Purpose and Benefits of Yoga
The purpose of Yoga
The purpose of yoga is to create a well-balanced, vibrant, healthy mind and body. Iyengar says in his book Light on Yoga that one 'develops agility, balance, endurance and great vitality'. Yoga poses (asanas) have evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. The poses are not randomly selected gynmastic positions for the body to perform, they have been rigorously studied, both scientifically and philosophically, and have specific beneficial effects on the body. Many people think of yoga as stretching. Whilst stretching is certainly involved, yoga is more about creating balance in the body through developing strength, stamina and flexibility at the same time as relaxing the body. Poses can be done quickly in succession creating heat in the body (a vinyasa-style yoga) or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. The poses are a constant, the approach to them varies depending on the tradition in which the teacher has trained.
Yoga brings stability and balance into our lives, giving us the tools to remain steady no matter what life throws at us, helping us find balance strength, stability and clarity of thought.
The Benefits of Yoga
Benefits of yoga can only be realised by experience. Asanas are smooth, controlled movements done slowly and with awareness to provide maximum stretch in every direction. Beginning with simple practises we gradually develop deeper understanding about the state of our body - where we are stiff, tight and how best we can remove that stiffness and tightness. The dedicated practice of asanas secures a strong and elastic physique which is lithe not muscle bound. The body is said to remain healthy and free from disease. I like to compare the practising of yoga to the servicing of a car.
The main benefits of practising yoga are increased flexibility, strength and overall fitness. Yoga poses stretch and strengthen muscles and put joints through their full range of movement. The result is greater flexibility and improved muscle tone. Asana practise helps improve posture by realigning the skeletal structure of the body. Yoga improves balance, making you more co-ordinated and agile and therefore less prone to injury. Many postures improve breathing capacity, slowing the breath and increasing vitality. Yoga practise can also decrease blood pressure and improve cardiovascular efficiency. Stretching the muscles helps them relax, improving the quality of sleep. Whilst practising yoga, the mind is clear, allowing the student to forget mental and emotional stresses for a while, leaving them refreshed and revitalised.
Breathing and Pranayama
Working with and taking control of the breath provides deep relaxation to the mind and body, strengthening the nervous and respiratory system. With yoga breathing you can train yourself to breathe more slowly and more deeply. Reduced breathing rate slows down the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, relaxing the body and quieting the nerves. Blood circulation improves as a result of deepening the breath with more oxygen reaching all parts of the body. The health of the heart determines life expectancy and quality of life in old age. More oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart. General irritability due to lethargy/ fatigue vanishes. Through pranayama practice, all body organs receive more oxygen, and toxins are efficiently removed from the body. Pranayama strengthens the immune system.
Pranayama practice also provides freedom from negative and harmful mental conditions like anger and depression. Fluctuations of the mind are controlled; the mind is prepared for meditation. Practising yoga breathing will help you experience a lightness of body, a feeling of inner peace, improved quality of sleep, better memory and better concentration.
Relaxation is an important part of yoga practise, bringing the body, mind and breath into balance. Relaxation trains you to be tension free, undefended and wide awake at the same time. Relaxation gives you the time to absorb and integrate the benefits of the yoga practise. Improving circulation, regulating blood pressure, reducing fatigue, inducing calmness of mind. Relaxation gives the experience of peace.