The Mind and Body Benefits of Yoga

The benefits of health and fitness are not just limited to the body. Exercise is a mind and body experience. For this reason, it's essential to look at the principles that define the nature of the exercise while practicing yoga. Yoga is much more than simply a series of poses. The poses give us an opportunity to come together and practice the principles first in the body, and then in the mind.

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For example, downward facing dog is a full-body pose. It stretches all of the muscles in the back, shoulders, belly and the back of the calves and thighs. It also strengthens the arms and helps to alleviate neck pain and tension. It stimulates the abdominal organs and strengthens the core muscles. Down dog can be used as a warm-up for yoga, jogging, cycling or other fitness activities.

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Down dog also affects your psyche. While in this position, we close our eyes and breathe deep—feeling the strength of the pose. The entire body is engaged, and we work to maintain stability. The breathing and surrender of our bodyweight into the pose teaches us a noble truth; that we can be strong and stable, and surrender to a calm, peaceful place all at the same time. In truth, strength and calmness are one. Therefore, down dog is an experience for both the body and the mind. It's much more than just an asana.

According to yoga, Truth is one of the yamas, or the rightful and ethical way to live life. The yamas are a path or stage of yoga that teaches us how to live a spiritual life. The problem with the truth, is that we need to define what is right and ethical, and these definitions can vary in different cultures. For example, we might say it's unethical to kill an animal for food. In some cultures, however, individuals need to hunt animals for survival. It's important for us to not impose our personal definition of truth onto others.

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In yoga, the classic definition of living the truth is that we should do no harm, and always strive to do the greatest good. In this way we will always be living from a place of truth.

Truthfulness, like all the yamas, has three components: intellectual, verbal and physical. First you must intellectualize and define the truth. Then you can speak the truth, and finally put it into action. In this way, truthfulness becomes a unification of thoughts, words and actions. For in truth you are what you think, say and do.

This can get tricky when it comes to communicating with others. Words that harm another person are not truthful, and if speaking these words hurts someone, they should not be spoken. According to yoga, we should examine all of our words carefully and speak only those words that are useful.

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For instance, let's say we think someone has put on a little weight. We know this person is very sensitive and easily hurt. They ask us if it looks like they have put on weight. What do we say? If we say yes, we are hurting the person's feelings. If we say no, we are not telling the truth as we see it. What should we do?

Just remember that sometimes complications can arise when virtuous words lead to hurt. As you practice the physical aspect of yoga, remember that each pose has an opposing view, and both views are elements of the truth. Strength and surrender are truly one in the same.

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