To the newcomer, yoga can seem like nothing more than a number of postures to help turn yourself into a human pretzel; however, yoga’s benefits can run much deeper than simply making yourself more flexible. After all, I know many people with wonderfully long hamstrings, and no they aren’t necessarily happier than the next person!
In fact, yoga as both a practice and as a philosophy, is less concerned with flexibility or exterior appearance in general than internal awareness. The word yoga literally comes from ancient Indian language of Sanskrit and means a union or yoking together. It is a union of mind and body.
But to what end? One of the real benefits of practicing yoga is that it can regularly elicit a state of calmness and balance in the practitioner. By turning your awareness to the breath as you move into various gentle Asanas or steady postures, it’s possible to even just momentarily leave behind our habitual and sometimes negative thought process.
Researchers have estimated that the typical person might have tens of thousands of thoughts in a day. This is what the Buddhists call the “Monkey Mind.” And if you’re like me at any one time, you might be thinking about the laundry you need to do, the next deadline at work, last night’s dinner or a myriad of other things leaving us anywhere but the present, the here and now. Hence the Monkey Mind playing tricks on us to keep us from being aware of the present.
By enabling us to focus our mind during simple postures on the breath and the feeling of letting go to the force of gravity, the practice of yoga can bring us to the present, to the sensation of how we are feeling right at this moment. And that truly is a gift.
Using yoga as a tool to allow yourself to let go of all those thoughts you carry around, and all those chronic tensions many of us hold on to, yoga can elicit a sense of immense lightness. This lightness can bring freedom as it can allow us to get out of our own way and listen to our deeper, internal consciousness, the body’s consciousness.
The ultimate goal of yoga can be summed up with the Sanskrit word Satchidananda, which translates to “truth, consciousness and bliss absolute.”
Not a bad goal in my mind.
ABOUT JOLYON COWAN, MPH
Jolyon studied Public Health at Tulane University and has had extensive experience working in reproductive health programs. Jolyon has studied yoga in the UK, India, and the US since 1989, and he has enjoyed teaching yoga to participants of Dr. Alice Domar’s Mind/Body Program for Infertility since 2001. His gentle teaching style is suitable to all participants enrolled. In addition to his 11 + years experience teaching yoga, Jolyon has also worked and studied with the Yoga Bioymedical Trust, in London, an organization dedicated to both the medical research of and teaching of yoga therapy.