Article by Swami Saradananda, author of “Teach Yourself Yoga”
Enhancing the quality of your life with the practice of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga sees your body as a vehicle for your soul, and your body-vehicle functions best when it is kept clean, strong and healthy. Without good health, life can be unpleasant, even if you have great wealth and power. Yoga techniques are designed to enable you to maintain a state of optimum physical and mental health. Good health may be defined the positive state that you experience when all of the organs of your body are functioning at their maximum capacity under the intelligent control of your mind. One of the far reaching benefits of yoga is that it helps you to develop an enhanced awareness of the general health and well being of your body. With practice, you find yourself not only able to sense impending health problems but also able to understand what corrective action are best taken.
Physical benefits of yoga
Yoga exercise gives first attention to the back, taking the view that you are as young as your spine. It provides you with a series of gentle exercises that helps to increase the flexibility of the various joints of your body, especially your vertebrae. The asanas also lengthen and release tension from your muscles; they stimulate the lubrication of your ligaments and tendons while massaging your internal organs. Both the physical practice of yoga and the meditation helps you to develop enhanced muscle control and balance. The yoga practices work on the various parts of your body in an interrelated and holistic manner that brings you to a state of inner harmony.
Detoxification and Improved Circulation
By gently stretching your muscles and joints as well as massaging the various organs, yoga ensures that an optimum blood supply reaches all parts of your body. It also improves the functioning of your lymphatic system and flushes out toxins. Increased circulation brings added nourishment and oxygen to all the cells of your body. Evidence seems to be adding up that the regular practice of yoga can delay the ageing process, increase your energy and give you a remarkable zeal for life.
Arthritis and general stiffness
Yoga's slow gentle exercises provides welcome relief to painful joints. The easy stretches, especially when practiced with deep breathing, tend to relieve a great deal of the muscle tension that stresses your joints. Many people see yoga and meditation as the perfect anti-arthritis formula – and an over-all panacea for general stiffness in the body.
Chronic illness, such as asthma or diabetes
Many chronic illnesses seem to be stress related. Yoga tends to reduce levels of anxiety and stress. If you suffer from asthma and begin a yoga practice, you will probably find yourself calmer, more relaxed and less prone to shortness of breath. The breathing exercises will be of great benefit to you. When you suffer from a chronic illness, you tend to feel helpless and out of control. Yoga can give you the strength to look at your situation calmly and objectively. Apart from the negative consequences of your illness, there is often something positive that you can learn from the situation. With the regular practice of yoga you may learn to control your own energy and direct it where it is most needed to alleviate chronic problems. You will probably find a great improvement in your sleeping patterns. Chances are that you will also find yourself with more energy and increased stamina.
When you continually overwork your mind and body, their natural efficiency diminishes. Yoga exercises discourage violent movements and retrain your muscles to let go of tension. Breathing exercises enable to better control your mood swings while developing your ability to stay calm in the most stressful situations.
Weight Reduction and Eating Disorders
Asanas themselves do not burn large amounts of calories, but you will probably find that a regular yoga practice can be very useful in weight management. The asanas stimulate sluggish glands to increase their hormonal secretions. They work particularly on the thyroid gland, which in turn affects the metabolism of your entire body. There are several asanas, such as the shoulder stand and the fish posture, which are especially beneficial for the thyroid
gland. Yogic practices tend to reduce anxiety and lead to improved body awareness. This, in turn, reduces anxious and compulsive eating. Many food obsessions and eating disorders stem from your inability to assimilate energy in
healthy ways. Yoga practice enables you to efficiently work with your prana (vital energy). It gives you a healthier self-image, and it enables you to be more self-reliant and less “needy” energetically.