Yoga is the Hindu practice of physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India. Yoga means "union' in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India.
Here in the western world what we refer to as "yoga" is usually the practice of physical postures or poses described by the Sanskrit word asana.
Asana is of the eight "limbs" of yoga, most of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity. Often in the western world, the words asana and yoga are used interchangeably. For the rest of this article I was use the word yoga in the western, generic, covers all way.
Yoga is more than just stretching. Stretching is very much a part of yoga, however yoga is about creating balance by developing strength and flexibility. This is accomplished through poses or postures, each one having specific physical benefit. Poses can be done rapidly, creating heat in the body through a vinyasa style yoga. Or they can be done slowly to increase stamina and proper alignment. The poses don't change the approach will vary depending upon the teacher and the style, or tradition.
Yoga is good for us in many ways.
- Flexibility - Rather than the body being tight and tense, stretching can bring better range of motion to muscles and joints.
- Strength - Moving in and out of poses increases strength while particular poses such as Tree Pose where you balance on one leg or Downward Facing Dog where you balance on your arms change the way in which the body supports it's weight, building a new strength.
- Muscle tone - Yoga movements create long, lean muscle.
- Prevents pain - Sitting at computers for long hours, driving for long hours, all that sitting can cause spinal compression and tightness. Yoga improves spinal alignment and flexibility instead of tightness, which can prevent back pain.
- Breathing - Yoga breathing exercises, or Pranayama, teaches better breathing instead of the shallow breaths many of us are used to. It makes us aware of our breath and how to use our lungs more fully. Breathwork can clear nasal passages and calm the central nervous system.
- Mental Calm - When we concentrate on what our body is doing it can bring calmness to the mind. Yoga also introduces meditation techniques which pay attention to the breath and calm the mind.
- Reduces Stress - Concentration on the poses and/or the breath is a break from the things which cause stress and which can fill our minds. Yoga emphasizes being in the moment instead of things which have happened or things which may happen. Yoga is about being in the now moment. Most people leave a yoga class feeling less stressed.
- Body awareness and self confidence - Yoga can make you more aware of your body, create better posture and self confidence.
- Weight loss - Some say yoga is not aerobic enough for weight loss, some say yoga can help you to lose weight. As I posted in previous articles, stress created by elevated cortisol in the body creates weight gain and lack of sleep can create weight gain. Perhaps it is hard to measure the results of yoga added into a weight loss program, but it does help with stress reduction and it can help us to sleep better. I believe adding a stress reducing activity such as yoga can only aid your weight loss program. And whether a person needs to lose weight or not, reducing stress levels is good for everyone.
Yoga teachers may refer to "your practice" which means your individual experience with yoga. Yoga is a practice which will change and evolve as you do, according to your needs. So it is different to each individual. The poses don't change. It is you who will change along with your flexibility and strength.
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is the noncompetitive spirit of yoga. Yoga is low impact and you do only as much as you can do, so people of all ages and fitness levels can do yoga and benefit from it. We all just do our best each day and each day we come to the mat is different.
These weekly fitness tips are offered every Friday as part of my contribution to the Lucy Monroe Reader Fitness Challenge.
This is a 12 week challenge where readers and authors have joined together to get fit and healthy. Organized into teams, we encourage each other on and share tips for exercising and getting in shape. Every week there are prizes, but the real prize is better health and a longer life for each of us.
To read past fitness articles, visit the articles section of my website.
Till next time, love and light,