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What is the meaning of Yoga and why should I practice it?

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The Meaning of Yoga and Meditation

The word yoga is derived from the ancient language Sanskrit, it means to “yoke” or to “unite” with its aim to create a union between the body, mind, soul, and universal consciousness.

 

There is a common misconception that the meaning of yoga is limited to a  physical practice that increases your flexibility over time. While this may be one benefit of the practice, there is so much more that practicing yoga can apport to your life. There are 8 limbs or stages of Yoga, these involve 1) Moral disciplines on how we treat ourselves, 2) how we treat others, 3) the physical postures, 4) breath control/restraints, 5) the withdrawal of the senses, 6) concentration, 7) absorbing oneself in meditation and 8) the state of ultimate bliss or spiritual enlightenment. When we follow the 8-fold path of yoga the aim is self-realization, and this path should help us to purify the body, gain mastery over our senses, and gain non-attachment to worldly illusions. 

In today’s world, some practice yoga solely through physical postures (or asana, the 3rd stage of yoga), most commonly in the West. Others practice yoga through breathwork, chanting mantras or meditation. All of these are forms of practicing yoga.

 

The physical aspect of yoga is commonly combined with breath control and often meditation techniques. This is often referred to as a Vinyasa class, vinyasa meaning “to place something in a special way” or can be translated as “arranging something in a special way within specific structures”. The structures being the breath inhalations and exhalations, and the placements being the sequence of individual yoga poses, making a vinyasa practice a moving meditation with the breath.

 
So what exactly is the difference between yoga and meditation?
Meditation can help us to look deeper within and understand our thoughts, refocus our attention, learn to stay centered, and keep our inner peace. The meaning of yoga also encompasses meditation, as well as incorporating physical practice and breath control techniques, all aimed at giving you a sense of calmness and balance that can benefit your emotional, physical health, and sometimes spiritual well-being.
 

 

The Benefits of Incorporating Yoga and Meditation into Your Everyday Life

The origins of Yoga date back to Northern India 5,000 years ago, with the practice systematized and documented around 2,000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras, by the sage Patanjali. This helped spread the practice of yoga, with its widespread adoption in the West exploding in the 19th century and continuing to this day. It is now estimated that over 500 million people across the world practice yoga and meditation. So why are more and more people practicing yoga and meditation techniques? Here are some of the reasons why:

Physical Benefits: Improved Flexibility, ROM and Strength

If you struggle to move certain areas of your body, yoga can be a great way to increase your range of motion. Perhaps you have tight shoulders or hips,  staple poses like downward dog can help you to increase mobility and strength in the shoulders, hips and ankles, with many yoga poses simultaneously working on strengthening the arms, core, and legs. As you incorporate different yoga poses into your routine, your muscles stretch and bend to adapt to the form and alignment of the pose. Over time, your body will adapt as it gets used to the different movements. The beautiful thing about yoga is there is no age limit to practicing yoga, a regular practice should help you to increase mobility over time which is usually something that decreases with age. Increased strength and flexibility will enable you to move through life with greater ease and help prevent potential injuries.

Increased Body Awareness and Posture

Many yoga postures involve energetic locks in the body, such as uddiyana bandha, which is an active engagement of the abdominal muscles. Being aware of relaxing or contracting certain muscles as you enter into a pose, can help you to be more aware of your body. Being more aware in the body helps us to check in more with ourselves and notice if we are slouching. Furthermore, several poses help to stretch our spine, strengthen and open up tighter areas in the body such as the shoulders and back, helping you to maintain a good posture.

Reduce Stress and Increased Concentration

Yoga can help you to soothe the fluctuations of the mind (also referred to as the monkey mind – where our mind jumps constantly from thought to thought), which many believe is the root cause of stress. Given that the main part of yoga is movement in synchronization with controlled breath, this can help you to focus the mind on the moment and the movements. Breathing deeply and concentrating on the breath brings your mind to the present moment and can help to bring a sense of calmness. Even a short yoga practice can help you to soothe your body and mind.

Going Deeper Within

Yoga can undoubtedly improve your fitness for everyday activities, like carrying groceries, walking the dog, picking up children or doing some gardening. However, you may have now established that yoga does not only provide physical benefits, it can help you to still the mind and focus your attention. The meaning of yoga is to find a connection between your body, mind and soul. It is a process to help us understand our bodies, the way it moves and its strengths and limitations. It helps us to go deeper into the mind and how to focus it, to understand our habits, tendencies and emotions and bring awareness to something we can build upon. Increased awareness gives us a deeper understanding and an ability to act, creating the possibility of change instead of allowing ourselves to be acted upon. Actions are the ways that we think, speak and move and by focusing our attention to something, we engage with it. We connect with ourselves and others through yoga.

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