Yoga has many physical benefits: It re-aligns the joints, massages deep connective tissue and internal organs, stretches and tones muscle, and promotes relaxation through conscious breathing.
It also balances energy levels (which leads to better sleeping), strengthens the immune system, improves flexibility (which prevents lesions), and is basically the best supplementary exercise for athletes. The german football selection does yoga. So does boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
It also teaches you a thing or two about yourself. When I am in Side Plank for 10 breaths, for example, and my arms start shaking and your side starts to burn.
Do I tense up? Fall out of the pose? Hold my breath? Or do I breathe in and out and hold the pose? When I do the latter, usually I realize the barrier was more mental than anything else.
In real life, when I breathe and confront a problem instead of shrinking back or freaking out, I also usually realize the problem was way bigger in my head.
As you breathe through a yoga practice, you re-wire your brain into relaxing your body whenever a difficult situation arises. There’s a pause between the assimilation of information and the reaction to it.
That’s why “yoga” literally means “union”, between your body, mind and soul. I’m not going to explain the eastern philosophical precepts of yoga because I don’t live by all of them. I eat meat, for example, and I believe that sometimes the use of violence is justified (such as in self-defense and in the military). I also don’t believe following these precepts is necessary.
What is elemental to yoga is the practice of:
– control of thought
– control of will
– control of emotion
Control of thought goes beyond only thinking positive thoughts or of letting go of the negative. It goes beyond visualization or attracting that which you want in your life. At its root, control of thought entails a certain sharpening of the mind. Its training is simple, yet hard. It consists of setting goals for your life: I want to be succesful at my job, lose weight, get healthier, be nicer to my family, etc., and then dissasociating yourself from any thought that may hinder the realization of this goal.
Thoughts like “I’ll start working out tomorrow” or “I can eat those three doughnuts because I ran today” hinders goals. The trick is in recognizing this is your mind putting up some resistance, and taking control. Working out regardless, and not eating those three doughnuts because deep down, you know they’re bad for you. This takes will-power, which leads to…
control of action.
Not procrastinating. Setting up a plan and sticking with it. Giving your best to everything you decide to do. The body is your greatest ally for this one. Train regularly, sleep and eat well, set up a routine you can follow and that suits you, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to proactively working on your goals. Organization and time management are key here. Yoga postures help with this because of the amount of phyisical benefits they provide, a few which I already mentioned, which builds stamina and resistance for your day-to-day.
Lastly, control of emotion. This goes hand-in-hand with being aware of how one reacts to certain situations. By being aware, one can shift from a reactionary standpoint (lashing out when angry or feeling insecure over something) to a proactive one. Being aware of how one feels and questioning it before giving in to any sort of reaction, gives one the chance to ACT, not react, to all situations.
Deciding to not answer to an offense, or biting your tongue, are examples of this. I don’t think there’s a single time I regret holding back something I wanted to say that I thought about twice. It’s a different story whenever I thoughtlessly blab something out. Thinking twice is good. Acting on impulse, especially on emotional matters, usually ends badly.
These three practices, control of thought, will and emotion, have nothing to do with any religion. They have nothing to do with the adoration of any god. They can be practiced by all, atheists as well as believers. As for the yoga postures… They’re just physical postures that have really good effects for your body. Most of them are named after animals, and playfully entering into Camel pose, for example…
…doesn’t mean I’m practicing any religion. One can be any religion and practice yoga. Seeing as I am a fan, I’m going to go ahead and recommend you do 😉