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January 2010 Why Do Yoga?

Dear Yoga Friends,

Introspection this month has somehow raised the question: "Why should we do yoga"? Dedicated practitioners might scratch their heads a bit. Isn't it obvious? But perhaps not. The tragic extent of the recent earthquake in Haiti boggles the mind, and it is difficult to imagine someone in Port-au-Prince doing yoga when the world around them has literally crumbled. Are we fiddling while Rome is burning? But in a sense, anguish and suffering cuts more to the core of why one should do yoga than the calm natural beauty of a tropical beach or a mountain lake.

We need some foundation of personal health and well-being before we can help others in a deep way. People find many ways to maintain or regain health, and yoga is one of them. A recent article by Lisa Walford in the most recent edition of Yoga Samachar, the Iyengar National Association newsletter, cites the following scientifically established benefits of yoga: reduced blood pressure and heart rate for practitioners with cardiovascular disease; reduced stress-related symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anger, and insomnia; reduction in the stress-related hormone cortisol; relief for back pain and musculoskeletal imbalances; and relief of symptoms associated with Parkinson's desease.

Yoga, a mind-body-breath discipline, has the capacity to strengthen, stabilize, and integrate us on multiple levels, helping form us into beings who can better cope with day-to-day challenges as well as major setbacks and calamities. The practice goes beyond what we do on the mat or in class. Yoga builds a heightened level of awareness and sensitivity that can be directed both outward to help us be more vital and contributing members of our communities, and inward to help us disengage from distractions and come closer to the steadier core of who we are.

Of course the general format of the question "Why do X?" can be applied to any activity. Usually the answer has something to do with sensory gratification or a feeling of achievement. Yoga is one of the few activities that has the potential to go beyond that. But at the same time, there's nothing wrong with just having fun, finding ways to work on strength, flexibility, and balance, all at the same time!

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to anything in this note.

Best regards for 2010 & Namaste,



Chad Balch