In respect of understanding what is yoga, people make two common mistakes. Most people think that yoga means only physical postures. Today millions pack fitness studios seeking the mind-body benefits of yoga, including increased flexibility, strength, balance and muscle tone. But it's much more than just a workout
Yoga is a complete way of life including a path of devotional bliss. When you are in yoga, your body, mind and spirit, and existence, are in absolute harmony. When you fine-tune yourself to a point where everything functions beautifully within you, the best of your abilities will just flow out of you. When you are happy, your energies function better. Have you noticed that when you are happy you have endless energy? Even if you don't eat or sleep, you can go on and on. So, just a little happiness liberates you from your normal limitations of energy and capability.
Research also suggests that yoga might counteract stress; reduce heart rate and blood pressure; increase lung capacity; improve muscle relaxation and body composition; help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia; improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility; positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals.
Not An Alternative To Your Regular Workout
One misconception about yoga is that it is thought to be an alternative to physical workouts. First of all, the purpose of physical exercise is to improve the body, while the main purpose of yoga is to control the mind. The benefit of yoga to the human body is only incidental; a welcome by-product. When yoga is performed in the way prescribed by the scriptures, our mind becomes steady and quiet. Once practiced for long periods, the mind learns to be steady in all situations. Of course, in this process, the body also becomes flexible and gets toned up.
Yoga is the science of activating your inner energies in such a way that your body, mind and emotions function at their highest peak. When your body and mind function in a completely different state of relaxation and a certain level of blissfulness, you can be released from so much suffering. Right now, you come and sit in your office, and you have a nagging headache. Your headache is not a major disease, but it takes away your capability for that day. With the practice of yoga, your body and mind will be kept at their highest possible peak.
Need To Slow Down
In physical exercises, it is believed that the faster the movement, the better it is. However in yoga, the slower the movement, the better it is. Asanas (body positions during yoga) are always performed with very slow movement of body parts. And the main benefit of asanas come in maintaining the posture in the final stages of the movement.
Breath and Movement
In Yoga, the coordination of breath with the body movement has to be perfect. Asanas become more beneficial if such a breathing coordination happens. Breath is the carrier of prana, the life-energy. Systematic breathing practice removes the imbalance of prana in our body. So, along with asana, breathing co-ordination is a must.
Remain Fully Aware
The third main distinction lies in the level of awareness. While doing asanas, one has to keep full awareness in the body part which is being affected by the posture. One should not think of anything else at that time. Listening to music while doing asanas can also cause distraction, and so, the level of awareness required in the posture may not be attained. In physical exercise, people might work out while listening to music or watching television. In most gyms, there is a TV screen in front of jogging belts or cycles.
Yoga should be done in a quiet and pleasant surrounding where one can link body and mind properly by maintaining awareness.
Because of all these differences, yoga is a holistic method that brings benefits to both body and mind. While both physical exercise and asanas improve our skeleton-muscular, cardio-respiratory and circulatory systems, yoga also improves the neuro-muscular system and the endocrine system, which controls our sympathetic and parasympathetic reactions in case of perceived stress. For lifestyle-related diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression, yoga is known to bring spectacular results.