Moira Canty Explains the Physiological and Psychological Benefits of Yoga
What is yoga? Is it stretching? Is it meditation? Is it learning to breathe in a specific way? Why does yoga seem to have more of a presence in American culture suddenly? Is it a spiritual endeavour? Or is it some sort of trend? Why do yoga studios keep popping up in shopping centres? Who are all these people in black leotards with colorful, rolled-up mats slung around their shoulders?
For those who are unfamiliar with yoga or its concepts, the whole thing can seem a little vague and confusing, as it encompasses so very many facets. So, before diving headfirst into the many virtues of practicing yoga, perhaps a short rundown might be helpful.
The origins of yoga are lost to the mists of history. It is generally thought to have developed in India between four and six thousand years ago, but apart from that, there is no historical or chronological consensus on its starting point or earliest stages. Where there is consensus, though, is that yoga is one of humankind’s oldest and most widespread practices.
Fundamentally, yoga is both a spiritual and physical venture. It encompasses breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, and positional stretching in order to encourage a state of consciousness free of discursive thought. The ultimate spiritual objective of a yoga practitioner is to attain a state where consciousness is unaffected and unmixed with anything but itself and its own nature. The long-term goal of spiritual enlightenment aside, practicing yoga carries with it many earthly and practical advantages as Moira Canty is quick to extol.
Flexibility and Balance
Taking up yoga as a beginner, the most immediate and obvious changes one would notice would be in the areas of flexibility and balance. Due to the emphasis on positional stretching, yoga, if practiced regularly, will facilitate a gradual loosening of muscles and ligaments and remove undue pressure from joints. It will also slowly realign larger sections of the bone structure, such as hips, knees, thighs, and shins, consequently relieving mysterious aches and pains and improving balance.
These days, even athletes have begun to see the merits of yoga, and many incorporate it as an important part of their workout regimen. Moira Canty says that among the more recognizable names to have publicly stated their partiality for yoga are Evan Longoria of the San Francisco Giants and NBA superstar LeBron James. Yoga has also been proven to help with mobility in older adults, and to help with the physical rehabilitation of the severely injured during later stages of recovery. So, no matter what age or position in life, anyone can reap the physiological benefits of yoga.
Yogic breathing, or ‘Pranayama’ is a method of controlling and aligning one’s breathing through a series of techniques and exercises. It has been proven that by practicing these techniques consistently over a long enough timeline, one can significantly increase one’s vital capacity — the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs. Yogic breathing also helps to saturate the blood with oxygen, which encourages good circulation, lowers blood pressure, and relieves fatigue.
Additionally, yoga promotes breathing through the nose, which filters, warms, and humidifies inhaled air. Filtering outside air through the nose removes a large percentage of the pollen, dirt, and other particulates that would otherwise enter the body if inhaled through the mouth. Warming and humidifying outside air as it enters the body, though beneficial for everyone, is especially important for asthmatics and people with other respiratory ailments, as cold, dry air can often prompt an attack or episode.
Yoga can aid in decreasing stress and relieving anxiety, ultimately serving to help curb depression. No one aspect of yoga can take credit for this minor miracle; rather, it is likely that some combination of the relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, meditation, and exercise involved all factor into this phenomenon. It has also been established that yoga can significantly enhance the cognitive ability and improve the concentration and memory of those that practice it, focusing, as it does, on discipline and mindfulness of the present. Moving beyond measurable science and into the realm of anecdotal evidence, a great many yoga enthusiasts claim that practicing the ancient Indian discipline has made them happier overall.
Moira Canty concludes that since yoga can do all these wonderful things — and that is without mentioning the potential spiritual guidance and fulfilment it can provide — it is truly one of the few things in this world that can properly be called a panacea.
Since 2017, Moira Canty has been a volunteer ambassador for OurHarvest.com. OurHarvest encourages local, sustainable, healthy eating. This voluntary position works to raise money towards our parish school (St. Agnes in Rockville Centre) and raise high quality food to be distributed through our food pantry to anyone in need.