The Key Benefit of Yoga
Yoga’s greatest benefit is increased awareness of your breath, or respiratory system. It is the reason why the yoga ab exercises are so difficult, why every pose eventually feels like an different kind of abdominal stretch, and why you feel so amazing at the end of the class. Your lungs fuel every other organ in your body by revitalizing the bloodstream with new oxygen in combination with the heart, fueling your nervous and muscular-skeletal systems. The lungs also have enormous effect upon the metabolism. I’ve read before that metabolisms aren’t naturally faster or slower, but rather result from lifestyle habits and diet. The lungs pass by all of the lower organs and descend down near the base of the spine, towards the lowest organs. You can contract your perineal, or pelvic floor and sex muscles by bringing awareness to your breath. This is definitely good for your digestion and your sex life! (the muscles group is called mula bandha, or pelvic floor in yoga)
In a way, the lungs lead the body as it moves through space and breathing has an enormous effect on brainwaves and heart rate. It is possible to enter into alpha and possibly beta brainwaves while awake and practicing yoga, even Delta and Theta waves can be found in deeper Savasanas. These represent the different stages of restorative brainwaves that occur during sleep that ultimately provide the deepest rest for the nervous system and therefore the body as a whole. So control over your breath is essentially increasing the amount of control you have over your consciousness.
So the lungs are one of the primary movers of the body; indeed, breathing is a constant in having consciousness. And perhaps we can see consciousness as requiring breath; without it we can’t be conscious for long. From the time we are born, to the time we die, it is with us. Apparently the smallest organisms that breathe are spiders, so perhaps that is where consciousness truly starts; between the fly and the spider. Even trees breathe.
Ancient yoga texts say that there is a power within the breath, but how necessary the individual poses are is up for grabs. Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 are not where the power of yoga is, although aligning your body into those two postures and breathing while focusing on them is a powerful exercise in muscular stability, concentration, balance, stretching, and strengthening. The breathing is where the power of yoga lies; you can do yoga while lifting weights (it’s difficult, but you can stay with deep breathing the whole time, try it!), while running, while shopping, driving, whatever. It just means bringing awareness to your breath, and therefore your nervous system. The two are intertwined.
Feel the POWA!
There is a reason why the idea of power continues to resurface in yoga; however, I don’t think it holds true to what yoga is really about. If awareness is power, then I am wrong, but I think that awareness and power are different. When we relinquish the idea of power or control and simply focus on awareness; awareness seems to be more related to freedom; the ability to transcend individual situations and confrontations to maintain internal peace. Nobody is going to become a world leader by doing yoga. Really, yoga does not accomplish a whole lot in the world outside of your body and it can be really selfish if that is all you do! But that is just my personal opinion. Powerful people seem to be the least free and most obliged; they are always in some crisis, or fixing some problem. That’s why they make so much money, they are good at fixing problems and getting things to work. The ability to be okay with not reacting, sitting with what is occurring rather than reacting without really being aware of what is happening in the situation is type of power that yoga can offer you. True yoga is learning to take responsibility over your own happiness. Being able to laugh while someone flips you off in the lane next to you. Transcending shitty situations. I think this is what Patanjali was talking about when he/she/they talked about releasing from the fluctuations of the mind. Being free from the anxiety, reactions, and obsessions over everyday events so that we can live in gratitude and happiness for what is on a larger scale. Family, friends, and life.
You don’t know what you have until its gone…
Gratitude is true liberation and losing your breath helps to remind you that life is temporary. Maybe this is why yoga is so powerful, it tunes you into the passing of moments. The mental effects of combining your nervous and muscular-skeletal systems first thing in the morning can change the way that you live your life; imagine. Savasana brings the freedom of nothing; knowing that death will come and not caring; being free from the confines of the illusion of death and the senses. Even our eyes lie to us on accident. Letting it go is the most important part; those exhales make life worth living. Be grateful for your breath, because its easy to take it for granted. When its gone, you won’t forget it.