Yoga is a “healing art” and not a physical fitness class. That being said, then why is Yoga so beneficial to the health of the physical body?
Let’s first look at what traditional yoga is. According to Pantajali, the author of the Yoga Sutras and the first codification of Yoga, “Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind”. We know this more today referred to as the “Mind/Body/Spirit” connection, living “mindfully”, or just being “connected and aware”.
Pantajali offers a very specific path to accomplish this feat by offering the 8 Limbs of Yoga:
1. Yamas, 2. Niyamas (disciplines), 3. Asana (postures), 4. Pranayama (breath work), 5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), 6. Dhyana (concentration), 7. Dharana (meditation), and 8. Samadhi (bliss). It is in the third and fourth limbs that we find the answer to why Yoga is so beneficial to the health of the physical body: Asana and Pranayama.
Asana can be defined as “arranging the different parts of the body in a specific way’‘. When this is accomplished, Prana or Life-force (vital energy) moves within the body into the spaces created by the specific yoga posture. In other words this life force is promoting, supporting, and enhancing the trillions of chemical reactions happening every second in the body that nourish and nurture the cells. It is easy to understand why this energy can help to make you healthier. The practice of one or more asana over time promotes structural stability, physiological immunity and emotional health.
As the body heals through asana and pranayama, more energy can be available to the mind. As the mind becomes calm and focused, it is easier to make better choices concerning your health and well-being. Yes Yoga is a healing art and one of its great benefits is a healthier mind and physical body.
There are 84 official Yoga Asanas. They can be practiced one at a time,or in specific sequences of many poses. One very popular sequence called Surya Namaskara. Surya means the sun and Namaskara is a greeting of respect and honor to the divineness that is present in each of us. There are two versions of Surya Namaskara, Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B. The tradition of Ashtanga Yoga always uses both of these versions to begin their practice, but you can certainly practice these sequences in other traditions.
In this sequence of asana, breath is used as the thread that strings the
poses together. This coupling of breath and movement is what makes sun salutation different from Hatha Yoga. Feeling the relationship between movement and breath creates a tapestry of grace and stability physically, mentally and emotionally. In looking at the picture included, the sequence starts with a backbend on an inhale and a forward fold on the exhale, one movement, one breath. This movement or vinyasa
creates a rhythm of internal feeding and cleansing over and over again flushing the body and then refueling it. It is these actions that create the invigorating and strengthening effects of Sun Salutation.
To start practicing Surya Namaskara, perfect each pose within the sequence, finding alignment and stability. Then add them all together using your breath as the thread.