What is Yoga?
  Let’s start with a very basic definition of yoga, just so that we can absolve all fears that it is foreign or demonic or that you have to be a contortionist to take part in its practice.
  Yoga is not a religion: No deity is designated to be worshiped when doing yoga, unless you make it so - as an example: all religions pray, but each to their God/Goddess; You don't stop praying just because another religion also uses the system, you simply adjust a perfect and ancient tool to fit your personal circumstances and beliefs.
  Yoga literally means “to join”. The physical postures of yoga differ from any other form of exercise mainly because of this: It strives to unify all systems of the body (the muscles, the joints, the nervous system, the hormone system, the respiratory system, etc. – even the mind is included as you are taught to focus and concentrate). Each posture in yoga stretches very specific muscles, places very specific muscles on very specific glands in order to stimulate them and/or targets specific points of the nervous system. Yoga as an exercise targets every system in the body, in order to get all systems working in harmony again.

   In its original form, though, yoga was a philosophy that never touched on any the postures that we know today, but rather subscribed to a goal of spiritual evolution for everyone through the values of non-violence, love, peace, truth and right conduct. Yoga as we know it in the West today, the system of asanas practiced during class, is simply the method devised to remove the obstacles we encounter as we strive to still the mind and live a life filled with these values. 

"Yogis believe the expression of the spirit increases in proportion to the development of the body and mind in which it is encased. Therefore, yoga prescribes methods to train and develop the physical body and mind."
Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.

"The physical body is seen as an instrument, or vehicle, for the soul on its journey towards perfection. Just like other vehicles, this body/car has specific requirements which must be fulfilled for it to function smoothly and supply optimal mileage. These requirements are the 5 yogic principles: proper exercise; proper breathing; proper relaxation; proper diet; and positive thinking and meditation."
The Yoga Cookbook

When your physical needs are met, you can attend to the mind and when the mind is under your control, your spirit can grow and evolve fully.

As stated above, Yoga means to join and originally, this was the only item that Yoga was concerned with: To join the spirit with its vehicle and steering mechanism (the mind); and to join the body, the mind, and the spirit, with its Creator. The best means for this was found to lie in mastering one's mind; The reigns of the mind can only be taken in hand through meditation and thus it came about that they found that you cannot sit in meditation postures of any kind for very long, if your body is not in a condition to do so and well taken care of;  If your body is lacking in health, your journey to grow and evolve spiritually becomes so much shorter. Through years of research (very scientific research, that predates most anything else written on this earth) they found the best ways to condition the body, which happily, also ended up being a form that stilled the mind, was the asanas (postures) as we do them today.

Why Yoga?
  The generic answer is because it is the only product that strives to connect and bring health to all the systems of an individual.
  The personal answer would be for me to try and explain to you how yoga has changed me:
I am not by nature an active person, and I have low muscle tone. Or maybe because I have low muscle tone. Either way, the effect of this is bad posture, a deficient attention span  and an absolute lack of desire to do any form of exercise and quite often, to do anything at all. Once I found yoga though (or perhaps once it found me), it stuck. And it changed me.

  Lots of people out there don't like to change proclaiming themselves to be who they are and that is just the way things are. The truth is though that we are always changing, and it is our choice to drive this change towards growth and spiritual evolution, or towards digging a deeper ditch to settle into. The wonder of this journey through life is that the choice is always yours, that there something to learn in either choice and that in some small way, we often make either choice in various areas of our lives. Yoga strengthens your ability to deal with change as well as opening you up to change. We are lucky that it has this effect, because it also lights a fire in your evolution which makes change come because you are ready, not because you made a choice.
  You would have to know me in order to know the extent of these changes, but they were quite radical. I became calmer and quieter, less prone to argue, more prone to acceptance; I felt loved (not romantic love, the universal love that comes from within), filled with joy and inner strength, my connection to both my Creator, my source, the whole of the universe and my inner power, were rekindled and strengthened. With yoga my body and muscles gained strength, my concentration radically improved as did my self-motivation and -discipline; I gained a sense of awareness about my body and mind which led to inner peace, acceptance and bliss.
  I am far from perfect: I still have off days, when things seem a little bleak, I am tired or lose my temper. But the difference between now and then is huge, and the gap is growing every day.

The benefits of Yoga?
  I could keep you busy with thousands of benefits that yoga has on the body, but I will try to summarise:
  • Yoga helps with any form of chronic disease (high BP, low BP, arthritis and similar cases, diabetes, thyroid problems, asthma, osteoporosis, etc.). 
  • It has a positive impact on issues such as ADD/ADHD, Bipolar, Depression, Eating Disorders, etc. 
  • It creates self-confidence, joy (due to secretion of various feel good hormones), brings body awareness and builds good posture. Yoga builds confidence and self-discipline and even helps people who want to stop smoking and have a hard time breaking the habit. 
  • Yoga has been proven to help people who experience chronic pain. No one knows for sure whether it alleviates the pain, or builds more resistance to it, but the outcome was that people who had chronic forms of pain, affirmed that with regular yoga practice they felt more comfortable and able to continue with their lives than before.
  • Yoga halts (and reverses some of) the effects of aging.
  There are many more benefits which you can Google if you feel up to it, but the gist of it is simply that if you have a specific problem in your life, whether it is physical, emotional or mental, yoga will help you with it. Yoga is for everyone.

  Another, more physical benefit of practicing yoga is that your strength and flexibility will increase, but it is an inaccurate, though very common, held belief that you need to be able to be able to put your foot behind your head in order to practice yoga or that you will be contorting in all sorts of way in a class. In fact, just the opposite is true: Yoga as an exercise system holds that you do not need to, indeed that you should not, harm yourself in any way in your practice and a lot of yoga practices are indeed very simple but have the most effectiveness in combating stiffness and rigor that usually comes with age to the western body. This is probably one of the most obvious differences between yoga and any other form of physical exercise in that it is not believed to be in any way beneficial to work yourself to the point of exhaustion and/or pain. Just a little beyond your comfort zone is all that you ever need to do. You can see the evidence that this does indeed work in the many yogis that age well beyond their 80's and are still limber, strong and fill of life.

In short, I choose yoga because it has worked for me on a personal level, it is a non-harmful practice that does not require that I get all sweaty and exhausted (and it works better than any other form of exercise despite this) and it is beneficial to my choice to grow physically and spiritually as much as I possibly can during this life. In addition to all of this, it is a gift that I can share.

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