The benefits of yoga are many and are still being realized. Yoga has been around in some form for over 4000 years! It has definitely stood the test of time. Yoga has eight limbs or parts: yamas, niyamas, breathing, asanas, self study, withdrawal of the senses, meditation and union.
The Asanas or poses are one part of the yoga practice. In Western cultures (like our own), they have taken the main stage and many people mistakenly think that is all there is to yoga. The benefits of the asanas include strengthening the muscles, bones and joints as well as stretching or increasing the flexibility of the soft tissues of the body, i.e., muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia.The Yamas are ethical guidelines for behavior. There are 5: Ahimsa (nonharming), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (self restraint), and Aparigraha ( non covetousness)
The Niyamas are guidelines for self-discipline. There are 5: Saucha (cleanliness), Samtosa (contentment), Tapas (keeping the body healthy), Svadhyaya (Spiritual nature), and Asvara Pranidhara (surrender to a higher power).
The breathing practices (Pranayama) help us tune into our breath and gently manipulate it for various effects: to energize ourselves or to relax. Added benefits of this part of yoga are strengthening of the various muscles and tissues used to breathe, i.e., the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles in the rib cage, and auxiliary breathing muscles.
Withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara) allows us to slow down, quiet our racing mind and turn within, perhaps for self study or just for stress release. In this age of constant stimulation, this is a valuable skill to have.Concentration and Focus (Dharana) is the next step after withdrawing the senses and teaches us to deal with the distractions of the mind. This step prior to meditation disciplines the mind from wandering attention.
Meditation (Dhyana) is a quieting of the mind. Using various techniques to slow the “monkey mind” that often comes with living, meditation allows us to create space between thoughts and find peace within. Some of the methods of getting into a meditative state are: using breathing techniques, visual imagery, tuning into body sensations.
Samadhi is the final limb of yoga as described by Patanjali. This is the point where the meditator experiences bliss and being at one with the universe.
Yoga has many facets, as you see, and thus can be quite varied in different approaches. Some types of yoga emphasize the spiritual aspects and some types emphasize the physical aspects. There is a whole spectrum of yoga! So if you try a yoga class and it doesn’t resonate with you, give another one (maybe with a different teacher) a try.