What is Yoga? Guest blogger Jackie Coleman talks about the importance of Yoga for the body, mind and soul.
Many people attending yoga classes in Western society do so for the physical benefits. Often the additional effects of calming the mind and tuning the inner processes of the body are an added bonus. This differs greatly from how yogis in Eastern cultures practice yoga and how yoga is a way of life not just an hourly class for three times a week.
Whilst yoga increases muscular strength and flexibility the practice doesn't stop with the physical effects. Yoga (meaning to join together or to yoke) aims to integrate the body, mind and spirit using physical postures, the breath and the mind. Yoga goes beyond purely burning calories and toning the body. Yoga is a philosophy, spiritual path and moral and ethical framework. Yoga is an examination of the Self.
The philosophy behind yoga explains human existence in terms of energy - physical energy in the body from cellular processes, mental energy that is sensory, emotional and intelligence and spiritual energy or prana that is distributed throughout the body and connects the physical to the mental and mental to the spiritual. All three are connected and in yogic terms they cannot operate separately without consequences of ill health or a troubled mind. In yoga, connecting all three energy levels brings the soul in touch with the universe and God (in which ever form this represents to you). Although it is not a religion, God is seen as a universal energy - it is within us, around us in nature and extends beyond us in to the universe. It is the reason for existence. Yoga offers that religion is a way of understanding and rationalising this energy system in a way that is applicable to the customs of each culture in society.
Yoga is a multicomponent philosophical system that helps us to unite body, mind and soul. These include postures, breathing, meditation, relaxation, lifestyle and moral principles and knowledge.
"The mind can be both pure and impure. Driven by the senses it becomes impure, but with the senses under control the mind can become pure. It is the mind that frees us or enslaves us. When we are driven by the senses we become bound; if we seek freedom we must master our senses. When the mind is detached from the senses we reach the height of awareness. Mastery of the mind leads to wisdom." ~ Amritabindu Upinishad
The practice of yoga allows the body to fine tune and for the physiological systems to function correctly. Asanas and pranayama allow the body to open up in certain ways, sending blood, energy and other fluids are sent to the muscles and organs. Asana and pranayama are the foundations of yoga that link the body to the mind and the soul. Both asana and pranayama work together to provide a basis for providing the body what it needs. If the body is in good health this serves as a starting point for creating good health in the mind. The blood is sent through the body to provide nourishment and to remove toxins. Unlike modern medicine, the health benefits of yoga can take longer to materialise. Short term benefits can be noticed, but to cure and remove disease and physical ailments there needs to be a sustained practice of yoga. In Indian culture the medical system that aims to integrate body and mind is called Ayurveda. Ayer - root, life and veda - to know.