What are the benefits of yoga?
What most people notice about yoga is that it is relaxing and revitalizing. People also find that they become more limber, and stronger. Most importantly they experience a development of mental focus and inner peace.
What is the open secret?
The power to change is in your hands. Yoga is a tool of personal transformation. The key to transformation is awareness. Compassionate witnessing is a foundation concept in yoga. The starting point is here and now. The direction is up to you. The method is to take an achievable step and see what happens.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient science of the mind. Through the breath we find out that the body and mind aren't separate after all. In yoga, we learn to be mindfully attentive to the body, which is a form of meditation. That is what makes yoga so relaxing. In Viniyoga, we particularly learn to watch the breath and consciously breathe, bring about a sense of vitality and integration.
According to the Viniyoga system of yoga, asana (postures) and pranayama (breath) are here to serve us. They can serve us in different ways. Yoga can support our responsibilities, help us develop physically, offer therapeutic relief, and spiritual connection.
Yoga for Stability
It’s likely that you have responsibilities, jobs, family, and social roles. Yoga supports you by helping to maintain the stability you need to fulfill those responsibilities. The practices help you feel good by giving you energy and presence. It's not about going to extremes. It's about finding the productive place in the middle where we put in enough effort, but not too much.
Yoga for Strength
You may be an athlete, or have fitness goals. Yoga adapted for fitness will build both strength and flexibility at the same time it offers an aerobic workout. With a mindful approach to practice yoga will lend focus to the mind, which in competition, is the winning edge.
Yoga has a great potential as a tool for promoting healing. Physically, yoga can help reduce muscular aches and pains, improve mobility and breath capacity. Yoga can also be utilized to manage energy issues, such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. Finally, yoga can help access the healing power of the mind, by helping you reduce your identification with suffering and increase your connection to the miracle of being alive.
Yoga for Transformation
Many people find that yoga is a vital part of their spiritual lives. Because yoga brings the mind into focus, yoga practice can lead to a state of mind in which we have clear insights into the world we live in and ourselves. When these insights are guided by reflection on spiritual principles they can help us change in a positive direction.
In about 200 BC the yogic sage, Pantañjali, wrote the Yoga Sutras, which define yoga. According to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is the ability to focus the mind without distraction. For gifted students, the ability is innate, or can be developed through meditation.
For the rest of us there is a path of eight practices. This is the true Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs, and the practices are meant to work together as a whole, just like our arms and legs work together to help us function. The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga are: One. Yamas, Two. Niyamas, Three. Asana, Four. Pranayama, and five-eight, the four stages of meditation.
The eight-limbed path is not be confused with Ashtanga Vinyasa which is a style of yoga practice that is vigorous and athletic.
One: Yamas — Ethics
First and foremost is the ethics of yoga, the yamas: live peacefully, be truthful, come by things honestly, be sexually appropriate, and don't be greedy.
Two: Niyamas — Personal Habits
Niyamas are the yogic self-disciplines: cleanliness, contentment, discipline, honest self-examination based on spiritual principles, and spiritual devotion.
Three: Asana — Posture Practice
Asana means postures. The postures are correct when they are both alert and at ease. The yogi (yoga practitioner) should soften his effort and meditate on the infinite while in poses. In this way he becomes invulnerable to extremes, and he finds equanimity.
Four: Pranayama — Conscious Breathing
Pranayama is controlled breathing. Pantañjali writes that the breath should be smooth and subtle, and that the mastery of the breath is the best tool to clarify the mind. With a clear mind the yogini see things as they actually are, not as she imagines them to be.
Five: Pratyahara — Withdrawal of the Senses
Letting go of attraction to this and that. This is the end of distraction, which is unfortunately our natural state.
Six: Dharana — Concentration
Focusing in one-pointed attention on the object of meditation. It takes practice to focus the mind to really be here and now. The past is remembered, the future is anticipated, but when the yogi focuses the present moment only exists.
Seven: Dhyana — Deep Understanding
With extraordinary perception the yogini gains insight into the object of meditation. Intuition unfolds and it is as if the object of our meditation is speaking to us.
Eight: Samadhi — That's it!
You understand it so completely that you see all the details and the big picture simultaneously; you are immersed in understanding. When yoga is applied to spiritual pursuit, Samadhi is considered to be deep connection with the divine.
By the way, yoga is not a religion...
...but it is a philosophy and a methodology that can be used in your personal spiritual life, if you so choose. Otherwise, you can take is as a way to feel good and leave it at that.