I am the founder of iamyogaSG and I have been a yoga instructor in Hong Kong and Singapore for over a decade. I want to share the various benefits of yoga.
Let’s begin with the meaning of Yoga.
Yogic practice is an ancient medical science - the unity of the body, mind and spirit. It’s a mental, physical and spiritual practice and a way of living. It is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind.
The Bhagavata Gita calls it “an evenness of the mind”.
“Hatha Yoga Pradipika” written in 1350 AD by Yoga guru Swatmarama, is one of the most authentic textbooks on Hatha Yoga. It is a comprehensive text that has 4 chapters – firstly Asanas (postures), secondly Shatkarmas (cleansing techniques) & Pranayama, thirdly Mudras (mental attitude or gestures) & Bandhas (locks) and lastly Samadhi.
Nowadays we focus primarily on asanas (yoga postures) and sometimes pair that with pranayama/ shatkarmas (i.e. practices such as alternate nostril breathing, Kapalbhatti, etc
Before we talk about the benefits of yoga, let’s look at the first step in a person’s yoga journey – the first class and the initial weeks of yoga practice.
When students want to commence yoga practice, they often get worried or stressed that yoga would be too difficult for them or that they are not flexible enough to practice yoga – these thoughts prevent them from even trying to practise yoga or to show up on the mat. Students tend to look at others and feel intimidated that they can’t perform yoga postures.
My advice to those students is to remind them that yoga is not a competitive practice and you need to be comfortable and progress at your own pace - be content with what you achieve and to take it one day at a time. Be inspired by others around you instead of feeling intimidated by them. Half of the battle is won by giving it your best and just showing up on the mat.
All of these common apprehensions like I am not flexible enough, my core is not strong, I haven't done any form of exercise etc., are completely misplaced. Everyone can practice yoga – young, old, strong-bodied, light-bodied, people recovering from injuries, etc. Literally everyone can practice yoga! It’s the intention, will power and commitment that you need for this practice.
“All power is within you, you can do everything and anything” – by Swami Vivekananda
People also tend to generalize yoga as only being a form of physical exercise, but there is a lot more to it! We must look at it from a more holistic perspective and focus inwards during our yoga practice and completely go within. It’s good to ask ourselves how is your breathing pattern during dynamic yoga postures (eg. sun salutations, vinyasa) and static yoga postures? Do you feel open in your muscle stretches? Are you experiencing a happy/ healthy mindset? Are you having less cravings? Etc.
Now, let’s dive a little deep in the benefits of a regular and consistent yoga practice. The main objective of yoga practice is overall development, which includes postural correction, balancing energy levels, achieving a free and open mindset, preventing/managing health issues and having a sense of openness, freedom, strength & happiness within. However, to realize the most out of the benefits that yoga has to offer, one must adjust their habits of not overeating, not having an unstable mind, not being over-talkative, avoiding people that spread negativity and clutter your mind, exercising physically & mentally, practicing gratitude, connecting with nature, having a purpose in life, and instilling mindfulness in your life.
If you follow these principles you will feel stronger in all aspects of life, be it endurance, sports or day-to-day situations that will make you more patient and kind as a person.
There are many mental and physical benefits of practicing yoga – to calm the body down during evenings and our sympathetic nervous system to increase our energy levels during the day.
Practising diaphragmatic breathing increases our lung capacity, and by doing so, we will inhale more oxygen into our lungs, which will in return lead to better functioning of our vital organs. Yoga postures pressurize and stretch our glands resulting in a balanced secretion of hormones (endorphins, dopamine etc.) and making the glands stronger which has a good impact on our metabolism and other areas such as the thyroid.
A gentle deep stretch/static yoga practise will enhance your sleep quality, especially if you practise gentle stretches paired with Bhrahmari (humming bee) pranayama, guided Shavasana before bedtime. This will help you achieve better quality deep sleep, where your brain waves slow down.
Other physical benefits of a yoga practice include loosening of limbs, joints or even opening of the thoracic spine. Nowadays many students have an issue with mid & upper back opening. This is due to our current lifestyle where we sit in front of screens for several hours each day. Many people are facing cervical/ lumbar spine issues due to sitting too long in front of the computer in an unhealthy spinal position. Yoga can be of a help in fixing your posture and relieving back and neck pain .
Yoga practice also offers other benefits like strength, balance, flexibility. Anxiety, fear, racing thoughts, a rapid heartbeat and shallow chest breathing. Pranayama breathing also known as manipulation of breath movement with a slow & steady inhalation to exhalation ratio, signals our parasympathetic nervous system long, deep diaphragmatic breaths can also manage our stress responses to help decrease the body (eg. simply try a downward-facing dog (inversion), and you will enjoy these benefits regular yoga practice can make your heart stronger, it can reduce your stress levels and inflammation in for yourself).
I highly recommend practising yoga, especially during these challenging Covid times, where our mental health plays a crucial role in keeping ourselves happy, healthy, clear-minded and goal-oriented in our mindset. If we consistently practise yoga, it will help improve our immune system, strengthen our lungs and respiratory system and overall prepare us to better deal with the physical and emotional stresses of day-to-day life. My advice to you is to stop scrolling and get rolling! 99% is practise, there is only 1% theory in yoga. So practise pranayama, cleansing and asanas (in a correct manner or with the help of a yoga teacher) every single day.
Time to hit the mat!