Many people have heard of how yoga can improve physical fitness and mental health, but not all are willing to give yoga a try. Many are put off by the spiritual terms that yoga is often described in. If you are curious about the benefits of yoga but can’t get into all the talk of spiritual energy, inner peace, and harmony with the cosmos, you should be aware that this is not the only possible perspective to have on yoga. Here, Russell Herbert Jack, a Southland-based yoga guru, explains how you can understand yoga from a non-spiritual perspective.
The traditional description of the process of yoga is put into spiritual terms, but there are biological terms that describe the process just as well. Consider the idea of “spiritual energy.” It is often described as mysterious energy that flows through the body due to the stretching and breathing techniques that yoga employs. It is interesting to note the parallels this explanation has with blood flow.
Blood takes in oxygen from the air, carrying it and the nutrients from the food you eat through your body. Oxygen and nutrients together give your muscles the energy to move and your brain the energy to think. When you do yoga poses, your muscles get stretched out, which allows your blood to flow more freely through them, bringing a rush of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. The way you breathe in yoga can get more oxygen into your blood, so it brings extra energy to your muscles and brain. Your blood literally carries energy, physical energy, throughout your body in ways that are assisted by the practice of yoga. This seems like much the same thing that the spiritual perspective describes. Because yoga was developed well before the modern science of biology was well understood, it is only to be expected that the traditional descriptions would not include it, but that doesn’t mean that modern biology doesn’t have anything valid to say on the subject.
There is similarly no need to rely on the spiritual to explain the mental health benefits that yoga can bring. Many mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are triggered by stress, and they also make existing stress worse. Yoga fights the effects of stress by not just energizing the body but also by calming and focusing the mind. To do yoga, you should clear your mind and just focus on breathing and physical movement. This means that, while you are doing yoga and maybe for a while after, your mind is not on your usual worries and distractions. This combination of focus and clearness can help lower stress. For the time you practice, having a clear and calm mind can lead to feelings of peace and harmony.
If you’ve put off giving yoga a try because of the spiritual perspective it is usually presented in; perhaps it is time to give it another chance. Once you put aside your concerns with the way it is described, you may be surprised at how effective it can be for you.
About Russell Herbert Jack
Russell Herbert Jack, a Southland-based yoga and mindfulness teacher, specializes in Vinyasa Yoga, Qigong, and guided meditations. Russell is passionate about animal rights protection, regularly volunteers with the World Animal Protection Organization, and donates to protect endangered species in New Zealand.