Health is a big important topic now. We’re having trouble with sleep, stress, tension, pain, disease... and a big focus also, partly because it’s easier to see, is on our weight. So we’re trying to figure out things like what foods we should eat, what we should avoid, how much food, how much exercise.
This is all especially difficult for two reasons. One is that somewhere along the way our relation to health reversed itself. It's fun to do things that aren't so healthy, and we're depriving ourselves when we stick to what we think is good for us. And another is – we don’t listen to and trust ourselves. We keep looking to outside authorities like doctors to give us the right treatment or tell us what diet is best for us, or to the FDA to tell us it’s ok to eat those potato chips because they’ve got a new "hearth healthy" label on them.
Happily, yoga can realign our health perspective, and rebuild our lost connection to intuition and a whole set of tools right inside us. We already have what we need to be healthy and feel great, it just takes some practice.
How does yoga work on our health?
There have been some great articles recently in publications like Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal pointing out that burning calories isn’t the whole battle. In fact, this burn that gym workouts and exercise ads focus on so much is pretty inconsequential for creating and maintaining a healthy weight, when compared to something very simple: what we put inside us. There are all kinds of reasons for exercising regularly; to name just a few, it helps with stress, improves sleep, and all around gets people happy. But when it comes to weight specifically, what we eat is the most important thing.
With all the conflicting messages out there about nutrition, this can seem like yet another daunting challenge. But the factor that helps us the most with eating – the right things in the right amounts at the right times – is attention. Paying attention gives us the ability to hear what our bodies are asking for, and the trust to respond appropriately. Yoga is great practice for this kind of attention. While yoga also burns lots of calories and is great for cardio endurance (it’s my only training for cycling and mountaineering), what sets yoga most apart from a regular workout is the impact it has on attention – on our ability to hear our selves. When we can hear our bodies, we can’t help but become our own best health care providers.
Isn’t real yoga just about spirituality?
Coincidentally, the foundations for health And spirituality both reside in paying attention. There’s no such thing as a moment that isn’t spiritual. And it isn’t complicated rituals, heavy books, or foreign languages that get us there. Our attention is what connects us to the spirit in our selves and in everything.
Yoga connects us to our selves in a very straightforward manner that works for creating a clear, healthy mind and body. We gain the ability and irresistible inclination to do exactly what it is we need to do to be healthy. When we’re carrying around extra weight – whether physical or psychological – this is a big burden that impacts Both health and spirituality. In fact, the two are not disconnected. Not only is there a connection between our bodies and minds, the two are same thing. There’s no ignoring one part of us to focus on the other, and no part is more important than any other. We’re just one, with nothing higher or lower, spiritual or unspiritual! So if we need to lose weight to be healthy and clear, yoga gets us there. If there are other things we need, yoga gets us there too.
We have all the tools we need
Maybe the most important thing to understand with yoga and our health in general is – we don’t need to give up any of our power and authority to anyone else. Everything we need to get healthy and happy is already right there inside us. It’s a matter of tuning in to our selves, and listening. When we can hear our bodies, it gets easy to take good care of our selves – the whole us. Yoga helps us tune in. It’s that simple.This isn't about making your body into the shape of someone else's body. It's making your body into the shape you take when you're healthy and feeling good.
Also, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what shape their body is. Yoga isn’t about the shape of your body. It’s not about sticking that arm balance. There are some body movements that we can all do that have certain health impacts – beyond that yoga is entirely about what is going on in your breath and your mind – while you’re practicing in a class, and all day long. It’s not about what you can see. So take it easy and be happy with where you are, because it’s right where you need to be!