The True Importance Of Yoga
“In our uniquely human capacity to connect movement with breath and spiritual meaning, yoga is born.”
~Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
Every year, you likely know more and more people who start practicing yoga. Maybe it’s your friend, a coworker, or a family member. There’s something magnetic about the practice that makes people instantly attracted to it.
Although yoga is getting more and more popular in the West, yoga is much more than just a trend. Even if people attend their first class because they’ve seen others do it, because a friend invited them, or even because their doctor recommended it – that’s not why they stay.
When you go to your first yoga practice, you might think it will improve only one aspect of your life. Perhaps you do it for its physical benefits, or because you want to incorporate some type of spiritual practice into your life. But soon you realize it seems to affect every aspect of your being – and that’s exactly what it is intended to do.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years. Ancient yogis understood that humans are physical, mental, and spiritual beings. Yoga was developed in an effort to help harmonize all levels of our being. True yoga in India was not just about physical exercise. It was primarily a spiritual practice focused on the development of virtues that help us reach our highest potential and find purpose and meaning in our life.
Still, even if you only practice the physical postures or asanas, there’s a good chance you will notice a change in all levels of your being. That’s not only an insight coming from subjective experiences of practitioners, it is also something that we can and have proven by science today.
Physical yoga practice, asana, is a form of education about living a better life. On the mat, we become aware of our body and our movement. We connect to our breath and learn to control it. The breath serves as a sort of bridge between our physical body, our mind, and our spiritual self. You can experience that connection as soon as you start controlling your breath. And you don’t have to take my word for it – you can try it right now.
Start by sitting up nice and tall and deepening your breath. That means your inhales and exhales get longer and you activate all the organs involved in the breathing action. As you inhale, lift both your belly and chest and try to make your exhalation longer than your inhale. After only a couple of moments, you will likely experience a sense of calm, your thoughts may be quieter or more focused, and you may enter a more meditative state. Try closing your eyes and breathing mindfully for a minute or two.
Now, in only a few moments of conscious breathing, you have experienced part of the true essence of yoga. Without any preparation you have managed to connect your body, your mind, and your spiritual presence.
When we start practicing yoga regularly, we learn to tap into this connection with our bodies. We learn we are able to calm ourselves down, improve our mood, and become aware of the present moment. This happens even if we’re not aware of it, but it does become more significant when we are conscious of what we’re doing.
After you learn to connect your breath, movement, thoughts, and emotions during a one-hour yoga class, you can begin to take that skill and incorporate it into life off the mat.
That’s the true importance of yoga. When you recognize this important connection, you will see the benefits in your everyday life and your sense of well-being will likely improve.
Below we’ll dive a little deeper into some of the specific benefits of yoga – but first I wanted to make sure you understand that you are creating those benefits. You are connecting with yourself, you are building your spiritual practice, you are improving your mental health. With yoga, you gain a deeper sense of understanding of and connection with your own being. That empowerment is what makes it so important, especially in this fast-paced time in which we are living today.
Physical Benefits Of Practicing Yoga
Some people wonder if they’ll get in better shape by doing yoga. Some want to improve their performance, whether by gaining greater flexibility or strength. Others want to manage and reduce their chronic pain or improve their posture. The truth is – yoga does all that and more.
One reason why yoga improves every aspect of your body is that it uses primitive movements. When you observe yoga poses, you will likely notice you’ve done many of them since you were a child. We squat before we walk, nearly every child tries rolling on the floor, stretching, and doing the candle pose. With yoga, we’re not focusing only on one aspect of our body. We’re doing natural movements that simultaneously improve our strength and range of motion.
Still, there are different styles of yoga you can practice if you want to focus on a certain physical benefit. All yoga styles will still benefit every aspect of your body, but each style has a different energy and focus.
For example, if your main goal is to build strength and stamina, a more dynamic style of yoga would be appropriate. There are many styles of dynamic yoga, including Ashtanga, power yoga, Iyengar yoga, hot yoga, and more, but they can all be described as Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa yoga, or “flow”, refers to a yoga practice where the poses or movements flow seamlessly into one another in coordination with the breath.
On the other hand, those who want to combat back pain and other chronic issues, or want to improve their flexibility, may be attracted to more gentle yoga styles. Although Hatha yoga meant something else in the past, today we often relate this word to a more slow and gentle yoga style. Other variations are Restorative and Yin yoga. In these styles of yoga, we spend most of our time in sitting and lying positions, and we hold the poses for longer. Restorative yoga allows the nervous system to rest while Yin yoga targets the fascia, or deep tissues.
Many yogis are most attracted to one style of yoga, while others prefer to mix it up. Luckily, you don’t have to decide. Simply choose the style of yoga that provides the physical and/or mental benefit you need at this day, this season, or this period of your life.
Mental Benefits Of Practicing Yoga
Even if your primary motivation for practicing yoga is physical benefits, you will likely notice the mental benefits of the practice even in your first class.
By being aware of our body and connecting breath with movement we have something to focus on. At that moment our thoughts slow down and we begin to relax. Science has proven time and time again that yoga improves mental health. A single class can help reduce the stress from the day, and regular yoga practice can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. (Note: yoga is not a substitute for medical care. Please see a doctor or qualified mental health professional if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental illnesses.)
When you feel stressed, anxious, or have negative thoughts about yourself and the world – try practicing yoga. At least for that time, and even immediately after your practice, you’ll get back to a calmer and more positive state of mind. With time, you may find the benefits last longer and you will be able to use yoga as a type of self-therapy whenever you want to improve your mental well-being.
All styles of yoga will give you this feeling, whether you’re sweating through a challenging Vinyasa sequence or relaxing your body through a gentle restorative practice.
Spiritual Benefits Of Practicing Yoga
Regardless of our religion or view of spirituality, many of us feel there’s something else, whether that’s something deep within us or beyond our body and our thoughts. The spiritual aspect of our lives gives us purpose and a greater meaning. When we feel connected to our greater purpose we can more easily combat our daily struggles long-term.
Yoga can give you that. The focus on the movement and unity with the breath allows you to calm your thoughts. When your thoughts and emotions are calm, you are able to return to the present moment. The present moment is where spirituality happens.
Each of us may experience something completely different in our own spirituality. Perhaps you feel a state of unconditional love and bliss. Some people get physical sensations, others have visions. That’s why it’s hard to explain what spiritual benefit you can expect from yoga. Yoga is very individual – and the best things often happen when you don’t expect them.
Still, with regular practice, you can expect to gain spiritual experience, knowledge, and understanding. When this begins to happen, yoga stops being merely a physical practice and it becomes a part of your life. You start using the practice to improve yourself, to treat yourself and others better, and to find deeper meaning, love, and true joy in this beautiful life you were given.
That was exactly why yoga was developed in the first place. The goal was to reach a higher state of being and to live spiritually both on and off the mat.
Keep practicing the type(s) of yoga you enjoy, incorporate what you learn and feel into your everyday life, and see for yourself how you and your surroundings change for the better.
Bring more joy, peace, love, and meaning into your life and enjoy the process of improving your life little by little, every day, with yoga.
Practice with Me
I teach a variety of multi-level yoga classes throughout the week. Most are available both in person and online. You can find my regular schedule at www.rachelhupp.com/yoga. I’d love to invite you to check out my Morning Connect Yoga Series on YouTube.
I also offer one-to-one yoga instruction and online or in person offerings for your bachelorette party or special event. Contact me at email@example.com to find out more.
I’d love to see you on the mat soon!