Fitness Magazine

Practicing Yoga for Your Health

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Practicing Yoga for Your Health

Hygeia, Goddess of Health by Peter Paul Rubens

One of the reasons, I wrote about body image yesterday in The Body You Want—besides the fact that I was feeling a bit rant-y, I guess—is that I knew I was going to write today’s post about practicing yoga for health benefits. And I wanted to have a way to clearly distinguish between practicing yoga asanas for health benefits and practicing yoga to “get the body you want.” This topic was on my mind because we received the following question from one of our readers:
"I’m a well aged yoga practitioner in my 70’s. One of the most incongruent aspects of yoga, especially in the western world, seems to come about from the tendency of practitioners to ‘use’ yoga for achieving something physical … more flexibility, greater range of motion and on and on. In a different way, as Ram so kindly reminds us, yoga offers the means to grow spiritually. To me these two aspects of yoga … achieving a desirable state of physical being through asana and cultivating spiritual growth through meditation, mindfulness and intentional study of yoga tradition appear to be at odds with each other."Question: Does the tendency to ‘use’ yoga (physically) actually impede our ability to comprehend the less tangible, more subtle and deeper spiritual aspects of yoga?"

To this reader, the use of yoga to achieve something “physical” seems incongruent with cultivating spiritual growth, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. In fact, hatha yoga—the type of yoga we are all practicing when we do asanas—was originally developed as a way of fortifying the body for meditation. Hatha yogis believed that an unhealthy body or one that was in constant pain would impede the ability of the practitioner to sit for long periods of time, so various physical practices, including asana, pranayama, and cleansing practices, were introduced to support the good health of the practitioner. Here’s a quote from the Hatha Yoga Pradipka that describes the purpose of the asanas:“The Âsanas are a means of gaining steadiness of position and help to gain success in contemplation, without any distraction of the mind. If the position be not comfortable, the slightest inconvenience will draw the mind away from the lakśya (aim), and so no peace of mind will be possible till the posture has ceased to cause pain by regular exercise.”This why doing asana to support your health is not actually incongruent with the original aim of yoga. (But this is also why, as I said yesterday, doing asanas to improve your looks or to “get the body you want” is at odds with the true aim of yoga.)However, the intention you bring to the your practice is essential for keeping your physical practice “yogic.” If you become obsessed with achieving good health (something you might not be able to achieve, anyway) or with any of the outward attributes that you associate with health (such as strength, flexibility, balance, and so on), then these obsessions may take over. At this point, if your practice is focused solely on the achievement of physical goals as an end in themselves, then you’ve lost your way. And surely an obsession with achieving perfect health is no way to find peace of mind, because, of course, you will ultimately fail.So how can you practice for health without getting sidetracked by focusing on physical achievements? For me, the answer is in a text that is much older than the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita. The important message of the Gita, which Krishna explains several different ways to Arjuna, is that achieve equanimity you must surrender the fruits of your actions:"Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure.Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same."In fact, in the very early days of the blog, we wrote some posts What We Need to Practice and Acceptance, Active Engagement, and the Bhagavad Gita that espoused this very philosophy as a way to achieve peace of mind as you practiced yoga for healthy aging. I wrote back then that daily yoga practice is no quick fix, and results are never guaranteed, because this is real life, people. So for your peace of mind, at the same time that you work toward staying healthy, you should try to let go of all thoughts of success or failure and simply focus on your practice. Then no matter what happens, you’ll be prepared to handle it. And this combination active engagement and acceptance is the yogic approach to practicing asana for your health.Additionally, when you perform your asanas with this intention, what you do in the yoga room becomes “practice” for your life outside the yoga room. For this same yogic approach outside the yoga room allows you to cultivate equanimity in your daily life. No matter what work we have to do, whether it is raising children, going to a 9 to 5 job, being politically active, or helping a dying family member, practicing acceptance along with active engagement allows us to do what we need to do and be at peace with the results.

“In this wisdom, a man goes beyond what is well done and what is not well done.
Go thou therefore to wisdom:Yoga is wisdom in work.” —Bhagavad Gita, trans. Juan MascaroSubscribe to YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING by Email ° FollowYoga for Healthy Agingon Facebook

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