The Meaning of Yoga
Yoga is a philosophical tradition native to India. It includes a set of physical, psychological and spiritual practices for attaining a unity between the body and the mind. Yoga can mean a variety of things to people. A thread that is common with all the definitions of yoga is connection with a higher self and attaining a sense of balance. Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning to connect, join or balance.
Lord Krishna defines the essence of yoga as equanimity. It can also be defined as a union of the limited Self with the Divine Self.
The Ministry of AYUSH defines Yoga as a discipline that helps develop one’s inherent power in a balanced manner.
The Kundalini definition of Yoga views it as a science of liberating the energy that is dormant in the base of one’s spine.
Maharishi Patanjali defines raja yoga as a practise that helps block mental modifications such that the self can identify with one’s higher self.
Purpose of Yoga
The ultimate purpose of yoga would mean the attainment of a higher sense of self as given by Maharishi Patanjali. In the path towards attainment of a higher self, there are a variety of benefits for which people continue to practise yoga. There are several physical, psychological and spiritual benefits associated with yoga. Not all practitioners do yoga for the attainment of a higher sense of self but for the mental and health benefits associated with it.
Yoga and Mental Health
Yoga is not merely a form of physical exercise but includes a set of practices that promote mental health and general quality of life. The unique combination of postures with breathing exercises and meditation is capable of producing specific and general benefits to mental health.
- By focusing on the here and now, yoga helps the individual understand the negative emotions that they are dwelling upon. They can focus on the physical effects of these negative emotions and slowly disengage which can considerably reduce anxiety.
- Focusing on breath while practicing yoga can helps attain peace and calm.
- By helping deal with negative emotional states and creating a sense of peace and calm, it creates a sense of emotional stability.
- It enables the individual to retain attention for longer periods of time. The emotional stability and increased concentration lead to clarity of thought and decision making.
- Yoga helps in improving the general quality of life by focusing on positive emotions and developing relevant cognitive and mental capacity that can be very productive for the individual.
Yoga and Physical Health
The health benefits derived from yoga are multiple. It has innumerable benefits that we are yet to understand and identify. Yoga can be used an alternative form of medicine for treatment of chronic health problems as well help improve quality of life.
- Primarily, by helping deal with negative emotional states like anxiety and depression that cause sleep disturbance. It also helps in body relaxation and induces good sleep for quality rejuvenation.
- Yoga, especially in the form of asanas, help makes the body muscles and joints more flexible with increased exercise. Some of the postures are primarily focused on helping with balance.
- By combining physical exercise with breathing techniques, yoga helps improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity.
- Chronic pain like lower back pain has come to become the most prevalent of lifestyle disorders. Yoga proves to be an effective pain management strategy and can be tailor made according to the needs to individual with the aid of an instructor.
- The physical postures of yoga act as an effective technique for maintain body weight and for weight loss. As an alternative to quick weight loss procedures, yoga, though takes time, is an effective long-term weight loss method which can provide sustainable results.
Yoga and Spirituality
Spirituality is often confused with being religious but it goes beyond the realms of religious practices. It is a broader sense of connecting with one’s self and gaining awareness about one’s self. People have come to describe spiritual experiences as being transcendent and sacred. Yoga is definitely a means to spirituality by coordinating the mind, body and soul. Through a combination of meditation, asanas and pranayama it helps attain self-awareness and mindfulness.
- Self-awareness: Practicing yoga enables one to give more focus to the bodily sensations and mental states. The individual is in a better position to understand their selves, their behaviours and motivations. The individual attains a higher level of self-awareness and is able to relate to their self in a better way.
- Mindfulness: It is a momentary self-awareness where the individual is able to understand their experiences while they are experiencing them. The ultimate aim of yoga would be attain this state of mindfulness. Yet this requires prolonged practise of asanas, pranayama and meditation.
Yogic Tradition in India
The yogic tradition in India can be traced to have three distinct phases- the ancient, the middle and the late period.
The ancient period is associated with Lord Shiva who is considered the Adiguru. The Pashupathi Yoga propounded by Lord Shiva aimed at transcending from personal suffering.
The Middle period is associated with Patanjali Yoga and the Yoga Sutras that he had written. It focused on raja yoga and mind management.
The final phase is associated with the resurgence of the importance of yoga in the nineteenth century. This was primarily due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. At present, yoga is gaining popularity globally and various forms have been emerging and being practised by million world-wide.
International Yoga Day and Global Popularity
The International Yoga Day was for the first time celebrated on the 21st June of 2015. The motion to declare the day as International Yoga Day was accepted by the United Nations on 11th December 2014. This particular day is the day of the summer solstice which is considered to be one of the two longest days in the Northern Hemisphere.
On the first International Yoga Day, a mega Guinness record event was conducted in the Rajpath, New Delhi with 35,985 individuals belonging to 84 different nationalities performed Yoga along with the Indian Prime Minister for 35 minutes.
Yoga is gaining global popularity. A recent survey conducted in the United States showed that 8.4% of the population regularly practise yoga and 44% aspire to practise yoga in the future. The popularity of yoga is primarily boosted by the fact that it is a good alternative to traditional forms of medicine. It has come to become an effective pain management strategy for dealing with chronic pain. By the day, yoga is being increasingly practised over the globe.
Yoga is a unique discipline that brings a variety of benefits to its practitioners. There are several physical, mental and spiritual benefits associated with yoga. It improves the general quality of life of people by improving body flexibility and general mental state. Due to its perceived benefits and the emergence of a wide variety of lifestyle disorders, yoga is gaining global popularity. The UN declared 21sst of June as International Yoga Day to promote Yoga globally. Yoga presents an alternative form of lifestyle that can substantially alleviate health concerns and promote healthy living.