Yoga provides exercises and experiences that allow you to experience life more fully and vitally. This means that the breathing exercises, stretches, calisthenics, abdominals, standing poses, back-bend, inversion, spinal twists, and hip-openers that you do during a yoga class are pretty useless by themselves. The idea is that they free you up inside to be present to everyday life and can therefore appreciate everything a little bit more and make you healthier to enjoy them. I think this is why looking at pictures of people doing yoga can feel so hollow, there is so much going on in that simple picture and you can’t really see the after effects of what the yoga is doing.
A human being performing an asana, or a positive postural alignment of their body is an incredible thing, if simply because the human being is alive and functioning in the compromised position, especially if they are doing ujjayi breathing. When you start to combine muscular stretches and skeletal alignments to focused the consciousness of that human in asana, postures can assist their body in realigning, strengthening, increasing flexibility and endurance. Yoga does this by innervating muscles that may not normally be flexed or contracted and distributing weight evenly among muscle groups while inversions provide your circulatory system with some much-needed filtration and release from gravity’s constant pressure. Yoga can help your body to recover from intense exercise and to stay young by keeping the fluid systems functioning properly.
Yoga is much more than an ancient Indian philosophy because it has evolved alongside American culture in today’s world, even if it is very romanticized in much of the western world’s culture of yoga studios, classes, teachers, etc. It is a part of the West’s culture now in a way that people really do appreciate and take advantage of in a good way. It is also a part of Hinduism and may be very old in India.
From science we have learned that the biggest benefits of yoga are usually the stress releases. Yoga is a powerful tool for mental and physical sensitivity, meaning that it gives you a good idea of how functional parts of your body are and how much endurance you have. It is especially useful in aligning nerves, which is why lots of people with sciatica find relief in yoga. We are just beginning to explore the effects of exercises such as headstand, shoulderstand, back-bends like camel pose, reclined hero pose, wheel pose, bow pose are all extremely powerful postures that science still has a lot to learn about. But it seems to have huge effects on nearly every system in the body because of the controlled levels of stress input and release and overall stimulation and fitness of the body’s muscular systems.
Yoga becomes an aspect of appreciating life. Sometimes yoga may come and go and I really think everyone experiences a little of this from time to time and that it isn’t a big deal. Sometimes life is just good and we are very happy and yoga can be in the background for a while, especially if everything is really good. But yoga is something that doesn’t really leave you. When you stand up straight, when you stretch your back while standing in line, the yoga is still a part of how you do things if you internalize it. The #yogaeverydamnday hashtag is kind of funny because I don’t think anyone does yoga 365 times a year. Even Ashtangis are supposed take the full moon of every month off.
Yoga doesn’t have to be something very formal, we don’t even really know much about the origins of what we practice now. Its not super religious, or ultra sacred, or anything more than what you want to make of it. You can practice in small quantities by yourself at home to really get things moving for your body in terms of flexibility and mobility. Teachers are good for more advanced things like inversions, breathing exercises, or advanced arm balances and advising you on how to advance in your practice. But its also something you can learn on your own and that can provide stability or whatever you may need it to be.