The practice of yoga has a very long history as a unified lifestyle science. Those who practice yoga in its full form find that it connects with almost every aspect of their inner and outer lives. When understood simply as a physical fitness practice, it is easy to lose the true meaning of yoga. However, if we observe it from a holistic perspective, the benefits of yoga are unavoidable.
We have already talked about the importance and benefits of Pranayama, the breathing practice of yoga, however, that is not the only practice. Yoga also includes mantras, asanas, mindfulness, nutrition, and more. Mindfulness has always been a vital part of the physical practice of yoga and is considered a form of meditation. The emphasis is on observing rather than reacting. Mindfulness practice, therefore, includes yoga, mindful meditation, breathing, and relaxation exercises.
Similar to yoga breathing, yoga mantras are a useful tool for anchoring into the present moment and finding a focus. Mantras can help us experience the kind of peace we feel on our mats and during meditation when we are out there in the real world. Mantras can take us beyond the mind and connect our awareness to deep states of energy and consciousness, helping us cross over the material world and into enlightenment.
Yoga asanas are body postures that are performed to benefit our health and mind. The term ‘asana’ derives from a Sanskrit term that means ‘pose’ or ‘posture.’ These postures can help us lose weight, improve our heart health and digestion, strengthen our muscles, joints, ligaments, stabilize period cramps, and so much more. Asanas also improve our internal health as different asanas work on different body parts. Practicing asanas boost our energy, helps us fight off lethargy, and retains our body-mind balance.
The concept of yoga nutrition aims at cleansing and strengthening our bodies. Yogis have understood that our diet influences not only our bodies but our minds and emotions too. Therefore, yoga nutrition considers both physical and mental/spiritual aspects of the food we eat. Yoga philosophy teaches us three subtle energies, called Gunas – Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva. Yoga practice aims to increase Sattva through asanas, pranayamas, meditation, and proper nutrition. Why? Because it is believed that Tamas food has no vital energy, it even drains energy from the body, while Rajas food makes our bodies restless, uncontrollable, nervous, and upset.
Tamas food is everything unripe, overcooked, rotten, or preserved. For example, meat, alcohol, tobacco, convenience food, and drugs fall into Tamas’s category. Rajas food includes coffee, black tea, refined sugar, and too spicy food, among other things.
Sattva, on the other hand, is the ideal yoga nutrition. Food brings our body valuable nutrients, gives it energy, and lets the mind be clear and calm. Such food is whole grain cereals, potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruits, and dairy products. According to yogis, the food should be eaten consciously, calmly, and with gratitude. Chewing well and eating moderately strengthens our Sattva.
The Importance of Embodiment
Nowadays, modern therapies that integrate mindful and yogic approaches have emerged and become integral in the latest treatments. Why? Because yogic methods work and have been working for thousands of years. The alignment of mental health and yogic practice is practically seamless. Our Self craves for integration of the mind and body.
The idea starts from the view of the body as a vessel of the Self. With no physical body, there is no manifestation of the Self. Therefore, any self-work must integrate practices that include the body too. By practicing yoga and mindfulness, people can cultivate a receptive state of mind where attention is informed by an awareness of what is happening at the moment, both internally and externally.
The yogic practice provides an embodied and cognitive model for understanding and regulating the complete, integrated Self within the context of our life experiences. The integrative, yogic approach embraces the journey more than the goal. Yes, the goal can be reached, but the result isn’t winning the race but realizing one’s true nature.