Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “to join, to bring together”. This millenary tradition, born in India around 4000 years ago, more than a physical activity is a whole philosophy of life. In combination with the “asanas” or postures, yoga aims at harmonizing the work of the body, the breath and the mind, which allows us to remain focused on the present moment. While yoga is often practiced as a form of exercise, it is primarily an art of wellness that aims at body health and at the intersection between the mental and the physical.
Anxiety and stress are some of the most common affections in our everyday society. Stress symptoms become more tangible and persistent in a non-exercised body: short breathing, relentless mind, tensioned muscles, which can turn into permanent physical and mental pain. When these conditions persist, they can become a heavy charge on our bodies, by depleting resources of energy and even leading to states of depression.
The raising interest in yoga over the last decades has been related to its beneficial effects on stress control. In a society of permanent zapping which demands us to be externally connected to events at all times and rhythms are extremely fragmented, yoga allows us to “find time for ourselves”. Yoga provides us with a return to simply being, watching the world around us while being aware of its impact upon ourselves. Its intelligence relies on a holistic approach which integrates body, breath and mind concurrently. Yoga postures or “asanas” are a series of movement performed in order to increase flexibility and strength. While enacting the asanas, the breath is deepened and controlled with every movement, bringing new degrees of awareness over the body and quiet to the mind. This conjunction, or “union” between body and mind is what brings us ultimately into a more mindful state of awareness about the present moment.
A small daily yoga routine is accessible to anyone and can help regulate the breath and relax the body by overall muscular tension release while irrigating the brain and the endocrine nervous system with fresh oxygenated blood, leading to increased feelings of well being. By reducing perceived stress, yoga acts at deeper levels, such as the modulation of stress response systems, lowering blood pressure, reducing the heart rate and easing the breath. From a preventive approach, a regular practice of yoga leads to a reduction in the immune system’s inflammation response and increases heart rate variability, which are indicators of a good corporal ability to cope with stress more flexibly.
Simple sequences such as the “sun salutation” encourage a rhythmic and depended pulmonary function as they impart a necessity for synchrony between basic body postures and breathing. Learning to concentrate simply on the sound of the breath as we inhale and exhale evenly and smoothly while integrating a mindful body action can help us gently but effectively to switch our attention from feelings of anxiety towards feelings of relaxation.
In addition to a regular asana and breathing practice, meditation is also an essential part of yoga; even a few minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference. Training on focusing the mind on stillness and coming back to our breath teaches us how to consciously quiet our mind whenever we feel overwhelmed. Reconnecting with ourselves and learning to recognize the patterns of our reactions to personal conflicts, anxieties, hopes and fears, from a different perspective, takes emotional and spiritual strength. These are the ultimate and veritable teachings of yoga, far way beyond having a toned flexible body, which comes rather as a beneficial side effect. Ultimately, yoga is about getting in touch with our inner resources with greater self-awareness, beyond the contingencies, stress and anxieties of everyday life, in order to aim for a fuller, happier life.
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