Yoga: Not Just a Physical Workout

What if I told you that yoga is not just a physical work out? In fact, the Washington, DC yoga community is boycotting the “yoga tax” under the premise that the purpose of yoga is not purely exercise, but rather a union of body, mind, and spirit. The literal meaning of the word yoga is just that – union. So how can something so physical in nature be more than purely a calorie-burning activity?

I don’t even remember the first yoga class I ever took, but it has always been appealing to me. The physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga are deeply supported and truly limitless. However, until recently I wasn’t honoring the meaning of the word. I was literally just going through the motions, doing the asana, or physical poses, individually without connecting them to something deeper (which is the point of the whole practice).

In short, I was only looking for the exercise and missing the entire objective. Yes, I felt great after class because I would stretch and have some time to relax and de-stress. My body felt good for a day a two. However, it was not until I learned about the philosophies of yoga, which outline ethical conduct and general self-guidance, that I truly realized the meaning of yoga; I found a union between the asanas I practiced with my body and the serenity I achieved with my mind. Not only do I now feel like I can get all of the kinks out of my back after a yoga class, but I feel more centered as a whole and have a buzz of calm energy which radiates throughout me for days after a single practice.

Ashtanga is the Sanskrit word for eight limbs, which outlines the eight-fold path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The eight limbs of yoga are the corner stone of any yogic practice. There are self-discipline values such as truthfulness, non-harming, contentment, and self-study. Breath control, one-pointed focus, and meditation are all equally as important as asana on the path to enlightenment. If you have yet to find balance in your personal life or workout regime, look no further than yoga.

Some benefits that yoga can bring to your daily life include, but are not limited to:

  • Better posture and alignment
  • Deep breathing exercises to calm nerves during a job interview or whenever you feel a bit anxious
  • Deeper sleep
  • Increased blood flow and circulation
  • A sense of connectedness to all parts of your body and more acceptance of your thoughts and feelings

Like any other routine, enlightenment comes from consistency – or so I’m told (I’m still working on it myself!). Nourishing your mental health and your physical health are equally important tasks. I would argue that for some, it is hard to improve one without also improving the other. Without a sense of purpose centered on the eight limbs of yoga and the philosophies they support, union between mind, body, and spirit would not even seem possible. On my way there, I enjoy the stretch of not only my limbs but my self-confidence as well. With every Warrior Two or Headstand, I learn something about myself. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is acceptance, in all aspects of my life.


Image: Flickr

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