By Melissa Conroy
If you are looking to start a workout routine or change the one you have, there are a dizzying array of options available. You can try slide aerobics (put on some plastic booties and slide around on an 8-foot slab of plastic), jazzercise, Taibo, kickboxing, water aerobics, pole dancing exercises (no joking), and the list continues. However, if you are looking for something that is time-honored, effective and doesn’t make you look like a fool doing it, yoga is an excellent option. Gentle and safe for all ages, yoga is a great form of exercise that helps you regulate your breathing, increase flexibility and build muscle and strength.
Yoga is a practice that focuses on meditation, breathing and body movement. The practice of yoga was intended to build discipline and strength in both the body and the mind. The word “yoga” incorporates the idea of “uniting,” and this is appropriate because yoga helps link the mind and body together. Unlike many forms of exercises, yoga is not a fast-paced routine designed to get your heart rate up. Instead, people usually perform yoga by assuming various poses or forms and holding them while practicing meditation exercises. While you may not break a sweat during yoga, you will nevertheless condition your muscles and increase your flexibility while you are calming your mind and reconnecting with your inner self. Even people who cannot stand or sit unaided can practice yoga through lyengar yoga, which utilizes chairs, belts and other props to support disabled people so they can perform yoga poses and exercises.
Yoga’s history stretches back thousands of years. Archaeological excavations of the Indus Valley civilization (c 3300-1700 BC) have uncovered several images of people in yoga poses. From this civilization, yoga spread and developed, and today yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world. As yoga developed and migrated around the world, it divided into different schools, all of which provided a different version and focus for yoga. Today there are more than 100 different schools of yoga. Hatha yoga is one of the most common types, but there are other well-known yoga practices such as Tantra and Raja.
Yoga is not a religion. While it incorporates spiritual elements, it does not embrace a specific creed or belief system. Although many people believe that yoga stemmed from Hinduism, the practice of yoga existed long before Hinduism began. In fact, it is likely that aspects of yoga influenced the development of Hinduism. That said, some schools of yoga have a more heavy emphasis on spiritual elements than others. For example, in Bhatki yoga, practitioners are encouraged to develop their devotion to whatever the individuals feel is God or the higher power. But most of the yoga classes and schools you will find in your area will not have this heavy spiritual focus, and you will likely find that yoga is a helpful complement to your spiritual beliefs, not a detriment.
There are many wonderful physical benefits that await you should you decide to study yoga. It is no secret that as we age, we become less flexible. This is not merely an annoyance: Loss of flexibility can lead to accidents and injuries. Yoga helps us improve flexibility and fight back against stiff joints and muscles. Increased balance and stability is another wonderful benefit yoga offers. If you practice yoga on a regular basis, you can reduce the chances of losing your balance and falling down. Muscles not only relax during yoga, but they strengthen as well. Holding yoga positions builds strong muscles in a gentle, natural way. Finally, yoga teaches you how to breathe correctly. Most of us breathe shallowly and don’t concentrate on it. Yoga teaches you to focus on your breathing and increase oxygen flowing into your body.
Aside from physical benefits, yoga also offers psychological benefits. In the hurry-scurry world that we live in today, our brains are constantly abuzz with thoughts, plans, problems and ideas. Yoga is a welcome timeout and a chance to center mentally and physically. Learning how to meditate can be quite difficult, but yoga teaches its practitioners how to calm themselves and learn to concentrate on the moment. Doing so will melt stress away and lift our spirits. A session of yoga is a break from the world and a small oasis of calm in a sea of noise and chaos.
Yoga truly provides a way for you to be all you can be: physically, emotionally and mentally. With yoga classes offered around the country and millions of practitioners around the world, there are ample opportunities for you to join this ancient practice and be on your way to a fitter, calmer and more flexible you.
Melissa Conroy lives and writes in Omaha, Nebraska, where she participates in a variety of different activities, including yoga. She can be reached at [email protected]
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