Yoga Asanas Have Many Benefits. Did You Know, They Are Just A Small Aspect Of Yoga (Contrary To Popular Belief)?
Asanas are one of the eight limbs of yoga, as described by Patanjali, who is considered to be the father of modern yoga. The term ‘yogasana’ (yoga asana) refers to any of the several physical postures described in the yogic texts. Yogasanas and pranayama (another one of the eight limbs) are the two aspects of yoga with which beginners in yoga are advised to start their practice of yoga.
There are numerous types of asanas – 84 fundamental asanas are mentioned in hatha yoga texts and there are hundreds of variants. The benefits of asanas range from making you fit and flexible in general to alleviating serious health issues like – hypertension, diabetes, PCOS/PCOD, metabolic disorders, hormonal imbalances and common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
According to the International Yoga Federation, over 300 million people perform yoga asanas all over the world. Despite being a small aspect of yoga, yogasanas and their benefits are acknowledged all across the globe.
What Does Asana Mean In Yoga?
Asanas have lately become the de facto face of yoga. Therefore, modern yoga is often incorrectly perceived as just being a form of physical exercise. This interpretation of yoga is extremely narrow and limiting. In reality, asanas are just a small part of the practice of yoga. All of the different schools of yoga (including the classic texts of hatha yoga) agree that asanas and pranayama are the preparatory steps for the meditative aspects of yoga.
Literally, the word ‘asana’ means ‘seat’. It is important to remember that the literal meaning of ‘asana’ – i.e. seat, references meditation and refers to the position you take when you meditate. It is a reminder that yogasanas are one of the aspects of yoga.
In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, different physical postures and yoga movements are labelled as ‘yoga vyayam’ – literally translating to ‘physical exercises of yoga’. As per Patanjali, asana only refers to the meditation posture of sitting.
In Raja yoga (considered the best / highest form of yoga) doctrine too, asanas are treated as a part of the physical preparation to expedite the benefits of the more inward, meditative practices of yoga.
Nevertheless, yogasanas and yoga movements have numerous benefits. Let’s take a closer look.
Benefits Of Asanas For Physical Health
Asanas and the yoga movements to achieve their postures work your joints, muscles, ligaments and tissues, improving your strength, flexibility and balance. They stimulate your lymphatic system for better immune response and improving blood circulation in different parts of your body. Regular practice overtime therefore makes you physically agile, strong and helps improve body posture and balance. They can also be a great tool for rehabilitation from injury.
These benefits are very different as compared to what happens when you do cardiovascular exercises or strength training in the gym. Here is a quick list of the key benefits of asanas for your physical, mental and emotional health. Here is the list.
If you lead a sedentary lifestyle or if you are entering your thirties, maintaining the flexibility of your body must become a health goal. Otherwise, the tissues and muscles tend to lose their lustre and become more prone to injuries.
Practicing yogasanas involves moving your joints and muscles in various ways, which improves flexibility over a period of time. There are hundreds of basic yoga poses out there and you will find one for literally every small part of your body.
Enhance Muscle Strength (Without Bulking Up)
Many of the yoga movements use your body weight to attain and support the respective postures. Such exercise of your muscles is unlikely to happen on its own. Even the gym workouts are usually vigorous and designed to lift heavy weights and designed to build muscles. In contrast, yoga asanas are performed gently, well in coordination with your breath. Therefore, they rejuvenate your muscles and make them strong at the same time – without inflicting extreme stress.
Consider making yoga asanas a part of your physical workout plan to naturally increase the strength of your muscles and skeletal tissues including the smallest of ligaments and tendons in your body.
Improve The Health Of The Spine And The Nervous System
Let’s admit it. Most people take their spines for granted. Guilty as charged? Well, yogasanas have got you covered. The spinal column is of central importance in all the aspects of yoga – from asanas to pranayam to meditation. There are numerous types of asanas in yoga which you can practice everyday to keep your spine flexible and your nervous system healthy.
Promote Blood Circulation
When did you last stretch your full body, consciously, feeling the small muscles, the back of your neck, your hamstrings? Most people either do not get the opportunity or do not realize that stretching improves blood circulation in your muscles. It helps alleviate any soreness and also improves recovery time from any injuries.
Improve Cellular Health
Coordinating your breath with the yoga movements, taking deep breaths for the same along with an improved blood circulation helps deliver more oxygen into the cells, promoting better cellular health.
Improve Physical Balance And Posture
Many asanas and yoga movements require balancing yourself in different postures. Therefore regular practice of balancing asanas will add grace to your posture, make you feel fitter and improve your mind-body coordination.
Ease Chronic Pain And Improve Recovery Time From Injury
Acute, chronic pain can be devastating and keep you away from living your life joyfully. Yoga asanas can heal your body more effectively in case of pain due to an injury or due to any chronic condition.
Yoga asanas induce the release of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are hormones which relieve pain and induce feelings of euphoria. Various movements and yogasanas stretch your muscles, ligaments and tendons which reduces pain and revives mobility. Specific movements also alleviate most types of inflammation, which is the reason for chronic pain in conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Yogasanas and their benefits for mental and emotional health
The influence of asanas on mental & emotional health is not discussed as often as it deserves. Coordinating your breath with your movements, as prescribed, is the key to unlock the mental aspects of the benefits of asanas. When performed consciously, being aware and in sync with your breath, asanas can significantly reduce your stress and anxiety levels, improve your focus, balance your emotions and connect you with your inner self. Here is a list of the numerous benefits of yogasanas for your mental health.
Reduce Depression & Anxiety
Anxiety, fear and worries live in two kinds of thought. Firstly, when your imagination runs wild and works against you, painting all kinds of negative possibilities and scenarios as if they have already come true. Secondly, when you keep reliving bad memories and experiences of the past – you keep holding on to grudges, keep feeling bad about the ‘should haves’ and the ‘could haves’ or worse, keep ruminating about other people’s behaviours in past situations.
Asanas help you to learn how to anchor yourself to the present moment. When you coordinate your movements and posture with your breath to do an asana or hold a pose, you invariably tend to gravitate your attention to the moment – the here and the now.
The more you are tuned into the present, the lesser the share of worrisome thoughts grabbing the limited real estate of your attention. Therefore, more of your attention is available to do what is required for you to do, in the present moment. As a result, you utilise your present time more efficiently to create desirable results tomorrow.
This way, many negative states of mind can slowly be wiped, utilizing the yogasanas as a tool in your fight against the negative feelings and anxious thoughts. There are several asanas in yoga for beginners which will specifically help you to keep your anxiety levels in check. Try them – there isn’t another way to experience these benefits yourself.
Make You Aware Of Your Emotions And Help You Stay Centered
The mindfulness which you develop when attending to the movement of your breath while doing the yogasanas helps you remain generally more aware of the rise and fall of your own emotions. This awareness is the first and the most important step to stop identifying with your emotion.
You stop identifying with your emotions when you understand that emotions are like traffic on the road – they come and go. That’s the nature of emotions – they rise, they fall and they rise again. Therefore emotional health does not mean absence of negative emotions. Rather it means that you do not become miserable when negative emotions rise within you and lose control when positive ones do. You don’t become miserable when you see an ugly car on the road, do you?
This understanding and the observation of it, the habit of it, with your own emotions, opens the door for you to stay stable and keeps your positivity and joy from being swept away by the tide of emotions.
Improve Mental Focus And Productivity
The mindfulness that is born out of the regular practice of asanas helps you build the practice of focusing.
Have you ever realized that the constant mind chatter – which goes on without your conscious effort and thought – is always about the future of the past? An assignment or a project deadline, a big purchase you need to make, an unpleasant remark someone made a couple of days ago and sometimes just thinking about the next vacation you might need to plan.
The thing is, this mental chatter is akin to throttling the engine of the vehicle without changing the gears. It heats up the engine, consumes fuel, causes wear and tear but does not really move the vehicle. The point here is not to stop you from planning for the future or to not analyse and learn from the past – but it should be a consciously chosen agenda for your mind, rather than a compulsive background noise.
Being present, and giving your complete attention to your chosen agenda for the moment, is the ultimate relaxation for your mind. It is a necessary state of mind to cultivate focus and manifest the desired results in your personal or professional life.
Relax Your Mind And Improve Your Mood
Physiologically, asanas help release endorphins, hormones that relieve pain and make you feel euphoric. They activate your parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes you and lifts your spirits.
Help to build confidence
Yoga asanas can effectively help those suffering from the issues of low self-esteem or lack of confidence, which are also causes for anxiety and depression. Such negative states of mind are usually a fuel for each other’s fire. Asanas can help you break the pattern of negative thoughts and behaviours. They help you feel more positive, handle your emotions better and also increase your productivity by improving your mental focus. In turn, it only remains a matter of time when your self-doubt gradually withers away and self-confidence improves.
So, When Are You Starting?
Millions across the globe practice and experience yogasanas and their benefits daily. It is loud and clear that the benefits of asanas are immense and might well prove to be life-changing for you as well.
Good news? There are several types of asanas. You may choose to start with the ones which are best suited to help you overcome your present challenges and reach your personal goals. It surely helps to have an expert guide you along the journey. So consider consulting an expert to choose what suits you the best and how to make rapid progress.
Patience and consistency is the key here anyway, as any innate changes in the pattern of thought and behavior will take time to develop. Hope you start sooner than later!
What are the benefits of yoga to the mind and body?
Does yoga improve skin?
Yes, yogasanas improve skin texture by enhancing blood flow. It also improves metabolism and digestion that results in improved skin appearance.