Young, old, people in wheelchairs, hospital beds, those terribly out of shape, or in the peak of health… all need yoga.
Yoga is misunderstood.
When one thinks of yoga, visions of twisting into weird, incredible postures may come to mind. Keeping the body limber, however, is only a tiny portion of yoga.
Yoga is a path to liberate the self from pain and suffering. It develops vitality, joy, ecstasy, a calmer mind, more balanced emotions, and is a tremendous amount of fun!
There here are many different types of yoga designed for every personality and body type. Bakti yoga approaches liberation by devotional practices, Karma yoga serves life, and Kundalini yoga, develops the energetic body. There are many more practices labeled under the general banner of yoga, but the goal of all yoga is liberation, or oneness with life.
Most popular in the west is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is the mother of all the modern, physical based yoga systems, such as Bikram’s hot yoga, Ashtanga, Vinyasana, Power yoga, Yin yoga, and even the Kundalini yoga created by Yogi Bajan.
However, few in the West practice the complete system of Hatha yoga, which encompasses nutrition, massage, healing, endocrinology, powerful methods of breathing, (pranayama), and meditation. Perhaps one of the most useful tools of Hatha yoga is the Shat Krias, which clean accumulated toxins from our bodies
It must be understood: the postures of Hatha yoga were never designed to be the end all. One performed asanas merely as discipline… to become strong and healthy enough to be able to sit in meditation.
In this short introduction, I will speak of some of the physical benefits of Hatha yoga, but it must be remembered that the physical benefits are just the tip of the iceberg.
A Balanced Exercise
The Chinese believe we must maintain balance of Yin and Yang in all things. Therefore, if we do extreme (Yang) types of exercise, we might balance it with soft, internal, (Yin) exercises. Hatha literally means sun (yang) and moon (yin). True yoga therefore is the perfect balance of yin and yang contained in one form of exercise.
Of course, the body of physical yoga is so vast that one can easily go to either extreme. If you wish to have a very vigorous or very nurturing workout, both are possible. Yoga has the tools to design the perfect daily routine for each individual. The real beauty of yoga is that our routine can be changed over the course of a lifetime to compensate for different stages, periods of sickness, and cycles of life.
Flexibility Is Life––Rigidity Is Death
Tai Qi masters remind us that softness overcomes hardness, just as the tongue, which is soft, will outlast the teeth, which are hard. And that water will eventually smoothen the roughest stone. Think of the progression of a lifetime.
Newborns are soft and pliable; even the bones aren’t hard. Although babies seem weak, they are actually very strong. Their Softness Is Their Strength. Sometimes babies fall off the bed, but because their bones and muscles are soft they don’t get hurt.
Young children often have amazing brushes with nature such as falling out of trees with little damage for the same reason. On the other hand as we age we stiffen; we begin to lose function. And as we lose function we become afraid to do activities we’ve always enjoyed.
One may have enjoyed skiing, running, or wrestling, but there comes a time that the body is too fragile to handle it. It’s a milestone of age when we have to stop the activities we love because we are afraid that our body can’t handle it.
At the end stage of life our bodies are stiff and rigid. The bones become brittle and even the slightest accident may cause serious injury. Finally, at death when rigor-mortise sets in, we’re stiff as a board.
The practice of yoga embodies the Chinese belief: we should look to softness and flexibility as being closer to youth and life, and stiffness and rigidity as being closer to old age and death. Yoga prolongs external and internal softness and flexibility longer than any other form of exercise.
Does Yoga Really Reverse The Aging Process?
The first evening of my first formal yoga class as a young man, I watched the instructor, with interest, from behind as she was speaking to someone. I couldn’t help but notice her healthy, attractive body. When she turned around I was shocked to see a woman perhaps in her late sixties. Her face was lined and wrinkled. But, from the back she could have been any age. In the weeks and months to come I was even more impressed in this so-called elderly woman’s physical abilities.
There is solid evidence that yoga has the potential to not only retard, but also reverse the aging process.
Really, there are two ages. One is chronological. If you have lived forty years, you are 40 and nothing is going to change it. The second age is biological, how young you are internally, what you are capable of biologically. If one is chronologically old but still flexible as a child, a part of you is still biologically young. This can be seen with many of the older yogis. They may be in the 70s or 80s, but they are still quite flexible. They have lost some flexibility and power compared to their youth, but they are still more limber than the average American teenager.
The Connective Tissue
If you take a rubber band and leave it on a windowsill it will dry out. If you pick it up in several weeks and stretch it, it will likely break. However, if you take that same rubber band off its windowsill and stretch it for a few seconds each day, it will last many weeks longer before it dries out, cracks, and finally breaks when you stretch it. A direct correlation can be made with the way in which yoga stretches and prolongs the physical body. (The body contains an enormous amount of connective tissue.)
The Spine––The Fountain Of Youth
The spine literally is a fountain of energy, through which flows the cerebral spinal fluid, and our vital force: the kundalini prana, or Qi. To lose flexibility in the spine is a sure sign of aging. In western countries research has shown that the typical 25 year old may have already begun to lose range of motion in spinal extension. With yoga, loss of flexibility in the spine is easily reversed.
Glandular Balance, Health, And Weight Management
The physical postures of yoga directly tone and balance the function of each gland in our body. If you can maintain or rejuvenate your glands; if the pituitary, pineal, thalamus, hypothalamus, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, digestive, adrenal, and reproductive glands are functioning properly, you’ll experience better health––and also a trimmer physique.
The missing element that I see in most weight loss programs is a systemic strengthening of the glands and organs. Not only with hormones or supplenments, but also by improving the function of the glands and organs themselves. With many overweight people, it’s really the entire metabolic system that’s weak. It is NOT that they are all closet eaters.
Some people insist that fat people just need to do push away’s… push themselves away from the table. But those who talk like that are mostly ignorant. You’ve heard some folks say that they get fat from looking at a piece of cake, and it’s almost true. Some get fat from anything. It’s because their pancreas, heart, adrenal gland, and thyroid are in turmoil. The sugar balance is way off; the way the body stores fat is tremendously disturbed.
Combining specific yoga postures with a non-inflammatory diet, herbs, sometimes natural hormones, and awareness, one has the best chance of improving their physique.
Yoga, of all exercises, forces you to be aware of your body and therefore your eating habits. Yoga puts tremendous pressure on the internal organs. That spare tire or potbelly feels awfully uncomfortable in an advanced yoga pose. And if you try to practice after eating a large meal, you’re going to feel it. Even overeating the night before can put a damper on the next morning’s practice.
It is often the case that one learns to love practicing yoga, and the wonderful feeling they get from being fit, more than the pleasure they get from food. It’s this synergistic effect: a deep desire to be healthier, which breeds awareness and the willingness to change mentally. The specialized physical exercise strengthens the glands and organs.
An important factor is the development of the energetic body, which brings new levels of joy and bliss. The ecstasy factor takes over using food for comfort, and facilatates a change of lifestyle that creates a permanently toned and healthy body.
Yoga Can Be Practiced Anywhere
Outside or inside, it requires no apparatus except perhaps a blanket or towel. For this reason we carry yoga with us at all times and can practice as we wish. One can use yoga to keep his or her energy flowing whenever the need arises. Even if you have a tiny space, such as an office cubicle. Anywhere, even in an airplane, simply find an unoccupied corner and do a few moments of yoga. This keeps your body rhythms in balance and helps overcome jet lag and fatigue. It is easy to practice a few postures or breathing exercises to balance ourselves anywhere or anytime.
Misconceptions Of Yoga
One misconception is that it needs to be practiced for an hour or more at a time. The versatility of yoga allows for whatever you have time for. As a lifetime practitioner of yoga I maintain that just like food, sleep, and breathing, exercise—both internal and external—is something that might be a daily need. But this does not mean it has to be an ordeal.
I’ve taught thousands a simple set of postures that takes less than one minute to accomplish. I suggest that they do it 3 times a day, once before each meal. Even with a small time expenditure as small as 3 minutes a day, it has the power to change one’s health if done regularly. All true things work very simply.
A Lifelong Friend
Yoga is a lifelong companion. Your relationship with it is completely personal. Like a good friend, you will grow together. In the young years, yoga slowly opens and strengthens your body, while developing poise and confidence in your physical abilities. In the bridge between youth and middle age (to a yogi, middle age begins at 55) you mature, growing more flexible year after year, possibly increasing limberness well into your fifties.
With yoga, you grow old gracefully as possible. It keeps your tissue, joints, and spine flexible and balanced, keeping you poised, energetic, fit and as biologically young as you can be. In this respect, there is no other system that can quite compare with Hatha yoga.