Yoga: what is it? Why do people make such a big deal about it? Yoga is one of the oldest and most beneficial forms of movement in practice today. However, it isn’t just a movement form; it’s a way of life. Yoga helps the mind come back into the body, and can allow for deeper and prolonged concentration that otherwise would be hard to achieve without assistance.
Our society today is fast paced and causes stress for everyone, young or old. The more our society begins to depend on science and technology, the more we will want (and need) to fall back to a different form of meditation or relaxation. In his article Why is Yoga Becoming So Popular?, Sadhguru states, “As the activity of the intellect becomes stronger in the world, more people will shift to yoga over a period of time and it will become the most popular way of seeking wellbeing.” As we all work more and more on computers, or with technology, the more we will want to step back and take a breather away from it all.
Yoga originally started as a precursor to meditation. The practice of yoga has been in effect for several thousand years and is used mostly by people in India, where it originated. When shamans wanted to meditate, they performed the sun salutations or Surya Namaskara (opening sequence) to begin a longer asana (yoga) practice which ended in savasana (final rest) before meditating. Yoga was originally used to remove all of the excess energy that our bodies have so as to help achieve a deeper state of meditation. There are multiple types of yoga, spanning from vigorous to restorative/relaxing types of yoga. Ashtanga and Vinyasa are more vigorous, and Yin and Hatha are more restorative. Even though yoga is a new phenomenon in the United States and considered a ‘modern’ form of exercise, it is actually an ancient practice. Once yoga arrived in the United States, it took on the form of exercise and inserted itself as a modern work-out as an alternative to cardio or Pilates. While yoga is classified as form of exercise, yoga can calm the mind and renew energy in the body. From personal experience, I can testify that daily yoga practice can help streamline any process from writing a paper to giving a presentation and everything in between.
I discovered yoga while I was on an exchange program in Honolulu, Hawaii at the beginning of my junior year of high school. Four days a week, the school day started with some form of exercise, and I chose to have yoga as my form of exercise. I have never experienced the amount of clarity in school that I had after those yoga classes. I was more attentive in my classes, understood the material better, and didn’t feel as tired at the end of the day. When I went back to my own school, I lost that clarity of mind because I didn’t have yoga built into my schedule the same way and couldn’t practice before school. In Jim Paterson’s article “Positioning Yoga in Schools,” he states that “[y]oga can tune up students’ academic performance and specifically help with issues such as paying attention in class, test taking, inappropriate behavior, and conflict among students.” I, myself, have experienced clarity of mind and longer attention span while in Honolulu and here at Goucher, where I take a yoga class twice a week.
While yoga helps with the academics, it can also assist processing feelings or emotions that are unable to be dealt with otherwise. If a topic is too uncomfortable to talk about, trying to work through it via physical activity, such as practicing yoga or taking a walk, can help you come to terms with the topic or be ready to talk about it with someone else. Diamond confirms that “[y]oga has been shown to improve many health issues including anxiety and stress.” Personally, I have seen yoga benefit many people, myself included. For instance, when I originally started going to classes at home, my mom came with me just to spend time with me. As she began to practice yoga more and more, my mom began to have more energy and clarity of mind, along with not getting as many migraines as she did before. The improvement I saw in my mom was amazing, especially after the seeing her struggle through the previous difficult years. Another example was when I taught a yoga class last year to a group of peers, many of whom had never practiced the movement form. In the beginning, some struggled with the forms and being able to stretch in new poses. However, by the end of the class, everyone looked more restored and energized than when I had seen them in the previous weeks due to yoga.
Yoga can be a form of exercise, but it can also be a form of relaxation. Yin and Hatha are both more relaxing types of yoga. Personally, I enjoy relaxational yoga more than a vinyasa (exercise) class, but it’s just my preference. Most importantly, though, we need to have balance, both exercise and restorative yoga in your practice. For example, in order to practice yin yoga and to not throw my body off kilter and maintain a healthy balance, I also have to practice vinyasa. Just like a coach would tell their players to stretch before a game and cool down after one, having a balance between exercise and relaxation is important. Balance is a crucial part of life, and also of yoga. If the desire is to heal yourself, then achieving that balance is important. Meditation is also part of the tradition of yoga — to meditate after practicing yoga. Meditation was the main reason that yoga was invented. Just practicing a breathing exercise or taking a few moments to process what happened in your day would benefit you in the long run. Unwinding is one of the best ways to help keep your body healthy.
While the benefits of yoga are well documented and widely believed, there are some who do not believe it is a good practice. Like most activities, or lack thereof, there can be negative repercussions. Alignment is very important in the body, which is why chiropractors exist. When our body is misaligned, it causes pain (and no one likes that). While misalignment in yoga may not cause immediate damage or pain, it can cause pain in the long run. In the article “Ten Reasons Yoga Might Be Bad For You,” Jonathan Fitzgordon states that exercising is crucial and that “if you are doing it incorrectly it will not be good for you.” Understanding what feels good or bad in your body while taking a yoga class will help prevent injuries down the line. An instructor doesn’t know a practitioner’s body like the practitioner does, so practicing what feels good, and not doing a posture that might aggravate a knee, for example, would be wise for a practitioner. Using common sense to take care of your body, and understanding that everyone’s body is different, will help eliminate the possibility of causing yourself pain. In the conclusion of his article, Fitzgordon further explains that “whether it be pursuing yoga for spirituality or exercise, students should spend most of their time getting to know themselves, inside and out, in the search for a healthy life.” Thus, listening to what feels good and what doesn’t will help with understanding what is right for your body.
Yoga is a form of exercise, mediation, and a way of life. It helps to hone the mind to the task at hand, energize and rejuvenate the body, and can lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Yoga is an activity that benefits everyone. Practicing yoga could be your turning point of understanding what needs to happen in your life as a human being. Life requires balance and if you bring yoga into the mix, life will become more rewarding. So, why aren’t you practicing?
Diamond, Lisa. “The benefits of yoga in improving health: Lisa Diamond recommends the prescription of yoga to improve patients’ physical and mental wellbeing with little cost to the health service.” Primary Health Care, Mar. 2012, p. 16+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A283751581/AONE?u=goucher_main&sid=AONE&xid=cd212883. Accessed 18 Oct. 2018.
Fitzgordon, Jonathan. “Ten Reasons Yoga Might Be Bad For You” Core Walking for Pain Relief, 2018 https://corewalking.com/ten-reasons-yoga-might-be-bad-for-you/ Accessed 18 Oct. 2018
Paterson, Jim. “Positioning Yoga in Schools: Programs offer academic, physical, and mental benefits for students and teachers alike.” Principal Leadership, vol. 18, no 5, Jan. 2018. Gale Educators Reference Complete. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A534365499/PROF?u=goucher_main&sid=PROF&xid=d4e40c95. Accessed 18 Oct. 2018.
Sadhguru. “Why is Yoga Becoming So Popular?” Isha Yoga—A Guide to Yoga and Meditation https://isha.sadhguru.org/yoga/yoga_articles_yoga/yoga-becoming-popular/ Accessed 27 Oct. 2018