The 21st of June marks the fifth International Day of Yoga. This annual celebration was established by the United Nations to celebrate the universal benefits of our powerful practice.
So, to mark the day in YFTSR style, I’d like to make a bold statement:
Yoga is for everyone.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying that everyone should do yoga. I truly believe that yoga and meditation would be good for any human being — but I don’t believe in telling people they should do something when it just doesn’t feel right to them. There are other ways to find peace and stability in mind and body, and different things work for different people.
Instead, what I mean is that yoga does not ask you to ascribe to any particular religion or belief system, and it does not exclude anyone who already lives by any religion or belief system.
Yoga is rooted in Indian traditions — and in theVedas, ancient Indian philosophical texts — but it isn’t a religion.
Yoga is a Practical Science.
While many Hindu people do include yoga in their spiritual practice, you don’t have to believe in Hindu gods and goddesses to practice yoga. In fact, the greatest yoga teachers in history argue that yoga is for all people.
Indian spiritual master Amit Ray wrote, “Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
That science is based on many years of development and practice. It is a practical methodology for improving your physical, mental and emotional health.
For some people, yoga organically evolves into a spiritual practice as well — or it complements an existing spiritual or religious practice. But others take a simple, practical and disciplined approach, and experience all of the profound benefits of yoga without weaving in any new beliefs.
That’s totally fine. Because yoga doesn’t ask you to become someone you’re not. It isn’t just for hippies, or just for people who already believe in a certain way of living. It is for anyone who wants to feel better every day.
Why is yoga so good for you?
The benefits of yoga, proven by scientific research studies, include:
Improved mental health - yoga reduces stress and anxiety by relaxing body and mind. It shifts you into a state where your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest mode) takes the lead, so stress hormones levels become lower; your heart rate slows down; your blood pressure lowers; and your breath settles. Yoga has also been proven to be especially effective for improving women’s mental health and even for treating addiction.
Greater resilience - so that when you do go through hard times, it’s easier for you to get back on your feet.
Better physical health and fitness - studies show that yoga may be superior to almost all other forms of exercise when it comes to weight loss, improving fitness, and reducing the chance of weight-related disease.
Reduced inflammation - regular yoga practice supports health immune responses. Chronic inflammation is sometimes a sign of an immune system that isn’t functioning well; and yoga practice can help to reduce the inflammatory response. This in turn can help to reduce chronic pain and support overall good health.
Better sleep - numerous studies now report that yoga helps you sleep better. It helps to manage insomnia; helps you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep for longer; and encourages deep, high quality sleep so that you feel rested and restored when you wake up.
What do all of those benefits have in common?
There is a common thread running through all of the studies and research projects that prove yoga is good for you.
It is that all of the benefits apply to anyone who does yoga. There is no need to be religious or to identify yourself as a spiritual person. You can experience the positive impact of yoga practice simply by doing yoga. You never even have to read a book (or a blog post…) about it if that doesn’t interest you.
And if you are religious? Yoga practice is a beautiful thing to integrate into your cosmology. You can incorporate yoga into your spiritual practice whether you are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist; or if you live by any other belief system.
Yoga will make you feel calmer, stronger, and healthier.
If your yoga and meditation practice leads you to a sense that there is a deeper spiritual element at play, that’s great.
If you're drawn to experience other levels of yoga philosophy, or to incorporate ritual or gratitude offerings into your practice, then fabulous — go for it!
But there’s no requirement to do so, and there’s no need to be put off trying yoga because of a misconception that it has to be spiritual or religious.
Your yoga is your practice. It’s for you, and no one else.
Happy International Day of Yoga from Chetana at Yoga for the Soul Retreats!