The most significant and life-altering gift yoga can give you is a deep sense of yourself. But you may ask yourself: What does that mean? It sounds like a good thing to do — get a deeper sense of yourself — but what does that really feel like and look like?
Yoga, on the other hand, offers no solutions. It can’t fix you. But it can put you in touch with yourself. It can teach you how to fix yourself. Instead of fixating on solutions outside of yourself (that new sweater, this new diet guru, a new ab machine), yoga turns your attention inward. As cliché as it may sound, the answer to every question is inside of you.
The meditative aspects of yoga are inherent in the physical postures, the most commonly practiced form of yoga in the United States. The benefits of a physical yoga practice are endless, but for the sake of your probably busy schedule, I will share with you seven life-enhancing benefits of a good, solid physical yoga practice.
1. Yoga increases flexibility. In fact, flexibility is practically yoga’s calling card. From the practice of yoga, flexibility naturally increases. What often goes unsaid is there is more benefit to flexibility than just flexibility. Stretching connective tissues in the body makes the tissue more elastic. Just like a rigid tree will break in strong winds and a more flexible one will bend without breaking, making it through any kind of accident without tearing muscles, ligaments or tendons is the mark of a flexible person. A tissue that can stretch will not tear.
2. Yoga prevents aging. As a body ages, its connective tissues and organs become rigid. This rigidity is the effect of denseness without circulation. If a plant that has not been watered in a long time, the roots have trouble drawing nourishment from the soil. If the body is not regularly stretched out, tissues become dense and are often coated in fibroid tissue. It’s difficult for the tissues to get blood through them, let alone vitamins, minerals or energy. Keeping your muscles flexible will keep the body young, and diminish the overall effects of aging.
3. Yoga tones the organs. Every posture in yoga has several functions. The forward bend helps to flush the kidneys. The triangle opens the liver. When held for the right amount of time, a yoga practice can revitalize and tone every one of the internal organs. The benefits of keeping your organs in good condition go without saying. The financial benefits alone of avoiding a visit to the hospital for a transplant speak for themselves.
4. Yoga increases healthy energy flow. The yogis of ancient India discovered nadis, or energy pathways, that flow through the body. As we age, the nadis constrict, allowing less and less vital energy to flow through the body. The result is aging, loss of energy and eventually death. The practice of yoga is designed to keep these energy pathways open, thereby allowing plenty of vital energy, or life force, to flow into the body. This flow not only keeps you young, it also keeps the body healthy.
5. Yoga focuses the mind. As you progress with a physical yoga practice, you will find your ability to concentrate will also increase. The yogis of ancient India were very clever, and it seems that they developed the physical postures in such a way that it is practically impossible to do them if the mind is racing elsewhere. It’s essential to focus on what you are doing in the here and now while practicing yoga? unless you want to wind up in an out-of-balance heap on the floor.
6. Yoga gives you power. In the practice of yoga, one eventually realizes that thinking is a choice, not an obligation. The mind is like a powerful computer. It’s a great tool to be used by YOU, the operator, when it is helpful.
Yoga gives you the power to choose whether you want to be thinking or not. Yoga returns you to the position of the master over your mind, and there is more power in this mastery than dreamt of elsewhere. It can assist in overcoming compulsive eating, drug addiction, angry outbursts and many other behaviors (which begin as thoughts), which often overpower and rule lives. This ability to choose which thoughts you empower is the essence of all power.
7. Yoga gives you love. Through the practice of yoga, one comes to realize that we are all in this together. Yoga, in its essence, means union. And this union makes itself apparent on many different levels. You will come to know yourself, to find integration in the many aspects of your life. But you will also come to know others for who they really are. Beyond the masks we wear, we are all going through life in the same way, searching for union with each other and with a higher power.
Through yogic practices, you gain the insight to see through the masks of the ego, and to look deeply into your own heart. Why are you here? What is life showing you? How are you looking at the world? To come to know yourself is to love yourself with an unconditional mother’s love. And to love yourself is to love the world and all of its inhabitants.