Beyond the Mat: Can Yoga Really Improve Your Health?
Is yoga enough to lead a healthy lifestyle? Let's explore the relationship between yoga, awareness, and positive lifestyle changes.
In the mind of most people, practicing yoga is connected to leading a healthy lifestyle. But is it enough to practice yoga daily to become and stay healthy?
Time spent on the mat is time well spent - but it is just one aspect of what we need to do to adopt a yogic lifestyle. Asana brings about many health benefits by itself: strength, flexibility, better posture, better digestion, improved homeostasis (capacity of the body to regulate itself), better quality of sleep and many more. But maybe the most important of those benefits is the enhanced awareness yoga brings if practiced regularly and for a long time.
Yoga practice makes you conscious on many levels: the way your body moves, your breathing patterns, the pain you might feel, the lightness or heaviness. The practice is holding a magnifying lens, allowing you to closely observe yourself. In a way practicing makes us “feel” more, makes us more alert and responsive to our needs. In this way it can definitely contribute to a healthier lifestyle. It cultivates embodied wisdom, which is much more powerful than any intellectual information we can gather.
Instead of reading or hearing what’s good for you, you actually feel it in your skin and bones.
So yes, yoga practice can be a catalyst of change in the way you treat your body and yourself in general. The foods you eat, your sleeping habits, your priorities - everything can shift. You learn to feel what is good for you and what is bad or even self-destructive. You feel the need to give more goodness and love to yourself and treat your body with respect. This is “Ahimsa”, the first of the 5 Yamas that constitute the first limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Ahimsa means non-violence, abstinence from harming, directed first to yourself.
After a while, as you are stepping on your mat every morning, you can clearly feel if your body is happy or not, if you are sleep deprived, if you ate too much the night before or if you had a few too many drinks. When you are too stressed or anxious it will show in your practice: you will feel the impact of the mind’s agitation in the way you move and breathe. There is no hiding anymore. Everything is there, exposed to you and you have no choice but to see it.
This doesn’t mean that you have to do everything right all the time. It is not about perfection or living like a monk but about adopting a more conscious lifestyle. It is about becoming aware to what you do and why you do it, what’s really important in life and what is not serving you anymore. You learn to question your choices and sometimes important life changes happen.
So the truth is: yoga just by itself won’t make you healthy. But it can be an extremely valuable tool on your journey towards self-awareness. It can help you build the willpower to make the necessary changes to live a healthier, more wholesome life.
None of this can be forced or even taught. It has to be felt and experienced.
As the practice unfolds, so does life.