Why Is Yoga Beneficial?
So many things come to mind when trying to answer a question as loaded as this. I can say any number of things that, after a decade of teaching, I know will either intrigue those interested in learning more about yoga as a science and path to Self-realization, or will deter those whose interest lies solely in the physical practice or asana, that has become so popularized here in the West. But the real beauty of yoga is that it delivers all of its benefits to all of its practitioners, without exception and without discrimination. So many students come for the psychical, but they stay for the often-unexpected emotional, mental and spiritual shifts that continue to occur.
The word yoga, etymologically stems from the Sanskrit term “yuga.” Literally meaning, “to yoke – or work together,” the practice of yoga aims to bridge the external with the internal, forming a harmonious union of being. According to Master Patanjali, author of the ancient text, The Yoga Sutras, and yogic philosophy, the path to enlightenment is attained through the practice of the Eight Limbs. Essentially, the stepping-stones on a path to divinity, the observation and attainment of the Eight Limbs is a lifelong journey. Devised as the primary approach to conscious awareness, the limbs consist of: Yamas – Universal Morality (restraint or abstinence), Niyamas – Personal Observances, Asanas – Body Postures (seat or connection), Pranayama – Breathing exercises and the control of Prana (life force energy), Pratyhara – Withdrawal of the senses, Dharana – Concentration and cultivation of inner perceptual awareness, Dhyana – Devotion and meditation on the Divine, and finally, Samadhi – Union with the Divine or Enlightenment.
Although to many, the path of yoga may seem esoteric and somewhat unattainable, the fact is, the practice and study of yoga is experiential, with each student facing individual challenges, and reaping the ultimate rewards that come from looking at oneself, breaking patterns of destructive behaviors and embracing the far-too-often compromised notion of compassion and kindness for all. It is through the study of yoga that we finally cease to see distinctions, and instead recognize the likeness and divinity of all living beings.
Now don’t get me wrong, the physical benefits are aplenty. Through the practice of asana, the musculature of the body is greatly affected, while also aiding in the toning and cleansing of all internal organs. Many common ailments are cured through a dedicated, daily practice of asana, including but not limited to, sciatica, high blood pressure, migraines, fatigue, digestive and intestinal problems, as well as hormonal imbalances and thyroid irregulations. Flexibility of the joints, tendons and ligaments results in a healthy, less injury prone body, as well as strength and endurance building, which aids in the elimination of fat and waste, resulting in lean muscle tissue, and also benefits the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Really, the benefits are countless. It is through the use of asana, as a vehicle to physical health, that the yogi can then practice the calming and taming of what ancient yogic texts refer to as the “monkey mind.” The second sutra in Patanjali’s compilation teaches, that when we finally still the fluctuations of the mind, we will then experience yoga. This practice is far more difficult than the most rigorous asana one can perform. But when we follow the guidelines, as laid out by Patanjali and the ancient texts, when our intention is pure and faith secure, we walk the path of conscious awareness that leads us to the ultimate benefit and the birthright of all living beings: pure bliss and enlightenment.