing yoga.
Improvement in one’s character and how they interact with the world are other benefits which are noticed by those who regularly practice yoga. They become more compassionate, kind, generous and thoughtful of others. Their ability to handle stressful situations is greatly enhanced when compared to those around them.
Decision making is impacted as they acquire a habit to take time and think a decision through rather than rashly acting on impulse. An individual who practices yoga, even among the chaos and difficulties which life brings, stands calm and can weather any difficulties in life with greater ease.
While the physical benefits of yoga are often times the end goal of a person who begins the practice, the question surrounding yoga and its postures is not whether every practitioner can bend their legs and touch the back of the head, but rather if the more significant benefits have been achieved. If the principles which are behind the practice being integrated into daily life, principles such as self control, discipline, control of the mind and detachment. If these principles are employed, then the benefits, both physical and mental, will follow as a matter of due course.