The root of the word “discipline” is “disciple,” meaning one who follows. Faithfully following yoga’s principles and practices results in the conditioning and control of both body and mind.Â This is the goal of practicing yoga.
Most yoga exercises begin with a focus on one’s breathing. Paying attention to one’s breathing helps to relax both the body and mind, relieving mental and physical stress that can stand in the way of concentration. Yoga centers on concentration and meditation, in order to develop physical, emotional and spiritual health.
The daily practice of yogic postures offers a way to access the full potential for health benefits.Â True health through yoga is achieved only by the integration of the entire body, mind and spirit.Â Not only does daily practice improve physical conditioning, improved blood circulation and deeper breathing, but it also enhances mental concentration and emotional stability.
Over the centuries several kinds of yoga have been developed.Â For instance, the Hindu religion combines yoga with other spiritual practices as a means of attaining enlightenment. In the West, yoga has become more disconnected from its spiritual base and instead is seen as a form of physical exercise.
Many practitioners say that the increased bodily control that results from yoga also opens the mind through vastly enhanced concentration, which leads to deeper meditation. Thus yoga retains its identity as a spiritual discipline, although it is not connected to an established religion in the West.
Some people practice yoga to help with weight loss and weight control. These participants say that yoga’s focus on breathing and meditation helps them fight off food cravings.
They also report that regular yoga practice helps them deal with stress, so that their bodies aren’t caught up in the hormonal burnout that can result from constantly feeling the age-old “flight or fight” reaction. This, in turn, also helps reduce emotional eating that is related to excess levels of stress.
However, achieving this kind of psychological discipline through the practice of yoga can be more difficult for some than others. Practitioners say this obstacle can be overcome by returning again and again to the basic principle of yoga practice, a focus on breathing as a life force (known as “chi” in Chinese culture).
Yoga classes can help beginners in many ways. First, a regularly scheduled class will give structure to the efforts to change personal habits. Second, having an instructor to teach proper posture and technique is a great benefit. Third, some people maintain their motivation better when exercising with a group.
The benefits that come from the disciplined practice of yoga take time and commitment. However, the integration of body, mind and spirit, the sense of personal accomplishment, the inner calm and the improved strength and flexibility of the body make yoga well worth the effort.