Many people interested in yoga in the West shy away from it because it seems weird, New Age, something for hippies, or a think that non-Westerners, and therefore non-Christians do. The truth is that while yoga is used in certain religions as an aid to health, healing and personal growth, it is a great workout and not a religion in and of itself.
The word yoga means union, the union of body, mind and spirit, your essence as a person. Yoga was developed more than 5,000 years ago, so it is very ancient and pre-Christian. It is also pre-Hindu and Buddhist, though both use yoga as a means of advancing their spiritual progress during a person’s short human life on this earth.
Movement as Medicine
Yoga is one of the main parts of traditional Indian medicine that also stretches back thousands of years, and seeks to keep the body in balance to maintain physical and mental health. Yoga isn’t just for hippies, it is for anyone who wants to achieve their best self. Yoga isn’t just for women, but men too. And it isn’t just for skinny 20-somethings, it is a great workout for all ages, especially for seniors, who benefit from increased flexibility, strength and range of motion.
Movement as Meditation
Yoga can improve meditation, that is, one’s mental abilities, and vice versa. A healthy body equals a healthy mind, and a healthy mind has been shown to maintain a healthy body. Studies have shown that depression and anxiety can cause physical health problems. They also show that depression is present in 75% of heart patients and 50% of arthritis patients. Yoga gives energy and enhances mood. Yoga classes also decrease isolation amongst the ill and elderly when they go out to enjoy a yoga class with fellow students.
Is meditation the same as praying?
Some people equate meditation with prayers. However, the word meditation just means thinking. While it is true that some of the mantras chanted in some forms of yoga, such as the word OM, can have religious connotations depending on how they are translated, the goal of meditation is not to pray to some sort of divine being. Rather, it’s to try to connect with your own full potential, in order to benefit not just yourself, but others as well.
For example, if you’re a parent or caregiver, getting burned out benefits no one, least of all the people you are trying to care for. Therefore, a daily yoga practice will benefit anyone, no matter what their religion.