Yoga, Sanskrit for “unfolding” or “uniting,” is a composite set of physical, psychological, and spiritual exercises or philosophies originating in ancient India. According to Patanjali, the father of yoga, “Yoga is a path along which a man may safely pass the wild animals of desire.” In this regard, we may consider Yoga an outgrowth of those animal instincts. However, Yoga is above such petty human matters as jealousy, greed, anger, pride, lust, and passion; it transcends them all.
Yoga combines meditation, relaxation, stretching, and physical exercise into a single system of self-practice. The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yug,” meaning to unite or “surround.” Through the consistent application of yoga postures, breathing, and meditation, an individual can attain mental balance and achieve inner freedom from emotional, social, and physical stress.
There are various kinds of Yoga positions, each with varying results. Nevertheless, the aim is always the same: to keep the body and breath in their natural, unstrained state. When Yoga is practiced consistently, without fail, it helps to elongate and strengthen the spine, to develop strength of the muscles of the trunk and abdominal organs, to lengthen and stimulate the nerve endings in the head and shoulders, to increase flexibility of the joints of the limbs, to stimulate the glands of the endocrine system and to prepare the body for new physical activities. And perhaps most importantly, yoga benefits the mind by keeping it constantly peaceful, calm, and inspired.
With Yoga, the primary focus is on correct breathing and correct posture. The many postures train the muscles, joints, tissues, and glands of the body to respond to stress in a wholesome manner, so that they do no harm when they are applied. Proper posture prevents stress-related injury and pain from accumulating in the body. Proper postures improves blood circulation, increases spinal stability, reduces the chances of a slipped disc or herniated vertebrae, improves muscle tone, improves lymphatic function, decreases back pain and improves mobility and range of motion.
The various asanas, or postures, include sun salutation (Pranayama), asana (inclined bending), kapalbhati (lying down), and dharana (concentration). Pranayama, which means “breath control”, enables a person to control his or her breathing to help him or her combat stress and improve one’s overall immune system. Kapalbhati, also called bow pose, is a posture that increases lung capacity and strengthens the heart and lungs. Concentration asana is a crucial component of Yoga exercise. It allows someone to become aware of and control his or her thoughts, allowing the person to bring a calmer state into his or her life.
A person practicing yoga should be mindful of both breath and movement. Because Yoga requires an inner journey through the body, the mind should also be freed from unnecessary worries and distractions. A quiet mind and a strong immune system are key components of the successful practice of Yoga, so those interested in improving their health will do well to learn and incorporate meditation, pranayama, and sank into their daily routine. With regular practice, an individual can develop greater flexibility and strength in all areas of the body, including the nervous system, and can reap the benefits of Yoga’s calming effects on the mind and body.