Yoga: it’s all about asanas, right? Well, no, not really. It’s a great form of exercise though, isn’t it? Yes, it is, but it’s more than that. So the physical benefits aren’t the most important? They are, it’s balanced.
These are how conversations normally go with people who haven’t experienced just how transformative yoga can be, if you let it. Yoga is a healthy lifestyle choice on so many levels, and has benefits that range from the subtle to the obvious.
There’s no denying that yoga is good for you on a physical level. If practiced regularly (even if it’s only once a week), over time you will see yourself changing. You will gain strength and flexibility; you will notice muscles you didn’t know you had. You will also loosen your body, unwind tight muscles, and allow energy to flow freely through your body. Your posture will improve, you will feel taller and more aligned, you will notice your body more and appreciate all the things it can do. Yoga can also help with injuries, if done mindfully. Different postures focus on different areas, and knowing this and understanding your body can help you recover after injury and improve areas that were damaged long ago.
Regular practice will also improve your physical health internally. Yoga massages the internal organs, give your body help in repairing. It can also help to lower blood pressure, increase blood flow around the body, and specific postures can help with things like digestive problems, migraines, and other ailments.
Not only is yoga good for the physical body, it is also good for your mental state. Just doing a small amount of physical practice can greatly reduce stress, which in turn eases the pressure on different parts of the physical body. It allows you to be calm, to focus on just one thing and accept the present moment. This means you can’t worry about other things when you’re on the mat, it hones your skills of putting your effort into one thing. It is amazing how quickly this translates to life outside the studio, as you subconsciously take these techniques into everyday life.
But it isn’t just the physical practice that helps. Yoga also encompasses other areas, such as meditation and pranayama (breathing). Both of these practices can make such a huge difference to your mental wellbeing, which in turns helps the physical health. Meditation allows you to centre yourself even more than the asana practice does. It helps you delve into your emotions and issues, to be at one with yourself, to get to the root of any problems you have (which can be mental but may also manifest themselves physically). It changes your outlook and if you continue to meditate on a regular basis, you can notice a difference quite quickly.
Pranayama again helps your mental state, as it focuses on listening to the body as you breathe. There are a number of different breathing techniques, and they each have their own benefits. Some activate your body in the physical sense (for example some are good to warm your body before eating or practicing asanas), others calm the mind and improve your spiritual wellbeing.
So you see, yoga can transform your health in so many ways. I have met people whose lives have been transformed: some have helped heal injuries (new and old), some have improved the level of scoliosis they have and reduced their pain, some have stopped severe bouts of migraines. I know people who have ongoing health problems and use the various forms of yoga and meditation to manage them effectively, meaning they don’t have to use as much medication or can live a more balanced life. Others use yoga practices as a way to control stress and improve their mental state. Yoga has such varied health benefits, and shows the smallest of actions can make such a huge difference.