According to a write-up on India’s Ministry of External Affairs website, the term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to control, yoke, or unite. The philosophy was developed thousands of years ago as a way of bringing together individual consciousness with that of the Universal consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man and Nature, the article explains. Although the physical branch of yoga that many of us practice does not encapsulate the whole of the original discipline, it does offer a wide array of benefits which can contribute to our sense of oneness and a happier, healthier life.
You may have read my article on how yoga can contribute optimal function of the entire body, reason enough to do some sort of regular practice. One of the best physical benefits, in my opinion, is keeping our fascia stretched and pliable. The many ways we don’t move our bodies daily can lead to the fascia becoming tight, restricting flexibility, which compounds as we age and can lead to limited movement. Differing poses offer particular benefits, as well. I want to share with you the 6 types of asanas, or poses, that I practice daily, along with the specific reasons.
- Forward Folds – I think my love for forward folds started because as a young adult, I developed tight hamstrings, and I wanted to be able to touch my toes. In an article describing the benefits of forward folds, American-Australian Yoga Teacher Jacqueline Buchanan says that, in addition to opening the backside of the body from the heels to the head, these postures also increase circulation and soothe the nervous system.
- Backbends – As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of gymnastics on the mat and on the grass. Dropping into a backbend from an upright position was a regular part of that. I don’t do those anymore 😊, but decades of yoga have taught me that bending the front of the spine is just as important as bending the back of the spine. These days, I find bridge pose, cobra, and pigeon pose get the job done. In a Yoga Basics article, backbends are said to enhance posture, boost mood, and improve breathing.
- Side Bends – Yup, more spine bending! This time, from side to side, because how often do we do those types of movements each day? According to Roger Jahnke, author of The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine, regularly stretching the spine in all directions can help us avoid lung problems. So simple, huh?
- Twists – According to an article on Total Yoga, twisting poses stimulate the liver and lymph system, release tension, and can even help with back pain. From years of learning from yoga teachers, I’ve also gleaned that twists are good for digestion. I enjoy seated twists and twisted lunges, which also challenge my balance.
- Balancing Poses – Speaking of balance, I shared in a post several months ago about how I committed to doing half moon pose every day for a couple years to improve my once horrendous sense of balance. It worked, and to this day, I still do it along with other balancing poses such as tree pose, side plank, and extended hand to toe pose regularly to keep my abs taut and my balance in check. As we age, we tend to lose the skill of balance unless efforts are made to maintain it.
- Inversions – A few years ago, I attended a weekly arm balancing yoga class, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of yogis. Handstands, shoulder stands, crow poses, and their many variations were always part of the merrymaking. Unfortunately, the teacher moved to another state, but even today inversions are an enjoyable part of my routine. They boost blood flow to the brain and improve immune function, according to Yogapedia.com. If you have only a few minutes a day for legs up the wall, it can be beneficial.
Even on days that I don’t do a full yoga practice, I incorporate at least one of each of the above into stretching prior to and after other exercises. Every little thing we do, or don’t do, works together either for our benefit or to our detriment, and committing to small healthy acts is an easy way to stay on the positive side of that equation. (I’m a big-picture person, you may have noticed!)
Although the yoga that we know doesn’t involve the original philosophy in its entirety, we are fortunate that its physical practice has been brought to us through the ages. As you can see, the advantages of yoga are practical, and regular practice builds a strong foundation for uniting mind, body, and spirit, getting us a little closer to a sense of oneness.
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.