Yoga is everywhere these days. From glossy magazine spreads, to popular franchises running in all major cities, to accessories for sale at every department store, yoga has arrived in the mainstream. Why is it so popular, though? It must be more than just the attractive idea of spreading out your mat and moving around in stretchy clothes, right?
I believe it’s because yoga is so much more than just an exercise or stretching program. Moving and healing the body is only one element of yoga–the mind and spirit play just as large a role in its overall philosophy. This is not to play into the outdated assumptions that yoga (once considered an exotic, new age technique from the East) teaches a cult religion or is in conflict with many of our already widely accepted Western-held beliefs. Yoga quite simply teaches a path of self-healing through listening to your body, concentrating on your breath, and finding peace within yourself.
Yoga is unique in how it benefits overall health, but how exactly does yoga do the work of tapping into our spirits and open our minds? While the yogic asanas and poses physically help conditions like low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, the breathing practices and calming philosophy work in concert with the physical movements to quell anxiety and calm the mind. The entire practice is centered on paying close attention to each breath while moving into postures, or while savoring stillness in certain poses.
With this “in the moment, in the body” approach, yoga is probably one of the quickest way to access the mind-body connection, helping us along into mindfulness and really feeling our bodies. In fact the word “yoga” means “union,” which I like to think of as bringing all of the elements of our life together as one.
Let’s take a look at what we mean by spirit. Perhaps it can be thought of as the larger picture of your well being, incorporating your health status alongside happiness and overall outlook. Happiness is a difficult concept to define and measure, but scientists actually have a tool called the Body, Mind, Spirit Wellness and Characteristic Inventory (BMS), a questionnaire often used to measure many factors that can give us insight into the different facets of our wellness.
Recently a group of researchers studied this very concept on a college campus, concentrating on yoga devotees versus those who do not participate. Unsurprising to those who know the yoga world well, yoga practitioners were found to have strong morals and healthy values as well as the ability to express their feelings and easily consider the feelings of others.
The yoga practitioners were more also likely to report expressing their spirituality appropriately and in healthy ways, recognizing the positive contribution faith could make to quality of life, and embracing new experiences as a way to enhance their own spiritual health. In other words, yoga encourages open-mindedness.
This is excellent supporting evidence for how yoga can so easily exist alongside all kinds of faiths and religious beliefs. Yoga is for everyone!
For the full experience, concentrating on more than just the physical postures and movements of yoga, I recommend attending a class in person to get started properly. A good teacher will present the whole of the yoga philosophy to you while making sure you don’t injure yourself as you move about.
Please note, though, not all yoga instructors are the same. Do a search for yoga studios in your area and take a peek at their about pages online to see if any of their main goals align with your own. Some studios lean deeply into spiritual concepts while others take a more practical approach, and your own preferences may change over time. Open-mindedness is a common goal in yoga, so try a few different places to find the one that works toward making you feel whole.