Many studies have documented the health benefits of different aspects of yoga, including mindfulness and meditation.
The overwhelming majority of us practice yoga because it makes us feel good in body and mind. Even though most people perceive yoga to be simply about posture and movement, the reality is it’s so much more than this. It is a complete approach to cultivating the highest levels of health, happiness and skillful living.
Yoga is actually an experiential part of a rich body of wisdom known in the east as Vedic science and includes systems to bring balance and connectedness to all areas of life. Yoga was traditionally taught with the background of Ayurveda, the science of health and longevity.
The word yoga appears in many of areas of Vedic wisdom and translates well as connectedness. It derives from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning to connect, unite or join.
When yoga is practiced properly, it cultivates connectedness on every level. Ultimately yoga is a healing science. In fact, the word health comes from the same root as the word wholeness and holy, and the essence of good health is connectedness.
On the very physical level when every cell in the body is in wonderful connectedness with every other cell, then we have a very high level of health. High levels of health mean there are high levels of connectedness. Every cell in the body is in connection with every other cell and working as an effective team for the well-being of the whole body.
Ultimately yoga helps us deal with the challenges of life, the ups and downs for the body through the sensations of heat and cold, and the ability to maintain strong immunity from disease. So a very healthy body is one that has these qualities – the ability to respond effectively and not be too troubled by extremes of heat or cold, or being exposed to germs or illness. It has much more resilience and the capacity to maintain its integrity.
When we become disconnected we experience a state of disease, literally ‘dis’ ‘ease’. That is, some cells in the body are not connected with the overall intelligence of the body-mind. A very obvious example is when cancer cells start going crazy in the body and start multiplying at a very fast rate.
In a way these cells feed on the body and grow at the expense of the body, and if they grow in an unrestrained way, because they are out of connection with the rest of the body’s intelligence, they may even take the life of the body.
To be living yoga is to be living in the state of maximum connectedness. As well as promoting the connectedness of every part of the body with the wholeness of the body, yoga is also working on the level of connectedness between the mind and the body (the mind-body relationship). As this relationship improves, whatever the body needs the mind tunes into, and whatever the mind wants the body is able to respond to. As we go to the other levels of connectedness, we see the connectedness of the individual body-mind with the rest of life. Really we could say that as we improve our relationship with our self, we are actually improving our relationship with life.
At the highest level of this relationship we are so in love with life. We listen so well with the other, which is life. In the same way that any relationship is great, we have such connection and attunement, and in this context we are really feeling the love of life. Of course, as this relationship gets to the highest level we experience it ‘as life’. Here, the experience is total connectedness and total health.
When we think of the physical asanas or postures in yoga, these are really designed to help the energetic body be free of blockages to the flow of prana and intelligence. They are designed to support strength and flexibility in the body, to help the body feel lighter, more comfortable and energised. But for greater health in all aspects of our life we really have to look at the whole of yoga.
Next time you’re in a yoga class or doing a practice, remember this is just a very small part of the full depth and breadth of yoga. Imagine the possibilities of tuning into the deeper aspect of yoga and all the rich benefits this could bring.