by John Tunney
Why do yoga?
answer is that yoga makes you feel better. Practicing the postures,
breathing exercises and meditation makes you healthier in body,
mind and spirit. Yoga lets you tune in, chill out, shape up
-- all at the same time.
people, that's enough of an answer. But there's more if you're
yoga is good for what ails you. Specifically, research shows
that yoga helps manage or control anxiety, arthritis, asthma,
back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue,
depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headaches, heart disease, multiple
sclerosis, stress and other conditions and diseases. What's
Improves muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina
Reduces stress and tension
Boosts self esteem
Improves concentration and creativity
Stimulates the immune system
Creates sense of well being and calm.
that's just the surface stuff. In fact, most of the benefits
mentioned above are secondary to yoga's original purpose.
Developed in India, yoga is a spiritual practice that has been
evolving for the last 5,000 years or so. The original yogis
were reacting, in part, to India's ancient Vedic religion, which
emphasized rituals. The yogis wanted a direct spiritual experience
-- one on one -- not symbolic ritual. So they developed yoga.
means "union" in Sanskrit, the classical language of India.
According to the yogis, true happiness, liberation and enlightenment
comes from union with the divine consciousness known as Brahman,
or with Atman, the transcendent Self. The various yoga practices
are a methodology for reaching that goal.
hatha yoga, for example, postures and breathing exercises help
purify the mind, body and spirit so the yogi can attain union.
Pranayama breathing exercises help clear the nadis, or channels,
that carry prana the universal life force, allowing prana to
flow freely. When the channels are clear and the last block
at the base of the spine has been opened, Kundalini rises through
the spine, through the central channel called the sushumna-nadi,
and joins the crown chakra. According to the tradition, the
release of Kundalini leads to enlightenment and union.
If you do yoga will you become enlightened?
Well…you might (of course, it could take a few lifetimes of
diligent practice). But then again you might not. But it doesn't
really matter because yoga is a process, and there's a lot of
good to be had along the way.
What if you don't believe in talk about enlightenment, spirit
and the rest of it?
That's okay, too. Yoga doesn't discriminate. Even if you don't
believe in the spiritual side of life, you can still do yoga.
Whether enlightenment, nadis, prana and Kundalini is literal
truth, metaphor or myth is irrelevant. If you do yoga, chances
are that you will feel its psycho-physiological effects.
Moreover, the concept of union has a powerful down-to-Earth
meaning. Yoga helps us get in touch with our true selves.
Between work, home and all of the demands and stresses in between,
it's easy to lose touch with who we are, that core essence with
which we were born. Rushing around all day it sometimes feels
like the "I" inside is simply the result of the things we do
all day -- or the effects those things have on our minds, bodies
"I am hungry" or "I am stressed"? We identify with our conditions.
It's like "hungry" or "stressed" is a name (Hi. I'm Stressed.
What's your name?) As a result, our identities shift with
our moods and conditions.
In truth, however, we are not the conditions we experience or
things we do. We are not our jobs or the thousands of tasks
that make up our jobs. We are not the sensations or emotions
we feel. We are not the car we drive or the house we live in.
We are not "S/he Who Must Pay Bills." We are not Mr. and Ms.
Strip away the emotions, sensations and conditions and somewhere
deep down inside you are still there. Strip it all away and
you find out who you really are.
The techniques developed by the yogis to transcend also help
us strip away the things that try to mis-define us -- the emotions,
sensations, desires, achievements and failures of daily life.
Through yoga we learn to develop a greater awareness of our
physical and psychological states. As a result, we're in a position
to better manage our reactions to the thoughts, feelings and
responses we have to the various situations we deal with every
With greater awareness comes the sensitivity and skill to find
and remove the physical and psychological blocks that often
keep us from our true selves. We no longer identify with our
conditions. Instead of saying, "I am stressed," we begin to
say, "I feel stress," or "stress is present." It's a subtle
but powerful difference.
yet, we say "I feel anxiety and fear, and that's causing stress
and in particular it's causing tension in my neck and shoulder."
So we breathe deeply to soothe the anxiety. We review the
events that led to the onset of those feelings, and in the
process they lose their grip on our nervous system. We intentionally
relax our shoulder and neck to prevent the stress and tension
from building into a permanent condition.
us control of ourselves. It helps cut through the layers of
mis-identities that arise in response to our actions, experiences
and feelings. It calms the frenzy, clears the clutter and
allows us to get back in touch with ourselves.
union with self. Or,
as Patanjali, one of the great yoga sages, said:
(Yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind).
drashthuh svarupe' vasthanam (Then the true self appears.)
yoga is not about self-absorption. Yoga is about being in the
world. Although most books, videos and websites focus on yoga
postures, breathing and meditation, the tradition also emphasizes
love, compassion, knowledge and right action as paths toward
you pursue yoga as a spiritual path or for its psycho-physiological
benefits, yoga is a methodology for developing a deeper experience
of your self and the world.
it makes you feel really good.
John Tunney is a Kripalu certified yoga teacher and the founder of Yoga Site (www.yogasite.com).
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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