Many associate Yoga with flexibility and the physical asanas practice. However, Yoga comes in many forms and the Western world is only now starting to analyse the holistic benefits of a regular Yoga and Meditation practice. In this short article we touch upon the self-empowering effect of Yoga through raising the understanding of oneself. Enhanced self-awareness increases our compassion for others; thus not only you benefit from your regular Yoga practice but everyone around you.
Many researchers have picked up on the interesting question why yogis seem to have an improved sense of energy and to live life with genuine enjoyment. Have you also wondered why yogis seem to be ‘so full of life’?
Yoga is now a recognised holistic approach to health and now classified by the National Institutes of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The therapeutic effect of yoga has been subject to studies in relation to many ailments and physical and mental conditions. Several physical benefits have been stressed by those studies. On the physical level, yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function. On the mental level, a regular yoga practice reduces stress and anxiety as yoga lowers the amount of cortisol within the body. Thus, it has also been proven as a good therapy to relieve depression and insomnia. But more importantly, scientific research has concluded that a regular yoga practice leads to changes in life perspective, more self-awareness and an improved energy to live life to the fullest. A regular practice facilitates characteristics of friendliness and compassion. — So what does Yoga do to have all those great effects?
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means union. As a first holistic principle yoga sees a living human as an entity comprised in various interrelated dimensions that are inseparable from one another. Health and illness of any one dimension affects the other dimension. It is the combination of muscular activity and inward focused awareness of a yoga practice that creates the unifying effect within a yogi. The breath acts as the guide for every yoga sequence to create this union. The second principle is that every individual is unique and requires a tailored yoga practice. Have you heard the saying that ‘yoga is like music’? As we all dance on a different tune, we also need to find the yoga practice that fits our individual needs. One of the reasons why we have founded ANYYOGI is to encourage any-yogi / any-one to find their own yoga practice by being able to try out various forms and teachers. The third holistic principle is self-empowerment. Every yogi is their own best teacher. Creating more self-awareness on the yoga mat allows transferring this sense of autonomy into all aspects of life… on and off the mat.
Most people identify yoga with the physical asana practice. The flexibility that is required for certain poses seems to create an obstacle for individuals to foster a regular yoga practice. However, asanas are only one of the instruments of yoga. The Yoga Sutras as first described by Patanjali include components of conscious breathing, meditation and lifestyle changes, visualisations and the use of sound as part of yoga. Yoga in its many forms is truly for ANYONE.
Scientific research is focused on the externally measurable factors resulting from a regular yoga practice. Acknowledging that it is difficult to grasp the full spectrum of yoga with rationally-based instruments, we would like to underline one more scientific finding: Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is your brain and nervous system’s ability to rewire itself according to what we focus on. If we practice a regular sequence, this repetition creates more neural connections and more neural connection from the brain’s associated parts of your body. More nerve fibres are also created along the connection through the nervous system to that part of the body. As we do something more, our ability to receive more information about the subtlety of what we are doing increases. This is how yoga increases your self-awareness. With practicing yoga, we increase the amount of neurological detail in our body-maps and our nervous system, because the body has increased the volume of neurological wiring. In simple words, an enhanced sense of the self occurs on various levels. By improving our own self-awareness, we increase our understanding and compassion for others. This is one (amongst many) of the reasons that researchers concluded that a regular yoga practice facilitates positive personality traits such as, compassion, mental strength and a greater sense of agency of life.
There are many reasons to practice yoga on a daily basis. But all yogis know that yoga just makes you… feel so good ;-)!