We are taught at great length how to use our brainpower for every other purpose than how to take care of our health. We exact the utmost from ourselves with little beneficial care. This we leave to already overworked doctors.
The attitude of prevention being better than cure is well known in Yoga, which far from being a subject of ridicule, is a pure science which deals with humanity at all levels - mental, moral, spiritual and physical - but, unfortunately, is known mostly for its physical aspects, due to the type of publicity received. Man was taught that he must first learn to live in harmony with himself, that mental discipline was essential, and that all that was good in man must be put to full use for his own and society's benefit.
The close association of mind and body was well known even 2,000 years ago, although it is only within the last decade that modern science has become aware of this factor. To develop poise, relaxation, value, judgment, a healthy body and mind, is sadly lacking in modern times and to achieve any results it must be pursued at an early age and on an educational basis only then will there be a full purpose and meaning to life.
Is Yoga for You?
While "yoga" sometimes conjures up images of tying the body in knots, this is not an accurate picture. While there are different styles and schools of yoga, they can all be traced back to the early civilizations along the Indus River, in present day Pakistan. Yoga has endured centuries of change and adaptation and remains relevant and extremely useful to modern lifestyles. The type of yoga I know something of is referred to as "integral yoga".
This is a system for creating health which encompasses all aspects of a person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Some people seek yoga to help them with a particular physical problem, to increase flexibility or to prevent disabling conditions like arthritis. Yoga can certainly help on this level and this may be as far as people want to take the practices.
Need to Persevere
However if people persevere they will become more and more aware of the connections between the physical and other aspects of themselves. A fundamental concept of yoga is that the aim of life is to develop one's full potential. Getting more in touch with oneself, seeing beyond the daily stresses and strains and developing skills and attitudes to aid coping with 'difficulties" are the "hidden agenda" of yoga practices.
In a beginner's yoga class students are taught a balanced series of postures or exercises to improve the health of the whole body. Initial practices are simple and safe for example joint rotations, stretching tall and sideways from the standing position and gently flexing and relaxing muscles. In a general class, which might include people with varying levels of experience and health conditions, alternative practices are given to suit abilities. Breath awareness and relaxation are crucial components of every class.
Medical studies document that relaxation techniques - relaxing bubble bath, listening to music, and yoga - lower blood pressure and other physiological parameters associated with stress including respiratory rate, and brain waves. Relaxation measurably improves the function of the immune system and helps the blood become slightly more alkaline. The more alkaline the blood, the less likely it is to contribute to the leaching of calcium from the bodies, thus lessening the possibility of osteoporosis.
Relaxation postures teach clearly and concretely the importance of being, not just doing. Our culture is very much a "doing" culture, we value action and results over being and awareness. Relaxation in a weekly yoga class may be the only time in the week the student is quiet and present - not acting, not achieving, not sleeping.