Get Your Head out of Your Asana: Yoga is Actually a Complete Health System

Anyone can practise yoga or be a “yogi”. It does not have to be on a mat, in a yoga studio or while wearing Lululemon. We may get it wrong from time to time, but that’s all okay because we just do our best.  We are practising love and respect for all – including (or especially) ourselves. We should only ever take what we need from the Earth and be grateful for whatever it is that we have. Right Now.

So it’s a common misunderstanding to believe yoga is simply a form of exercise and one that only certain (flexible) people can “do”.

The physical aspect of yoga  – often described as “asana” (comfortable seat) or  “vinyasa” (dynamic flowing exercise) is one tiny part of a huge, holistic lifestyle philosophy. I am pretty confident the original practitioners of “yogasana” did not need to exercise or stretch to become flexible or fit. They did not sit on chairs for upwards of 10 hours per day. They squatted, sat on the ground, cross-legged to eat and carried huge cargo on their heads. They would have burnt many calories while actually sourcing food, and were likely already strong, lean and supple. So although we tend to get caught up with what our physical body looks like and what we can or cannot “do”,  “yogasana” practised authentically and kinesthetically,  is  more about physiology.  In other words, how things feel as well as the relationship between the inner body and the mind.

So what does “holistic” even mean?

This is more relevant these days because somatically, we seem to have become disjointed. We are like, “WOW! Truly! Are our mind and bodies really connected?!!” Yep. Who knew that our brain was an organ like any other?

Many of us have been led to believe that it is only physical exercise and adherence to fad diets that will lead us to superior health and “fitness”. But the reality is somewhat different. Yoga and other ancient lifestyle practises consider our whole being as one; mind, body, movement, breath, organs and ‘prana’ or ‘qi’ (internal-life energy). This is what is meant by holistic.

In modern times, we outsource our health and seem unwilling or perhaps unable to take responsibility. We wait until something happens and then we head off to the doctors and hope we can be “fixed”.  Yoga though, teaches us self-care. How to avoid health issues before they arise. Or to manage (non life-threatening) health problems ourselves so we can alleviate symptoms as organically as possible.

This is empowering. It saves cash and time. It helps us recognise warning signals. Things like chronic skin rashes or eruptions, constant colds, food intolerances/digestion, endocrine issues, dizziness or vertigo, joint/muscle stiffness and annoying, niggly pain that makes you feel miserable and stops you from doing the things you love.

Can the doctor help? Maybe. But it’s YOUR body and YOUR experience so it is important to get involved.

Exercise is just 20% of what it means to be healthy – how we exercise is a different thing altogether. Diet is another 20% (and all the organic food in the world won’t make a difference if the engine is shot). How we feel – happy or stressed, life issues – that’s another 20%.

The big one though is blood and circulation. Sitting for much of the day creates a kind of “dead zone” in the most relevant part of the human body and most dis-ease can be traced back to how efficiently oxygenated blood cells can circulate around our “core”. So while a rock-hard six-pack and low BMI might look hot, if the payoff is a stiff spine and “stuck” organs, the circulatory system is in jeopardy. Hence, it is likely that sooner or later, symptoms will emerge.

“Yogasana” though has the power to teach us awareness as long as we can recognise when our ego gets involved (most of the time, if we are honest..). But, with consistent practise, we are bound to become more mindful. We are able to separate a little from the idea of What We Can Do and instead, we begin to intuit how a feeling/emotion can lead to a thought (or vice-versa) and how this then leads to a physical body reaction somewhere. This helps us realise how the underlying nature of our inner world is at the source of most health problems.