Yoga promotes physical, mental well-being
Silhouettes in calm light stretch into strange shapes, reminiscent of bygone days in human history. Except for the soft rhythm of breaths, the people are quiet.
Each pattern of inhalation followed by exhalation is unique like a fingerprint, defined by the level of exertion by an individual as well as the level of skill. These people, like so many in America and across the world, are practicing yoga.
Yoga is a layered discipline. Participants practice meditation, mindful breathing and elastic poses.
It is a mental, emotional and physical exercise. One could even say that it is a spiritual workout — spirituality being a person’s connection with their personal philosophy of ethics and metaphysics.
Yoga can trace its roots back to India, where religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism began to take form. As a facet of these spiritual philosophies, yoga goes deep, beyond the tight muscles of 21st century people; it delves into the soul of mankind.
In Hinduism, branches of philosophy such as Ashtanga (or Raja) Yoga and Hatha Yoga emphasize the importance of yoga in developing one’s soul. Buddhism even has a tradition called Yogacara.
The meaning of all this is that yoga — while still being a great way to increase physical health, stay active and meet people — is much more than it appears.
Developing simultaneously with the thoughts and ethics of these Eastern philosophies, yoga is as essential to one’s spirituality as proper ethics and proper thought.
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali are an ancient text, as well as being the literary core of Raja Yoga. Patanjali, like all who developed Yogic ideas, took the practice of yoga much farther than his mat.
The Yoga Sutras are an essential work for understanding this realm of religion while also containing thoughts on how to better oneself.
“The goal is the full consciousness of the spiritual man, illumined by the Divine Light,” Patanjali said. “Nothing except the obdurate resistance of the psychic nature keeps us back from the goal … The psychical powers are spiritual powers run wild, perverted, drawn from their proper channel. Therefore our first task is to regain control of this perverted nature, to chasten, purify and restore the misplaced powers.”
Patanjali took this stuff seriously — that much is obvious. The practice of yoga was, in his mind as in the minds of many other “spiritual men,” a detoxification of all the scum that leeches upon the brain and the soul.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, approximately 21 million Americans practice yoga, which is about 9.5 percent of the population.
Perhaps there are naysayers in the world who classify yoga as a fad and deny its benefits. Perhaps these same people believe that yoga is “magic” or some other kind of mumbo jumbo that merely wastes time, but this isn’t true.
According to a 2013 article by The Huffington Post, “students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry.”
The numbers don’t lie, and they seem to point in the opposite direction of such possible naysayers. And even if the numbers were a bunch of liars, that still wouldn’t stand in the way of the scientific truth of yoga’s benevolence.
Additionally, a 2014 article by The Huffington Post said that not only is yoga good for people physically as well as being a way to meditate, it can also boost one’s immunity, ease migraines, boost sexual performance, help people sleep better and fight food cravings.
So here’s the deal: yoga helps a person out physically — and in more ways than just stretching. Yoga has roots in old religions that promote good spiritual health, and yoga can cleanse your emotions like a therapist or a pill, albeit a bit more naturally.
Yoga is healthy, no matter how you look at it. It is important for people to have something — whether it is yoga, meditation, praying, etc. — that helps them stay centered and focused on their path toward physical health, mental well-being and spiritual enlightenment.
The beautiful thing about yoga is that all three can be accomplished while performing one practice. Yoga is comprehensive and can only lead to prosperity in life.
Opinion columnist Henry Sturm is a journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]