Celebrated annually around the world on June 21st since 2015, International Day of Yoga falls on the longest day of the year. It’s a day for yoginis and yogis alike to roll out their mats and practice some awesome asanas, deep breathing pranayama, and perhaps a little kirtan chanting. This year’s theme is “Yoga for Well-being.”
Raising awareness of the numerous health benefits of yoga, today is a special day to salute the sun with Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations. Practitioners around the world will celebrate the event with 108 repetitions of this ancient asana practice.
So, what is yoga, exactly?
Simply put, yoga is the Sanskrit word for Union, derived from the root “yuj,“ meaning “to join, yoke, or unite.” Loosely translated, it is the unification of the physical body, universe, and consciousness. This ancient practice was developed over time by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India more than 5,000 years ago (some scholars suggest that yoga’s early beginnings are even older). It involves physical poses (asanas), breathwork (pranayama), meditation (dhyana), and union (samadhi), among other disciplines. (For additional information on the philosophy of yoga, read the Eight Limbs of Yoga as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali).
According to its founding scriptures, the purpose of yoga is to achieve self-realization and to overcome pain and suffering. Sounds good to me!
There are many different styles of yoga, ranging from the gentler Hatha to more physically intense, like Vinyasa flow yoga. When starting out, it is best to choose a style that is appropriate to your activity level, overall health, and lifestyle. Good advice is to start with a gentle practice and build from there. You can always add intensity if you want as you progress! Here are some fundamental poses to learn to get you started.
If you’ve never tried yoga before, you might be a little intimidated at first but once you get into the flow, you’ll soon benefit from this ancient form of self-care. Yoga’s many health and wellness benefits include but are not limited to mental clarity; physical strengthening, toning, and flexibility; improved breathing; stress reduction; a sense of relaxation and calm; regulating the central nervous system, and improved quality of life.
I’ve been practicing for over 15 years and have found small ways to incorporate many of the yogic principles into my day-to-day routine, in addition to the physical practice. Yoga has taught me how to slow down, appreciate what I have, accept what is and let the rest go. The practice has been extremely beneficial to me to maintain my equilibrium as I navigate the trials and challenges of life.
But don’t just take my word for it! A practice that has been around for thousands of years and has millions of followers is bound to provide some greatly needed relaxation, stillness, and clarity.