What Are the Health Benefits of Yoga?
How Do We Reap the Best Benefits of Yoga?
Throughout my travels and 35+ years in teaching yoga, I am constantly asked the question, “Bryan, how do I get the best benefits from my yoga practice?”
The yoga poses and your experiences within the poses will bring your entire body to an alive vibrant state, and activate every nook and cranny of who you are. You know the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” So, we use everything to create an environment for self-regeneration.
The body is not self-regenerative; you have to prod and poke and entice it back to aliveness. In this way, you really get to know yourself, feeling and experiencing all these places, some of them long forgotten or even never known.
Our bodies are intricate webs of inner workings, dependent on the vitality of every strand that transmits energy to every other strand. As places inside the body degenerate and atrophy due to lack of use, these strands are no longer conductors of prana (chi or energy), and these places become ample breeding grounds for disease and decay. In yoga, there is a saying, “We overdevelop nothing, but use everything.” There is no practical need to overdevelop a muscle, but activation is necessary for regeneration. Remember, this is about feeling good, not looking good, although looking good is a common by-product.
Many people think that yoga is about flexibility, but the truth is it has nothing to do with flexibility. Yoga is more about activity and elasticity. Elasticity is a state of suppleness, whereas flexibility is a judgement in comparison to a certain paradigm. The thing is, our bodies are completely unique; we cannot have an objective standard. Suppleness is personal flexibility, which might look a whole lot different than standard flexibility. When the musculature is supple and relaxed, the skeleton will fall more naturally into place (alignment). When that occurs, our prana (energy) moves freely through the meridians (lines of energy) and, when our energy moves more freely through our entirety, we feel something very special called lightness. In the dual sense of weightlessness and energy.
Yet, as we use these types of yoga poses to enliven and release the body of tension and toxins, we need to challenge our mind not to produce any more. Remember, stress is a huge inhibitor of health (balance). So, doing the yoga poses is one thing, but how we do them is the key; that’s the top yoga, the state of mind behind all things.
The outer environment in which I live, is a reflection of the inner environment in which I live. The yogis traced back the root of all misery, and the seed from which that root stemmed is attachment. And, what am I more attached to than me and my body? I have this image of myself and, when I can’t maintain it, a whole lot starts to surface. A yoga practice tends to prod and poke at that image, forcing one to experience limitations and boundaries not normally experienced. It’s hard to experience my limitations and boundaries, because they are not always congruent with this image I have of myself. There also tends to be judgement, frustration, fear, and a lot of reactiveness. The practice purposely creates the environment for these feelings to arise as an opportunity to eradicate them. The eradication process begins with our awareness of them and then bringing our awareness to our breath, feeling them but not feeding them. Soon, they become less powerful due to the lack of food (mental energy and unconscious loyalty) we give them. The weaker they become, the less we experience them and their dark manifestations in the outer world. The less reactive we become, the more accepting we are of ourselves and others, as well as experiences, and the more peace (balance) and harmony pervades our life. Tension (stress) begins to cease and our bodies start to release. And I begin to really shine!
Power Yoga Benefits
This brings us back full circle to Power Yoga. Originally, yoga was created to facilitate the stillness in order to emancipate the wisdom. Some still use it for this purpose. Beyond this, yoga is a tool or system created to facilitate balance. In order to facilitate balance, the imbalances need to be exposed and eradicated. This can be a totally possible yet challenging endeavor, and this is where we start losing people.
Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to want to do the work necessary to create harmony. When you spill something on the floor, you clean it up, right? You don’t want to live with that mess. Well, that’s all yoga is designed to do: bring awareness to the mess and give you direction to help start the cleanup.
From the first step in yoga, you start feeling better, simply because your house has just begun to become cleaner or less cluttered. The move toward harmony begins immediately. You don’t need some blind faith that someday down the road yoga will enlighten you. The first class helps us quiet our minds and experience the peace beyond. This same first class helps us release some tension, which gives us a feeling of lightness, balance and connectedness. We’ve begun to restore the web.
As long as we approach our yoga practice by listening carefully to what the body needs and by moving away from any existing ideas of where our ego wants this body to be, our initial experience can be wholly satisfying.
The hardest part of the practice of yoga can be honoring our bodies and what they need in this moment. Too often we find ourselves slipping back into our old habits of goal orientation, self-criticism and reactiveness, which are the root of so much imbalance, disharmony, misery, and so forth.
What are the Benefits of Yoga
To go through all the benefits of Power Yoga would take a long time. But I can go through some really important benefits and some of the really powerful effects. For me, Yoga is much more than a physical practice. The goal is wellness.
I think it would be irresponsible of me not to have it more of a physical practice because we know now that most all "real" health is coming from a calm and peaceful mind. They’re telling us now that 80 to 90% of all physical ailments are coming from mental stress.
The benefits of Power Yoga are multifaceted. It’s basically mind and body. We try to go through every nook and cranny of the body because everybody knows you can’t take care of something you don’t touch. We try to cover every single aspect of physical fitness which is strength, flexibility, balance, stamina, and cardio. So we basically cover the fitness paradigm.
The Multi-Dynamic Power Yoga
So when you do a Power Yoga class on a physical level it’s really just multi-dynamic. You’re touching every place in your body. Just like when you brush your teeth you’re trying to brush every tooth. It’s kind of commonsensical and then we try to cover every aspect of fitness but within this, we also want to address the mental state. It’s like this really safe place to practice living.
When you’re practicing yoga, some things might be painful and some things might feel good. Some things might be hard and some things might be easy. Sometimes you might like what you see. Sometimes you might not like what you see. It’s kind of like a little mini life and we have an opportunity to practice living in a safe environment. To practice going through all of this stuff in a less reactive and more accepting way. So the stuff we go through starts affecting us less negatively because we’re not reacting to it. Because the stress that’s poisoning you never happens to you. It’s how you respond to what’s happening to you. Combined with the type of thoughts that you’re having. So we practice responding in a less reactive way as we try to quiet down the mind.
The Fitness-Routine-Based Power Yoga
A fitness routine based on aesthetics feeds your ego, not your spirit. By increasing your ego, you actually become more vulnerable, more susceptible to the everyday occurrences that are out of your control. By feeding your ego, you ignore what you truly need in order to create something your ego desires. Consequently, you end up working against yourself and your goal of health, and you actually create more imbalance.
Our Power Yoga classes are directed at creating the highest level of energy, vitality and freedom. The only way to do this is to work with yourself, not against yourself. By working hard sensitively, we create an environment that’s healing and that honors each individual, an environment that respects our boundaries and works within him or her. In this way, we create an atmosphere conducive to natural expansion and growth. We’re not interested in pushing past our edge to get to a place where we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need to be in order to have happiness!
Setting Up Goals for Yoga
Goal orientation, which sometimes is expressed as “I’ll be happy when,” leads you away from the here and now. Looking outside yourself for happiness doesn’t work. If you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy for long no matter where you go. Why? Because happiness, or wholeness, has to come from within.
And wholeness comes with acceptance of Right Now! There will always be another place to go, so there is no such thing as getting there. As far as your potential for happiness is concerned, “You are there.”
Self-criticism leads us to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, worthlessness, and low self-esteem, as well as the criticism of others, which keeps us at each other’s throat.
Reactiveness creates tension. Discomfort is a part of life. Unwanted things happen, and wanted things don’t happen. Our comfort zones get trampled. No one, no matter how wealthy or powerful, can escape discomfort. Yet within our discomfort, we actually have a choice: Shall I accept it or not? Accepting discomfort is intentional passivity. Non-acceptance is resistance.
But the truth can’t be resisted, so resistance creates disharmony. This resistance manifests itself as reactiveness, and these reactions create internal locks or knots. These locks are held in the body. As we unconsciously react more and more, knots upon knots are built in the body, slowly but surely forming walls or barriers that start disconnecting us from ourselves.
Physical Health with Yoga
Fortunately, our yoga class helps to create optimal physical health by enlivening and invigorating our whole body, ending dormancy, strengthening the weak links, and releasing the knots. It also energizes the mind and provides a safe, controlled environment for working on all the negative issues that are exposed. This is the real key!
Because the body is a direct manifestation of the mind, as we heal our mind, our bodies naturally follow. Also, our bodies are subject to the laws of nature. Eventually they will dry up and blow away, because all matter is in a state of flux. Yet it seems our minds are subject to no laws. As far as we know, our minds are limitless. So it makes sense that through yoga poses we start to hone and strengthen the unlimited aspect of ourselves, our minds! This leads us into a whole new place of connectedness, balance and satisfaction.
This information didn’t come from a book. It came from a yoga practice. We all have deep wells of insight and creativity that are waiting to be tapped by the long, strong roots of yoga.