At a time when life has become a never ending rush, with stress waiting at every step, the human mind searches for solutions to bring in peace, calm and relaxation that permeates to the deepest core of our being. Stressful lives are the outcome of increased competition and the race to the top, materially, socially and professionally. Aspirations spiral upwards and the end result is the surfacing of baser instincts like anger, frustration, pain and lifestyle diseases. This explains the growing popularity of certain cults, the recourse to meditation, and other ways of resolving physical and mental problems. Many of these have become fads, here today, forgotten tomorrow.
In search of holistic solutions while continuing to live and work in the same troublesome world, Yoga emerges as a viable solution that can ensure physical, mental and spiritual well being. It does not require seclusion or isolation, giving up of domestic duties or professional responsibilities, but just a bit of time and sincere effort. Its appeal has stayed and its followers are only increasing by thousands.
The origin of Yoga can be traced to the 5th-6th century B.C. in India. As a 5000-year old science, it has penetrated every part of Indian society, forgot temporarily by a section, but it has always resurfaced due to the holistic improvement it provides to the quality of life of the people in the form of better health, lower stress levels and improved mental faculties. It is now being practiced in most countries in the world.
Yoga has become many things to many people, but a vast majority of the millions of yoga practitioners practice yoga as a wellness routine, more for physical fitness, a trend that started in the 1980s in the western world. But a deeper understanding of Yoga, reveals that it is far more intense and profound than merely a set of fitness exercises which involve twisting and turning the body, breathing regimens, postures and poses that ensure flexibility. It must not be perceived as a shortcut to better health, since its goal is all round fitness that envelopes mental and spiritual wellness as well.
What Yoga stands for…beyond physical fitness
The term Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. At the micro or individual level, it harmonizes thought, action and speech. Its principles include proper diet, exercise, breathing, thinking and meditation.
Yoga is a way of life that harmonizes body, mind and spirit and promotes peace at the individual level which leads to a peaceful society at large. It is a science that emerged as a part of ancient Indian spiritual culture and was integrated into every aspect of day to day life to facilitate enlightenment.
Yoga is believed to be a science that calms the mind and offers spiritual cleansing, by restraining the continuous turbulence of thoughts in the human mind. It aids dexterity in action, become mindful of the present, and helps the mind achieve a state of equanimity or balance in all kinds of circumstances.
A scientific step by step process helps individuals withdraw their mind and senses from worldly distractions, improving thoughts and deeds, living in the present moment, and being mindful, without reacting strongly to happiness or suffering. This involves physical exercises called ‘asanas’, breathing exercises, concentration and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but can merge into any religion.
Thus Yoga opens a path of self improvement for individuals, starting with physical improvement and fitness, and progressing to mental and spiritual elevation through self analysis and introspection. Raising the level of consciousness helps to change the meaning and purpose of existence and improve its quality in all respects. Thus it helps to fight weaker emotions like stress and anger, making the individual strong enough and approach any situation with peace and calm.
Types of Yoga
There are various kinds of Yoga, each requiring specific techniques, but the end result is the mind-aspiration of merging the individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Thus efficient actions form the basis of karma yoga, devotion and prayer of bhakti yoga, knowledge and insight forming the basis of gyan yoga and so on. Ashtanga Yoga is a modern form of yoga that has become popular in the western world. The name ashtanga means eight branches or limbs, and physical poses or asanas, are only one of these eight. The others include moral code, self-purification, breath control, sense control, meditations, concentration, and finally, absorption into the universe. The synchronization of breath with a series of postures, helps to detoxify the system and leaves a feeling of general well being, physically, mentally and spiritually. Hatha Yoga is popular in the west and refers to the practice of specific yogic postures that aid in the alignment of skin, muscles and bones in the human body.
The Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is being touted as the solution and treatment for all ailments and maladies from headaches and backaches, to obesity, heart disease and cancer. A tremendous amount of research is being conducted to verify claims that yoga helps to control physiological parameters like blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. A study conducted in 1998 by Dr Dean Ornish showed that yoga and lifestyle changes combine to effectively reverse heart disease, unclogging blocked arteries and doing away with the need for intrusive procedures and surgeries like angioplasty and bypass surgery. His findings were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, based on his research on an experimental group of 194 patients, 80% of which had seen reversal of heart disease with yoga and dietary changes. This was his second study, the first being conducted on 1990 on 94 patients with similar results.
Yoga helps every part of the body with the various postures and breathing techniques. The body becomes stronger, improves balance, coordination, flexibility and endurance, improves lung capacity and general well being.
Some of the many benefits of practicing yoga include:
- Yoga makes the body flexible – yogic postures help to loosen the limbs and make them supple, which facilitate bending and turning. This helps to reduce body aches and joint pains while strengthening the muscles and reduce fatigue due to physical exertion and exercise. The spine straightens and this improves our posture, and the various joints are moved to their full range. Every inch of the body moves and this makes muscles, ligaments and joints stronger, while otherwise, stiffness sets in as we grow older.
- Reduces blood pressure – Studies show that yoga help to reduce blood pressure. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that patients who did yoga twice or thrice a week along with dietary restrictions experienced a significant drop in their blood pressure levels. The ability to relax, exercise and being mindful, all combine to reduce the readings.
- Lowers blood sugar levels – yoga helps to reduce blood sugar levels and hence reduces the need for medication for diabetes. Stress hormones are known to increase blood glucose levels and yoga helps to reduce stress. Yogic postures stimulate internal organs including the pancreas, which produce insulin need to break down sugar.
- Improves digestion – Yoga helps to improve digestion since body movements and exercise facilitate the movement of food and waste inside the body. This reduces constipation and digestive disorders become less frequent.
- Prevents heart disease and reverse arterial blockage- As mentioned above, a study conducted by Dr Ornish shows how yoga when combined with a regulated diet, works to prevent the onset of heart disease in the first place, and in patients with arterial blockage, helps to reverse the process by unclogging the arteries of the plaque deposited.
- Mental and emotional benefits– Yoga helps to focus on breathing and the concentration on breath and the body help to calm and soothe the mind and thus relieve worries. As tensions and stress gets discharged, the mind gets cleared of negativism, and better control of emotions becomes possible. The mind learns to relax and this facilitates better sleep, necessary for recharging the body cells.
The list of benefits is endless and most of them seem intangible, but the end result is improved quality of a longer life.
International Yoga Day
The 21st of June has been declared as the International Yoga Day as per a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly. It was celebrated for the first time in 2015 when millions of people got together to participate in Yogic exercises in most countries across the globe. In Myanmar also, Yangon saw thousands of people from all over the country come to participate in yogic exercises at the city’s Thuwana Stadium last year.