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What is Yoga; Benefits of Yoga Practice

Yoga

What is Yoga; Benefits of Yoga Practice

Biljana Mohan

The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit ‘yug’, meaning to yoke, join, connect or unite. Yoga means unity, the path towards achieving Unity with the Divine, as well as the inner state of unity – both at the same time.

Yoga is a profound, ancient holistic practice from India with a history of over 5000 years (the exact century is not known except that Sage Patanjali codified the knowledge 2300 years ago through the famous Patanjali Yoga Sutras).

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Devi leading group into Yoga Nidra, Durban, October 2017

In the words of Patanjali, Yoga is defined as “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah”. In short, it means, “Yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind”. Chitta is mind, vrittis are thought impulses, nirodah is removal. As per Patanjali, Yoga asanas are only one of the eight limbs of Yoga.

Yoga goes beyond exercise as it addresses the complete human being—in terms of body, mind and spirit. It addresses the lymphatic system, which plays a key role in our immunity. Unlike the circulatory system, armed with a powerful heart muscle that pumps the blood through it, the lymphatic system has no pump. Interestingly enough, the body movements and positions held during Yoga act like a pump for the lymph. There are approximately 600 lymph nodes in the human body, mainly situated around the joints, with clusters found in the underarms, groins, abdomen, chest and neck. Aside from addressing the lymphatic capillaries closer to the surface of the body, stretching, twisting and inverted Yoga postures reach out to the deepest lymphatic capillaries around the inner organs, which cannot be reached through any type of massage. Ancient seers certainly knew what they were doing while envisioning Yoga.

Yoga practice reduces all inflammatory processes in the body. With the help of Yoga, more antigens flow to the lymph nodes, thereby increasing antibody/antigen contact. This has been found to help with chronic or subacute inflammatory processes, including autoimmune disease, arthritis, acne, bronchitis, sinusitis, amygdalitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, etc.

Yoga balances the endocrine system and the chakras, cone-shaped whirling vortices of energy rooted in the subtlest (causal) layer of our aura, with kshetram (location at which they are felt) on the physical body from the front and back side. Our chakras collect, transform and distribute prana to each and every part of the body-mind system.

Improving our flexibility through Yoga actually means much more than one would anticipate. It is important to understand that lack of flexibility is associated with energy blockages in the nadis (energy meridians in the subtle body), and with samskaras (negative/painful impressions of the mind stored in the muscles (and subconscious mind), which add to the ‘luggage’ we carry unnecessarily). Yoga practice helps us to remove these blockages by working on our physical body, by consciously breathing through the stiffness in certain areas of the body. We hence start experiencing the all new lightness, learn to truly love our body as the vehicle of our soul, and come to experience the cause-less joy of our true Self.

Yoga stimulates the Vagus nerve and the Amygdala to cure many disorders that our modern medicine conveniently branded as genetic disorders.

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Through fun and focus on exhalation challenging asanas become easy :-)

Through Yoga postures we stretch the Psoas muscle, rarely addressed by any exercise. This muscle is crucial for proper posture, emotional balance and overall wellbeing.

Yoga is the only exercise which includes the headstand and other inverted positions to increase the flow of blood to the brain and slows down the process of aging. Yoga asanas channel blood flow to internal organs selectively.  People who have suffered years of severe migraines have found that Yoga reduces the pain and number of attacks. For some, migraines have stopped completely. 

Yoga lowers blood pressure and the pulse rate. Asanas increase oxygen flow to body cells.  Yoga improves conditions of irregular heart rhythm and accelerates brain stroke recovery.  

Yoga reduces sodium levels and increases the level of red blood cells. For diabetics it helps reduce blood glucose levels. Through Yoga one can fully reverse Diabetes.

Yoga relieves discomfort associated with menstruation and menopause.

Under any real stressful circumstance you can attempt the same calming techniques: breathing deeply and slowly, relaxing your facial muscles, clearing your head of anxious thoughts, focusing on the moment.  Applying these techniques to real life is what Yoga is all about. With regular training in Yoga, these beneficial techniques become part of our system.

Through various Yogic postures (extension, flexion, torsion) Yoga keeps our spine healthy. We are as young as our spine is because the flow of energy through our central meridian is of crucial importance in human life. It is known that stress literally eats away the gel-like liquid within the intervertebral discs of our spine. Yoga practice thus saves our spine and makes it young and supple

Through regular Yoga practice we get to retrain our automatic stress reaction, and replace it with one more conducive to overall well-being. Yoga pays attention to the present moment and calms the mind. Through intentional sequence of exertion and conscious deep relaxation, as well as through different forms of discomfort in Yoga (e.g. twists, straining and stretching of the muscles, inability to breathe freely in challenging positions, etc. ) what actually happens within is retraining of the automatic stress response in the nervous system so that the brain stops with this habit. This is why with practice of Yoga one’s ability to handle stress is increased manifold.

The list goes on… Ultimately, Yoga becomes a style of life that brings one into balance, lightness, love and gratitude. It sets a strong, solid Satvvic base for our full spiritual blossoming, which, if karmically given, leads one to the ultimate unity with the Absolute. Aside from numerous benefits at the physical, emotional and mental level, the practice of Yoga leads to self-knowledge, i.e. knowledge of the truth of our being.

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Abdominal breathing - baby step in Yoga

What Yoga is NOT

Yoga is not a type of sport but a much deeper holistic practice. After any sport training or gym exercise one generally feels tired. This is because katabolic processes in the body are enhanced. After Yoga one never feels tired as its effect is anabolic. In the Gym one can pump the muscles to no end, but no machine strengthens, cleanses and balances our brain, heart, spine, liver, digestive system, etc. One should be aware of this distinct difference.