Stress is the single most important reason for medical problems that we face today. In a study done on 46,000 people over six years, it has been discovered that 75% to 90% of all visits to the doctor are stress related. Most of these problems can be done away with if proper emotional and mental guidance is a part of the lifestyle routines. People do understand the value of physical workouts but few realize the significance of a healthy mind and positive emotions. We are not just what we look like or feel physically, our health is also about what we think or feel.
When we face emotional stress, adrenalin pours into our blood stream and our muscles get tense, sensing the need for a quick response. For short terms this can cause fatigue and exhaustion, but over long periods, this could be the cause for chronic ailments.
This link between physical well-being and emotional health was thoroughly studied by ancient Indian wise men, who were the fathers of Yogic philosophy and even Ayurveda. The concept has reached the western cultures only recently, but Yoga has always been a proponent of a healthy mind and a healthy body. This was the reason why in Hindu lifestyle, meditation and `Dhyana' in many forms, are an important part of everybody's routine, worship is one such form. Sitting at a clean place, with one's thoughts focused on a chant or just an image of one's faith; even a blank wall, does a great deal to get one closer, to bring the mind at peace and attainment of happiness in human life.
Ancient yogis understood that every human looks for but one thing in life; happiness. Each person has a different way of achieving or even understanding it. They understood human psyche enough to know that this quest for happiness is brought on by an experience of pain, or dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. In most cases, turning away from reality and escaping into a make-believe world of physical pleasures provides temporary relief, and people usually settle for that - a mere shadow of the happiness they came to look for. Yoga shows us the path for a permanent sense of happiness. It basically teaches that a healthy person is a harmoniously integrated unit of a healthy mind, body and spirit. Good health basically requires simple food, natural nutrition, exercise, fresh air and a mind at peace with itself and the world. Some like to take it a step further by linking peace to being one with God but even on a human level, serenity is enough.
Thousands of years ago, Yogis in ancient India knew that nature's laws are so made that every being evolves, not only physically, but also emotionally. As we follow this path that nature intended us to take, we make ourselves capable of breaking away from the trap that we make for ourselves - that of pain, then more desires, followed by more pain. This can be done by largely controlling the mind. Antics like hypnotism are really only showmanship for this mind-control; nothing comes even close to the power of the human mind if fully utilized. All that a person needs to do is, be able to separate chaff from the real grain, the dust from the gold in our journey of experiences, and embrace the valuable emotions, while discarding the superfluous ones. We need power of concentration to achieve this, and this power can be had from control over one's breathing, focusing and not allowing the mind to stray. Human mind has the tendency to dwell on unimportant issues, leaving the important things by the wayside. By controlling our breathing and thus our focusing power, we can control our thoughts, focusing on positive ones and discarding superfluous traps for our emotions. This ensures a much smoother flow of positivity in our system. Coupled with physical exercises, these emotional activities ensure great peace and physical health as well. In Yoga the reward for control over one's mind and body is greater happiness, a sense of purpose and well-being - everybody's ultimate goal.
But biologically speaking, how does this happen? To understand the mechanics of Yogic control and well-being, we need to know that there are two nervous systems in the body, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The first is the nervous impulses that tense our body, readying it for a fight. These raise our blood pressure, quicken our breathing, put stress on our heart and make us sweat. This is the reminiscence of our cave dwelling days, when one had to fight or flee for survival, but today our body reacts like this with a looming deadline, a traffic jam or a high powered interview. A prolonged exposure to this side of our nervous system is sure to give us cardiovascular disease, hypertension, ulcers and migraines in the long run.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the cooling down mechanism. It slows down breathing rate and directs more blood away from our muscles to our vital organs that give us the quality of life - stomach, gallbladder, reproductive and immune systems. When our breathing is regulated, slow and steady, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, allowing the body the vital blood flow, necessary to help our body heal from the battle scars of daily living.
Steady, regulated breathing, leads us to stay connected and focused on the present moment, not worrying about the past or fretting about the future, but in peace with today. In the philosophy of Yoga, today is of prime importance, everything else is only stressful and living in the moment eases all kinds of stress.
Now clearly understanding the concept of emotional well-being, more and more people across the world are moving towards Yoga, as a preferred form of exercise, instead of merely muscular motions. Indeed, statistics collected by the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) tell us that between 1998 and 2000, the entrees into yoga classes increased by 200%. A sure sign of a change in the trend.
In its eight fold path, Yoga ensures a supple spinal cord and properly functioning endocrine gland. Regular yoga helps to keep the blood free of toxins, the secretions of hormones to be balanced, so that the mind and body are balanced too. Exercise positions, or Asanas emphasize on deep breathing techniques that relax the movements and help improve concentration of mental energy.