Yoga’s role in the future of wellbeing

In contemplating the future of health and wellbeing it is interesting, and yet not surprising, to me that I see the ancient art of yoga at the forefront. I think this 3,000 year old practice* might just save us from our overworked, over stimulated, disconnected, consumerist society with its highly practical and holistic template for conscious, healthy living.

Yoga started in India—in loin cloths. Gurus and students practiced one on one in caves and practitioners (largely men) cut themselves off from their families to work towards enlightenment/ union with the divine-- Samadhi. Fast forward 5000 years and it’s a $27 billion dollar industry championed by fit women in brightly coloured leggings (alright, I’m one of them-- colour speaks to my soul!). There are so many products you can buy to accessorise your yoga practice, you need only look as far as instagram to see how yoga as fashion/consumption is promoted by  selfies of pretzelled fit bodies. Ok, so I’m a tad cynical about this, but at the same time it doesn’t phase me if someone wants to do yoga in order to look good in yoga pants, good for them, for many people their physical goals: looking good, getting fit and flexible are what attracted them to yoga in the first place.

They come for the physical but they stay for the spiritual.

“The spiritual” can be as simple as that special connected feeling you get when practicing yoga as part of a community, enjoying some quiet screen free time to move and breathe; or it might involve devoting your yoga session to your highest truth, God, or your teachers; or perhaps setting an intention (sankulpa) to manifest positive change in your own live or the global community at large, or practicing karma yoga by being of service in our communities (seva).

As you move through a led yoga practice it’s increasingly common that teachers will integrate yoga philosophy in the class and invite you to check in with how you feel. How often are we asked to connect in to how we really feel? This simple practice encourages us to be active participants in our own wellness, by tuning in to the body and trusting it to let us know when things are out of balance. This helps us take a more empowered approach to our health, whether that means embarking on an informed search for practitioners to support us through times of ill health or engaging in more mindful approaches to self healing and building on the work of the practitioner/ treatment in our day to day routines by living and eating mindfully. It may seem like an overwhelmingly huge responsibility begin taking our wellbeing in to our own hands, but what a gift it is to know that the body is a system that is wired to seek balance, and if we could just get out of our heads and listen deeply to the body’s messages, we might begin to find more keys to unlock the health and happiness we all seek.

And these yogic practices can no longer be written off as ancient/new age-y ‘woo woo’ neuroscientists now have proof of the benefits of mindful breathing and meditation and as the evidence comes in, yoga is becoming a more mainstream path to gain practical support for the body/mind. Yoga has been shown to help fight everything from addiction and lower back pain to high blood pressure, to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, in addition to boosting overall well-being and stress relief. Don’t you love it when ancient wisdom enters the realm of modern science and all of a sudden we have rock solid evidence of the benefits?

Yoga has withstood the test of time; from Indian caves, to western counter cultural fad, to carving out a place in mainstream culture. In world of exercise trends and celebrity diets people are starting to see through the lies and false promises pedaled by the profit driven market. While many consumers still reach for the quick-fix “heath” programs and supplements, yoga is taking people on a different journey: a journey inward, towards authenticity, empowerment and wholeness. It offers more than flexibility and strength, it offers the tools for self discovery, stress-management and moving towards being the change you wish to see in the world, and attitude which benefits the wider community, not just the individual. So there it is; yoga, a holistic (and quite frankly radical) wellness practice which integrates body/mind/spirit and places the student as an active participant in their personal healing and the healing of the world.

A blog post inspired by Ideactions Participation Economy Series.

Kate will be presenting at Ideaction's "Future of Health and Wellbeing'" Event.

6 - 8pm 28th April, 2014 @ Hub Sydney, Lvl 2, 101 William Street, Darlinghurst