Yoga is an ancient way, practiced for thousands of years, steeped in tradition and, to most people, a mysterious enigma. When practitioners would speak of the many benefits they had experienced in both mental and physical health, yoga would seem to be both a perfect practice, or one whose claims were impossible to believe.
Practitioners of yoga, or yogis/yogins (yogini for the ladies) would speak of the unification of mind, spirit, and body. The belief was that when these were brought into balance the persons mental and physical health would improve. The word “harmony” would be heard a lot, as would be “healing”, again, applied both to the body and the mind.
Until recently, you could only go by what someone who had personal experience could tell you. There was a reasonable amount of skepticism that yoga could actually be as beneficial to your mental and physical health as its proponents claimed.
However, in the last few years, scientific study, observation, and measurement have proven that yoga can indeed have specific observable affects on your health. It has been shown that body, mind, and spirit do work together and when the effective level of each is raised, the person experiences a much better life in terms of health, happiness, and harmony within himself or herself and with the world in general.
An article published by Johns Hopkins states:
“Over 75 scientific trials have been published on yoga in major medical journals. These studies have shown that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity that also has important psychological benefits due to its meditative nature.”
In our modern society, we are likely to look at yoga first as an “exercise program”. As with any good exercise program, yoga can increase muscle strength and respiratory endurance, improve flexibility, and promote balance. It also tends to lessen pain in those afflicted with arthritis and helps to increase energy levels in those who practice it.
Yogis and yogins also have long reported increases in what might be called positive mental states, along with decreases in negative mental states. They tend to report a greater level of optimism, a renewed or improved enthusiasm for life, and a higher sense of alertness and awareness of themselves and the world and people around them. They have also reported decreased levels of aggressiveness, anxiety, and excitability, as well as lowered levels of physical complaints and illnesses.
Scientific observation and testing is now bearing out what practitioners have been saying for years. Studies on the biological, psychological, and biochemical aspects of yoga have shown a wide range of positive results for most who take up the practice of yoga.
When practiced over time, yoga tends to level pulse rate, stabilize the nervous system, normalize stomach and digestive activity, level hormones, and increase joint range of motion. It increases energy, endurance, immunity, and cardiovascular efficiency. It improves eye-hand coordination, reaction time, dexterity, and helps the person to get more restful and restorative sleep.
Yoga also seems to have psychological benefits as well. practitioners and those who study them report that it helps you become more aware of your body, accept yourself more readily, improve your concentration, memory, learning and mood.
Additional benefits of yoga as compared to other exercise programs is that it massages internal organs in a way that other programs do not, and produces a detoxifying effect. Some speculate that this may lead to delaying aging.
Finally, yoga can be practiced almost anywhere, anytime, by anyone, and requires no special equipment. It does not even require special training! While having an expert teach you personally would be best, a careful reading of books on the subject and a DVD or two can get you started. However, our modern citizens tend to throw themselves headfirst into new projects. Not only is this completely opposite from the philosophy and aims of yoga, but it can invite injury and strain. The people in the books and DVD’s have been doing yoga for years. It is highly unlikely that you will immediately be able to duplicate their ability to achieve the positions they demonstrate. Just do the best you can, and then do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…
As always, before beginning any physical fitness program, check with your doctor first to make sure it is okay for you to start. Once started, however, be aware that there are people in their 70s, 80s and 90s doing yoga. You will not be alone.