Yoga guru BKS Iyengar died this year at the age of 95 in Pune. Yoga kept the guru fit well past the age of 90, setting an example for its practitioners about the long-term benefits. What makes yoga so different from other forms of fitness?
“Yoga is all about evolving. A person evolves physically and spiritually when connected with yoga.” These are the words of Harsha Bhantia, a yoga teacher in Kolkata who started Happy Yoga and an all-woman class called Athena Yoga. Harsha incorporates a blend of power yoga, basic asanas and pranayams, apart from other forms of yoga.
With a master’s in Chemistry and working in the educational sector, she never thought of taking to yoga as a career until she moved from Mumbai to Kolkata and today yoga is more than just her passion. From practicing yoga since the age of 16, she has come a long way. She tries to ensure it becomes an extension of the lives of every student of hers. There are students from the age of early twenties to their fifties who make up the demographics of the class. Yoga to Harsha is more than just a profession.
What are Hatha yoga and Raja yoga?
There are different theories that surround yoga, but broadly speaking, there are two forms of yoga. Hatha yoga and Raja yoga. Hatha yoga focuses on the well-being of the physical body and includes all the asanas. Asanas improve flexibility and posture, immunity, improves physical strength. Raja yoga helps to get inner peace, meditation or dhyan, relief from stress which is the biggest problems in today’s life. When clubbed together, Hatha yoga and Raja yoga give an overall benefit. Pranayam is the term many have heard as an important part of yoga. This comes under Hatha yoga.
What does it all mean?
When you are doing asanas, pranayam and dhyan (meditation) together, there is a greater awareness in an individual’s life leading to an overall development. It boosts energy levels and keeps a person away from all the kinds of diseases. In terms of awareness, whatever is happening in the body one understands, for example, like sensing it days before getting a flu and hence know how to handle it. This means an individual is looking more inwards than outside. So it increases the intuitive power and helps to deal with situations.
When a situation occurs, a normal person will react to the situation either positively or negatively. On the other hand, a person following yoga will accept the situation calmly, analyze the situation with a calm and composed mind and try to learn the lesson from it instead of reacting to the situation in a negative way.
Various Benefits of Yoga
Be it flexibility, weight loss, a peaceful mind or a glow on the face and beautiful skin. Whatever an individual wants, one is likely to find in yoga. “When talking about practicing yoga in general, often we relate yoga only to asanas or postures. So we just look at the physical fitness level. We often fail to see the immense benefits of uniting the body, mind and soul. When all three are in harmony or coordination, life becomes more smooth and complete. Depending on what kind of person an individual is, he or she can choose that form of yoga,” says Harsha.
1. Overall development
Through asanas physical fitness can be achieved, pranayam improves immunity and through meditation stress can be relieved. There is better focus and concentration power in an individual’s life with a control over emotions. The more one practices yoga, the more life comes under control. We can’t do yoga one day and leave it the next. It is an evolution and does not happen overnight. The more one continues yoga, the more one will evolve.
The major impact of yoga compared to other physical forms of fitness, is through yoga hormones can be controlled and when hormones are in balance, the whole body is in balance. No other exercise impacts the hormones as yoga. For example, with a thyroid problem, there is likely to be weight gain. But with yoga exercises like sarvangasana and halasana, it helps to control weight gain.
2. Weight loss
Power yoga and yoga vinyasa are a boon when it comes to weight loss. Yoga vinyasa has been developed for physical benefits. In Western countries this is often called power yoga. But vinyasa is more of a physical challenge and connecting inwards too while power yoga is more about physical benefits. Both give results of weight loss and helps in toning the body. Through pranayams and asanas stress levels can be controlled which is directly related to cortisone level in the body. It is a stress hormone which shows a weight gain. So it is very important to reduce the cortisone level. Sometimes one can be doing daily activities properly but still there is weight gain. So there is need to control it through pranayams and meditation.
3. Stress relief and boosting energy levels
The cortisone level is controlled so is the stress level. One is able to manage life and relationships. It gives benefits of stress relief being physically and mentally active. Hence it boosts energy levels. Dance yoga helps to attain peace.
4. Flexibility, leading to less injury
Yin yoga helps to improve flexibility. In this form of yoga you have to hold a posture for 5-10 minutes which inturn helps to improve flexibility. When talking about injuries, they often happen due to lack of flexibility. Power yoga too helps in flexibility, but yin yoga does better.
5. Improves immunity
Concentrating on each pose and breathing techniques helps to increase the oxygen levels in the body and hence helps improve immunity to combat diseases.
6. Brings inner peace
With adequate yoga practice, an individual attains inner peace and learns to live in the present moment and not be drawn into worldly affairs which are not in their control.
7. Better relationships
With less irritation and acceptance of a situation, yoga helps to improve relationships among people. After all, human beings are very social.
At Athena, Harsha includes meditation in yoga sequences and takes the students to a meditative phase. This helps as people don’t have so much time always to concentrate on all forms of yoga individually. It is not just about being in a typical posture, it is also about looking inwards. “I ask my clients to just close their eyes and hold a single posture and delve deep within. If it is not possible by them, then I ask them to focus on the soft music playing in the background. Hence at the end of a 30-minute yoga session, a person achieves physical fitness, mentally too they experience bliss,” she said.
Yoga is all about feeling happy, each part of the body experiences happiness. Often someone with a back pain or a knee pain finds the pain has substantially reduced at the end of a class as they are not just focusing on physical fitness, but also meditating while performing yoga. People from the age of 16 to 60 attend Happy Yoga with Harsha as she believes it is never too late to begin yoga. Many of them who join have seen results. Whether it is delaying the menopause date or problems related to polycystic ovaries, yoga is the answer to it. Within 4-6 months a woman can see benefits. It helps to control pregnancy problems as well.
Let’s not forget the benefits of yoga for men. Footballers and other sportsmen benefit from yoga in terms of flexibility and mental stress relief, as in sports there is a lot of mobility and flexibility is needed in their bodies. A calm and composed mind helps to handle the pressures of the game. There are office-going men who also need a stress buster and relief from neck and back pain due to sitting at their desks for long periods.
There are reasons enough to delve into the world of yoga. It starts with an understanding of the benefits of yoga and knowing an individual wants to gain from it. Many ailments and high stress levels gnawing at you can soon become history.