“One can be said to be in a perfect state of health when one is physically fit, mentally calm and emotionally steady," says Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Beyond just physical fitness, yoga strengthens mental and emotional capacity.
A yoga practice inspired by family fitness goals
Growing up with a father who was a sports enthusiast, I used to tag along with him on the tennis court. My father would often bring home trophies after winning tournaments in basketball, tennis and bowling. While I did not become a professional tennis player as my dad secretly wished, I eagerly shared his goal of achieving fitness. For me, this meant playing sports, joining dance lessons and learning yoga and meditation to boost my energy levels.
Yoga boosts fitness at all levels
Fitness is also about being able to handle changes in life as they happen with a calm mind. Yoga keeps us fit on different levels of our existence: the body, breath and mind. On the level of the body, we get a total body workout through practice of yoga postures. Practicing breathing exercises called pranayamas boosts lung capacity. Through attention on the breath, yoga postures and meditation help to calm the mind when emotions run high and low at different times.
With a more peaceful, clear mind, better decision-making happens and the mind is able to stay more focused on a task for a longer time, boosting mental capacity.
When something happens that is different from an expected result, a common response is anger. But how long should that anger last? According to Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “It should last only as long as a line drawn on the surface of water. Some carry over anger from the previous day, previous month, or ten years ago. The mind suffers. Meditation will help. Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya and yoga are the answers.”
Yoga & the body-breath-mind link
Have you ever noticed the breath while inhaling the scent of a flower? On a recent walk in Paris, just at the brink of spring, I noticed the blooming flowers spilling over garden gates. Happily breathing in the scent of roses and daffodils, I observed my breath. I was taking in long, deep inhalations. My body was invigorated with energy or that vital life force called prana. I felt strong, alert and joyful, fit to tackle whatever might come my way.
A person could tolerate going without sleep or food for a few days and still remain alive. Yet how long could one go without breathing? Yoga and breathing are linked. With attention on the breath and practicing breathing exercises to boost lung capacity, yoga practice keeps the energy level high. When the body has a high level of prana, the mind is clear and happy.
On days I feel lethargic, dull and unenthusiastic, there is a lack of prana. Through daily practice of pranayamas (breathing techniques), I find myself with more energy or prana through the day. After my pranayams and yoga practice, even when I do feel tired, I notice I am able to bounce back much faster than before. Yoga is the best way to stay young and fit. Gurudev shares with us that prana can be gained through pranayama, fresh foods, deep rest and also through a happy meditative mind.
Daily date with yoga
Not much is needed to practice yoga. Like a meeting with a good friend, yoga fits easily into the daily schedule. All yoga requires is a quiet space with ventilation. In our hectic schedules today, practicing yoga is a worthwhile time investment. And the trophy a yogi wins is a simple and lasting smile.
(Text and photographs by Marilyn Galan. Marilyn is a yoga enthusiast who loves to incorporate her inspiration about yoga postures and spirituality into her writing and art.)