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unity of body and mind
“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but ain’t nobody wanna lift these heavy ass weights” - Ronnie Coleman
I used to fancy myself a bodybuilder… I competed once as a teen and then went into a perpetual bulking season until I was 23. I ate and trained and ate and trained and ate and trained on and on for over five years. I never “cut” down to get on stage again… I moved beyond that idea of my life and shifted more into the idea of being a big, fast, strong man. I simply had a love for training (I still do) and during my late teens and early twenties I did all I could to be in the gym. My passion for fitness still remains even though I am no longer lifting weights like Dorian Yates and chasing the physique of the Terminator.
I used to workout with an eclectic group of three guys during undergrad. Two now have PHDs in chemistry, one is now an MD, and I’m a father/husband/eccentric businessman/writer (a fox through and through). My undergraduate experience was training my body, training my mind, and training my clients/athletes. I prioritized these activities in that order. Looking back I would have studied more and trained less, but such is life.
We all trained like savages, however only one of us was consistently working on his flexibility and the person was not me. For me, there was nothing like training legs for three hours and then struggling to walk uphill on campus to get to class. I was addicted to training heavy and with that I was sore and tight nearly everyday. The sad thing is that I thought that was normal.
I definitely needed to stretch more, but I never made the time. A typical week included heavy compound movements, a few lifts for aesthetics (remember curls for the girls!?), and cardiovascular training (sprints were often performed after brutal leg workouts). Who has time for yoga when you are setting constant bench PRs? I’ll tell you who - it should have been ME!
During this time of my life I was training like an animal. I was also finishing up my undergrad in economics, instructing personal training clients, and working as an associate football strength and conditioning coach(Go Utes!). I was constantly active and constantly moving. My days started around 3:45am and ended around 11pm. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize I was not getting enough sleep. I woke up early so that I could eat and head to the football training facility to prep for that days workouts. I then went across campus to train a client or two. Next, I went to classes. In the late afternoon, I went to train more clients and then head to the second football workout. In the evenings, I went to more classes. I was hustling. Not to mention I was eating six times a day, doing homework, and spending time with my wife.
During this time of extreme weight training, I vividly remember the day I was doing back squats for reps with 405 pounds (at the time I was 6’3, 265 pounds, and 10% body fat, so it wasn’t that impressive). I was on my third set of ten, when on the tenth repetition, I descended with ease but when I began may ascension I heard a pop. There was no immediate pain, so I went over to do prone leg curls for my next exercise. Halfway through my first repetition my hamstring violently cramped and my lower backed seized. OH NO! I slowly rolled off the machine and onto the ground. This was no good. I felt like I couldn’t move. I took a few deep breaths, struggled to my feet, and then proceeded to work through any stretch I could think of to alleviate the pain in my back/legs.
I essentially walked off the pain on my way to class. I later had football training where I needed to load and unload thousands of pounds of weights. It was one of the most painful days of my life. Luckily I was young and I eventually figured out how to deal with the discomfort. I later discovered that I herniated a disc in my lower back. I still deal with varying levels of discomfort to this day.
It wasn’t until several years later while living in Las Vegas that I decided I needed a change. I could no longer deal with the constant low level pain that I felt every hour of every day. So, my wife and I decided to start practicing yoga together (this is quite fun to see as my wife is 5’3 105 lbs and I am 6’3 225 lbs). Outside of when my wife was late in pregnancies we have maintained this practice together daily for over a decade.
I feel vastly better overall since I started practicing yoga. It has helped me both mentally and physically. I wish I wasn’t so stubborn a decade ago, but I had to learn the hard way. Hopefully by writing this essay, others will realize that Yoga is an essential form of exercise that can be an amazing addition to the repertoire and not wait until an injury occurs to begin practicing.
People practice yoga for a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. I will tell a fictional story that outlines the benefits and then list them for easy reference.
Once upon a time, in a bustling city filled with the hustle and bustle of modern life, there lived a young woman named Maya. Maya was a hardworking professional, constantly juggling the demands of her job, social life, and family responsibilities. As the days passed, she began to notice an increasing sense of fatigue, stress, and restlessness. Despite her achievements, she felt like something was missing in her life.
One day, while scrolling through her social media feed, Maya came across a post that caught her attention. It was a photo of a serene mountain landscape with a person in a yoga pose, arms stretched towards the sky. The caption read, "Find balance, peace, and a stronger you through yoga." Intrigued, Maya decided to explore this ancient practice that seemed to promise so much.
She signed up for her first yoga class, not knowing quite what to expect. As she stepped into the studio, a wave of calmness washed over her. The air was filled with a soothing aroma, and the soft, melodious sound of chimes welcomed her. The instructor, a warm and gentle soul, encouraged everyone to leave their worries at the door and focus on the present moment.
As the class began, Maya found herself moving through a series of poses, guided by the instructor's gentle instructions. With each stretch, twist, and bend, she felt a new awareness of her body. For the first time in a long while, her mind wasn't racing with deadlines or to-do lists. It was as if she had found a space where time slowed down, allowing her to connect deeply with herself.
During the relaxation and meditation portion of the class, Maya experienced a sense of tranquility she hadn't felt in years. As she closed her eyes and focused on her breath, she felt the weight of her stress melting away. It was a moment of pure bliss—a respite from the demands of her busy life.
In the weeks that followed, Maya continued to attend yoga classes. She noticed subtle changes in herself. Her body felt stronger and more flexible, and her sleep improved. But beyond the physical benefits, something even more remarkable was happening. Maya was becoming more attuned to her emotions and thoughts. She found herself handling challenges at work with greater equanimity and approaching relationships with a newfound sense of empathy.
One day, as Maya was walking through a park, she paused to sit on a bench and take in the beauty of nature around her. She realized that yoga had become her sanctuary—a practice that allowed her to find balance in a chaotic world. Just as the trees swayed in harmony with the breeze, Maya had discovered how to move through life with grace and poise.
So, if you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of modern life, consider the story of Maya. Imagine the possibility of finding serenity, strength, and self-discovery through the practice of yoga. Like her, you might uncover a path that leads to a more balanced and fulfilling existence—one where you can thrive amidst the challenges and joys of life.
Physical Health: Yoga involves a series of postures, stretches, and movements that can improve flexibility, strength, balance, and overall physical fitness. Regular practice can help prevent injuries, alleviate body aches, and promote better posture.
Stress Reduction: Yoga often incorporates mindfulness, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. The focus on the present moment and controlled breathing can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
Mind-Body Connection: Yoga emphasizes the connection between the mind and body. Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness during yoga can lead to a greater understanding of one's body, thoughts, and emotions.
Mental Clarity and Focus: Yoga encourages mental clarity and concentration. Through various techniques like meditation and breath control, individuals can develop a greater ability to focus their minds, leading to increased productivity and improved decision-making.
Flexibility and Range of Motion: Many yoga poses involve stretching and lengthening muscles, which can enhance flexibility and increase range of motion in joints. This can be particularly beneficial for people with sedentary lifestyles or those who want to maintain or improve their flexibility as they age.
Pain Management: Yoga has been used as a complementary therapy for individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions, such as lower back pain, arthritis, and migraines. Gentle movements and stretches can help alleviate pain and improve mobility.
Breath Awareness and Control: Pranayama, the practice of controlled breathing, is an integral part of yoga. Learning to control the breath can have a positive impact on the respiratory system, improve lung capacity, and contribute to overall relaxation.
Emotional Well-Being: Yoga encourages self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love. Regular practice can foster a positive relationship with oneself and lead to improved emotional well-being.
Community and Social Interaction: Many people enjoy practicing yoga in group settings, which can provide a sense of community and social interaction. Attending yoga classes can offer opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals and build supportive relationships.
Spiritual Exploration: For some, yoga is a spiritual practice that goes beyond the physical postures. It can be a way to explore and connect with one's inner self, as well as with spiritual or philosophical concepts.
Improved Sleep: The relaxation and stress-reduction techniques practiced in yoga can contribute to better sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep more easily.
Post-Injury Rehabilitation: Yoga can be used as part of rehabilitation programs after injuries. It offers gentle movements that can aid in the healing process and restore strength and mobility.
It's important to note that people are drawn to yoga for various reasons, and the benefits they experience can be highly individual. Whether someone is looking for physical fitness, stress relief, mental clarity, or a combination of these factors, yoga offers a versatile and holistic approach to well-being.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is not merely a physical practice, but a profound path that leads to harmony and union between the body, mind, and soul. It is a timeless journey towards self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. Yoga is an ancient Indian way of life, which includes changes in mental attitude, diet, and the practice of specific techniques such as yoga asanas (postures), breathing practices (pranayamas), and meditation to attain the highest level of consciousness. Peer reviewed studies have found that there are considerable health benefits, including improved cognition, respiration, reduced cardiovascular risk, body mass index, blood pressure, and diabetes when one practices Yoga.
Yoga is a psychosomatic-spiritual discipline for achieving union and harmony between our mind, body, and soul and the ultimate union of our individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words, namely, prana, which means vital force or life energy, ayama means to prolong. Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word "yuj," means to yoke or unite. It encompasses various practices and disciplines that aim to bring balance and unity to our existence. These practices include asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breath control), dhyana (meditation), and ethical principles known as the Yamas and Niyamas.
Through the practice of yoga, we learn to quiet the fluctuations of the mind and connect with our inner selves. This inner connection allows us to transcend the limitations of the ego and experience a sense of oneness with all of creation. The physical postures, performed with awareness and intention, help purify the body and prepare it for meditation.
Yoga is not limited to the mat; it extends into every aspect of life. By cultivating mindfulness and compassion, we begin to live with greater awareness and presence. We embrace the present moment, releasing attachments to the past and worries about the future. This state of mindfulness leads to contentment and inner peace.
Yoga has many facets as I outline below.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga): Yoga philosophy outlines the eight limbs, or steps, to spiritual growth and self-realization. These steps are a guide to living a balanced and meaningful life:
Yamas: These are ethical principles that guide our interactions with others and the world. They include non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya), and non-greed (aparigraha).
Niyamas: These are personal observances that focus on self-discipline and inner growth. They include purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), self-discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender to the divine (ishvara pranidhana).
Asanas: These are the physical postures that help cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance in the body. They prepare the body for meditation and help release physical tensions.
Pranayama: Refers to breath control exercises that help regulate the life force energy (prana) within us. By controlling the breath, we can influence our mental and physical states.
Pratyahara: This limb is about withdrawing the senses from external distractions and turning inward. It's the practice of cultivating inner focus and detachment from sensory experiences.
Dharana: Dharana is concentration, the practice of focusing the mind on a single point or object. It lays the foundation for meditation by steadying the mind's wanderings.
Dhyana: This is meditation, the practice of sustained focus and awareness. It involves a deep, uninterrupted flow of consciousness towards a chosen object of meditation.
Samadhi: The ultimate goal of yoga, Samadhi is a state of complete absorption and unity with the object of meditation. It's a state of pure consciousness, where the individual self merges with the universal self.
Ultimately, yoga is a journey towards self-realization. As we delve deeper into our practice, we uncover the layers of conditioning and false identifications that obscure our true nature. Through self-inquiry and introspection, we come to realize the eternal and boundless nature of our own consciousness.
The Science of Chakras
Yoga philosophy describes energy centers in the body called chakras. These centers are associated with specific qualities and functions. The practice of yoga aims to balance and awaken these chakras, allowing for the free flow of energy throughout the body.
Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga
These are different paths of yoga that cater to different temperaments and inclinations of individuals. Karma Yoga focuses on selfless service, Bhakti Yoga emphasizes devotion and love, Jnana Yoga is the path of wisdom and knowledge, and Raja Yoga involves meditation and control of the mind.
The Mind-Body Connection
Yoga recognizes the deep interconnection between the mind and the body. Through asanas, pranayama, and meditation, we can affect not only the physical body but also our mental and emotional states.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
A foundational text in yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer profound insights into the nature of the mind, the practice of yoga, and the path to liberation.
In the words of the ancient yogis, yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. It is a path of awakening, transformation, and unity with the divine. May your journey on the path of yoga bring you closer to the truth that resides within you.
In this essay I highlight the diverse benefits of practicing yoga and how it has benefitted me. Yoga positively impacts physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The physical advantages include improved flexibility, strength, and posture, as well as pain management and injury prevention.
The mental benefits encompass stress reduction, enhanced focus, and better sleep quality. Additionally, yoga fosters a mind-body connection, promotes emotional balance, and encourages mindfulness. The practice's adaptability to various needs and lifestyles, along with its potential to cultivate a sense of community, makes it a holistic approach to overall wellness.
Yoga is not just a philosophy to be studied, but a practical path to be lived. It's a journey of self-discovery, self-transformation, and self-realization that goes beyond words and concepts. May your exploration of yoga lead you to a deeper understanding of yourself and the universe around you. Health is wealth.