In my experience teaching, I have found that many people who come to practice yoga are not really sure what yoga is all about or have a misconception that yoga is a form of physical fitness. With all the yoga gear being sold at Wegmans stores and yoga classes popping up in all the fitness gyms, it is easy to believe that yoga is for keeping in shape or having amazing flexibility in your body. While it is true that yoga is for keeping in shape, it creates fitness in more then just the physical sense. Yoga is mostly marketed in the Western culture as a form of exercise, but in the Eastern society where it originated, it is a meditation practice.
The philosophy of yoga was defined by a man named Patanjali in the second century BC in a book called the Yoga Sutras. In it, he defined the eight limbs of yoga which are the following yamas (disciplines), niyamas (observances), asanas (poses), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (self-realization). One could think of these limbs as steps or parts leading in to full blown meditation.
Why would we want to be committed to a yoga based meditation practice? According to several studies done at Mayo Clinic, meditation helps manage chronic illnesses, anxiety and depression, sleep problems, and enhances emotional well-being. Yoga meditation clears away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to overall stress. The emotional benefits of meditation can include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions1
And so we conclude that the practice of yoga is for everyone, not just for the very flexible. Yoga is for everyday people to manage daily stressors in their busy pace of life. It is more than improving flexibility and strength, but meant to bring the individual into the present moment to stop the turning of thoughts to create a sense of inner peace and calmness. Lastly, we are reminded that yoga is a moving meditation with a mind/body connection. And to keep the physical body in good shape one must first heal and support the mind.