The history of yoga started as a science and has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. It consists of ancient theories, observations and principles about the mind-body connection that are now being studied and proven by modern medicine.
There are more than 100 different schools of yoga. Hatha yoga is one of the most popular and commonly found types of yoga practiced in America. Hatha yoga consists of physical movements, postures and breathing techniques.
The whole system of yoga is built on three main structures: the postures, or Asanas, the breathing, or Pranayama, and meditation. To receive the maximum benefits of yoga you should practice all three. The word yoga means "to join or yoke together." Yoga brings the mind, body and spirit together.
Benefits of Yoga
Many people who practice yoga may notice physical and mental benefits. Yoga is extremely effective in increasing flexibility, increasing lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendons, massaging all organs of the body, detoxification of the body and toning of the muscles.
Some physiological benefits include a decrease in blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate and pain; increased energy levels; improved sleep, immunity and posture, and normalization of weight and gastrointestinal functions. Some of the psychological benefits include improvement in mood, concentration, memory, attention and learning efficiency; decreases in anxiety, depression and hostility, and increases in self acceptance and social skills. Some of the biochemical benefits include a decrease in glucose levels, sodium levels and total cholesterol. Thyroxin, vitamin C, hemoglobin and total serum protein levels increase.
Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity, increases body awareness, relieves chronic stress patterns, relaxes the mind, centers attention and sharpens concentration. Yoga increases self awareness on both a physical and psychological level. The awareness yoga creates is internal, and there are limitless possibilities for growth. When you achieve the yogic spirit you can begin to know yourself at peace.
People of all ages and conditions can practice yoga. Pregnant women and people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis can easily practice some forms of yoga. Yoga is perfect for those who cannot enjoy higher-impact exercises such as jogging and running.
Yoga can act as both a preventative and curative therapy for many illnesses and conditions. Regular practice of all three areas of yoga can help ailments such as high blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, obesity, depression and many other health conditions.
Studies conducted at yoga institutions in India have proven that asthma attacks can usually be prevented by yoga without resorting to medication. Regular yoga practice can also help in weight reduction. University of Pittsburgh researchers found that gentle yoga routines can blast fat as effectively as weight-lifting routines. A study at the University of Texas Cancer Center found that lymphoma patients that took a 20-minute yoga class once a week for 7 weeks slept better after the 7 weeks. They fell asleep faster, slept longer and had less need for sleep aids. Medical scientists believe yoga is successful because it creates a balance in the nervous and endocrine systems, which directly influence all the other systems and organs in the body. The essence of yoga lies in attaining mental peace, improved concentration and a relaxed state of living and harmony.
How to Begin
Yoga is the most basic of natural remedies. All you need to practice yoga is a quiet comfortable place with a level floor, comfortable loose-fitting clothing and a few minutes each day to practice breathing, stretching and meditation. I would also recommend having a yoga mat to separate you from a hard floor or even a carpeted floor (you do not want to get carpet burn). The best way to get started is to find a qualified instructor and take a class, or you can buy a tape, DVD or book. Experts agree any yoga is better than none, but most recommend practicing yoga for 20 to 30 minutes every day. One of the great things about yoga is that it is adaptable. You can find a routine that fits you best, something to fit into your comfort zone and schedule.
Yoga invigorates the mind and body, improving mood and increasing energy. After practicing yoga you should feel uplifted, not shaky and sore. Yoga seems to be the perfect answer for our stressful lifestyles. Who doesn't want to relieve stress and have more energy? Plus you get all the other benefits that yoga has to offer.
Depending on the types of yoga classes you attend, you may be exposed to varying degrees of yogic philosophy and spirituality in addition to what appears to be a deceptively simple workout. Regardless of which type of yoga you practice, learning yoga basics will help to improve your physical, as well as mental self.
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While breathing the 'essential breath' and returning to our natural rhythms is key to our journey of self-knowledge and vibrant good health, we need not ignore or turn away from the mundane and often gritty aspects of our basic selves.