Yoga, it’s almost ubiquitous and has a rich history dating back over 5 000 years. Today it has 300 million practitioners around the world, with 36 million of those residing in the United States. There doesn’t appear to be a linear account of the history of yoga, and this is due to information orally passed on via secretive teachings and the fact that early writings about yoga were done on palm leaves which were in turn easily damaged and destroyed. And while the general consensus would trace yoga back 5 000 years, some researchers believe it might be 10 000 years old. This year the theme for International Yoga Day is ‘Yoga for Humanity’, and it’s an understandable one too.
Yoga to the rescue
To put the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic into words would be an exercise in futility. Beyond the immediate global health implications, the pandemic also placed tremendous strain on psychological and mental well-being, especially when restrictions came into play and personal freedoms were curtailed. Low and behold, one of the saviours of the pandemic was and has been yoga. Yoga’s capacity to offer overall health and stability can be tied to its ideological pillars of mind, body, and spirit, and thus many people all over the world embraced it during the pandemic. Many in quarantine or isolation have used it to address psycho-social care and rehabilitation - thus highlighting the multifaceted benefits of yoga.
The concept of balance reverberates throughout the practice and ethos of yoga, and it extends to the human relationship with the world. Yoga places an emphasis on mindfulness, discipline, moderation, and perseverance, and if integrated into communities and societies, can offer up a path to sustainable living. And believe it or not, a lot of it has to do with the way you breathe.
What is Pranayama?
In Sanskrit, the word ‘pranayama; can be segmented into prana (life force) and Ayama (lengthen). What this essentially means is that pranayama is the practice of controlling your life force through the power of breath. When it comes to physical yoga, it’s not so much the poses as it is the breath – the way you breathe in yoga matters. Since inhalation and exhalation occur naturally, not much thought is given to this process. By way of yoga, attention is brought to the way you breathe, and it is one of the best things you can do for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Breathwork, or the act of bringing attention to your breath, provides a means by which to clear the mind, purify the body, and balance your inner flow of energy. The best part is that yoga is a non-discerning practice, which means anyone can partake and start to benefit from it – all you need is time, commitment, and guidance.
The benefits of yoga breathwork
In yoga, it is the belief that mind, body, and breath are connected, and it makes sense too – when you’re stressed or anxious, your body responds with an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and short fast breaths. So, if your state of mind can influence your breath, then it only stands to reason that your breath can influence your state of mind. Putting in the time to focus on your breath can calm your nervous system, aid your digestion, and alleviate various stress-inducing factors. Studies have indicated that regular practicing of yoga breathwork can yield the following results:
- Manage depression, stress, and anxiety
- Improve cognitive focus
- Reduce brain fog
- Reduce levels of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone)
- Regulate emotions
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve the immune system
- Provide better sleep
- Up the body’s oxygen levels
- Increase core strength
- Improve digestive function
Like many practices that originated in the east – karate, Buddhism, kung fu - yoga’s applications provide a wholistic approach to life, thus helping its practitioners cope with modern-day stress, anxiety, and pressure. The fact that so many people turned to yoga during the COVID-19 pandemic is testimony to the value, stability, and health benefits that it provides. Access to yoga has also gotten a lot easier and we have the information superhighway to thank for that. Numerous websites exist to provide information about yoga as well as easily downloadable apps that will guide you from novice to expert.
In today’s climate of contaminated air, the utility of a face mask has become a lot more evident, so much so that some yoga practitioners wear masks for protection and to inhale a better quality of air. The Cambridge Mask BASIC has proven its mettle when it comes to physical activities like walking, cycling, and yoga, providing users with cleaner air to breathe, and thus aiding in respiratory health. It should however be noted that wearing a face mask during any kind of physical activity is one of personal preference. Here at Cambridge Mask Co, we’re happy to say that international yoga day is about humanity, and so are we.