How and Why Does Yoga Work?

Although most of us consider yoga to be little more than a physical activity, yoga is actually a practice for the mind.  According to ancient yogic philosophy, human beings think and worry too much, and it is our attachment to our thoughts that create many modern-day problems. (not much has changed in 2000-plus years!).  When we get caught up in our thoughts, it is easy to forget the connection between the mind and body. But how we deal with day-to-day stress is bound to affect us physically. We all react with tension somewhere in our physical self that is bound to accumulate over time.

To understand why yoga is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, you firstly have to try to forget everything you thought you knew about how exercise works. For example, the goal of yoga is not to lose weight or burn calories. It is not to make you stronger, fitter and/or more flexible. But certainly, with regular practise, these things happen. Amazing side effects!

Goal-oriented exercise tends to focus on raising the heart-rate, burning calories and engaging the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – basically your ‘”stress” response.  The breath may quicken and blood may move away from the heart and towards the extremities. There is nothing wrong with this in the short term because stress is useful in the short term. However, constant stress – real or imagined – puts immense pressure on the body’s various systems. Over time, this leads to chronic ill health.

The practise of vinyasa yoga is different in that, although we are engaging in movement-based exercise, the focus is on relaxing and calming the mind while engaging the body. You could say we create a bit of “artificially induced stress” but aim to relax into it instead. Hopefully, this then helps us manage our life stressors a bit more easily! We work towards slowing down the breath and keeping the heart rate steady which improves the flow of blood to the organs.  Regular yogis are thinner because as the breath begins to slow, the body generally craves only lighter food and less of it.

The exercise/diet treadmill is one that many fall on and off regularly but my advice is to let go of being goal orientated.  Stop thinking about exercise as something you have to do to burn calories and/or lose weight and instead, do something because you love doing it – whether it’s running, dancing, surfing, yoga or whatever. Something that makes you feel good – something that makes you feel At One With the Universe! Essentially, that is the goal of yoga!