Let’s be open and honest - yoga is not just a physical exercise, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing yoga simply for that reason. But for anyone who has looked into the history of yoga and it’s origins, the purpose behind it all was much more complex.
Ancient yoga science views the human body as a machine built of material elements; earth, water, fire, air etc. When we mix and combine these basic material elements together, we get the molecules and chemical compounds we hear modern science speak of today such as nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. This forms the gross material body made up of bones, blood, muscle, hair, skin, nails and other substances.
Next, there are the thoughts of the mind and intelligence. Although we cannot see our thoughts, we know they are there by their effect on us, just as the wind cannot be seen by the eyesight but we certainly know it exists by its effect (especially if you live in Wellington!) For this reason, yoga science calls the mind and intelligence the subtle body, because of it’s subtle nature - it cannot be seen or tested but we know it is there.
So how are the two bodies, gross and subtle, connected? And why am I talking about all of this anyway? This is where yoga science is different from the western model of medicine. (As a disclaimer, I am not asking you to believe in any one path or the other, I am simply sharing the knowledge of ancient yoga to show how yoga benefits us on so many levels). According to yoga science, there are many energy channels within the body which circulate and regulate our physical body and mental state. These channels can become blocked by certain heavy emotions from the subtle body (the mind) which may then manifest in the physical body as discomfort, tightness, pain, imbalance or weakness. Yogis know the power of the mind and of thoughts (as the saying goes, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!”).
So physical yoga is like flossing out those blocked energy channels and releasing stored up negative energy which has manifested in the physical body from the mind. It’s no wonder you feel so good after your yoga class! Yoga postures are like meditation and therapy for the body and mind, releasing trapped energy from these channels and improving our overall physical and mental wellbeing, so we can focus on more important things in life - which for the yogis, by the way, was self-realisation!
So next time you find yourself struggling through a deep hip-opener or an intense neck release, just remember, like the yogis searching for self-realisation, all that negative energy leaving you as you exhale is taking you one step closer to a happier mind, happier body and who knows, maybe even happier soul!