The practice of yoga is designed to unite mind, body, and spirit, and is based on the yogic premise that the mind and body are one, and that by the correct practice of yoga it is possible for the body to reach a place of harmony and heal itself.
Yoga has increased in popularity in recent years, with an estimated 6 million Americans currently engaging in regular yoga workouts. Part of yoga’s popularity is simply that it provides so many health benefits. Yoga assists a person in becoming more aware of their body: their posture, their alignment, and the way they move. Yoga helps people become more relaxed and centered, less prone to stress, more energetic, happier, healthier, and more peaceful.
To start a typical yoga class, breathing and mild stretching exercises are performed to prepare the participants mentally as well as physically. Most yoga classes consist of performing the asanas (yoga poses) either individually or linked in flows (known as vinyasana). At the end of each yoga class there is a short period of meditation or relaxation in shavasana (the corpse pose).
There are several forms of yoga which can be practiced. Generally different forms of yoga produce different benefits. For example, Iyengar yoga is for correct bodily alignment, and often utilizes props (including blocks, straps, or cushions). Bikram yoga is also known as hot yoga, as it’s performed in a heated room. It generally consists of a set of 26 poses done in a particular order. These are both forms of Hatha yoga and are commonly practiced in the US, as they focus on the use of strengthening and breathing exercises.
What can yoga do for you? Firstly, it is extremely beneficial in the promotion of excellent flexibility, and is also excellent for circulation and development of muscle strength. However, yoga’s benefits extend beyond the physical, by promoting relaxation and calm. One of the basic tenets of yoga is that it helps to balance all areas of a person’s life by improving physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
From a scientific standpoint, yoga has been studied and practiced for thousands of years. While the practice is ancient, the principles of yoga have been studied and proven by modern medicine to be beneficial. Over the years, substantial research as been done on the health benefits of yoga, through the yoga poses and through Pranayama (yoga breathing). Yoga has been shown to produce three sorts of effects on the body: physiological, psychological, and biochemical.
Some of the physiological benefits of yoga include: reduction in pulse and respiratory rate, decrease in blood pressure, increased cardiovascular efficiency, improvement in excretory functions, improvement in hand/eye coordination, normalization of weight, and decrease in pain. The psychological benefits of yoga are just as important and include: mood and subjective well-being increases, anxiety and depression decrease, concentration improves, learning improves, social skills improve, depth perception improves, and self acceptance increases. Finally, the biochemical improvements that yoga promotes include: blood glucose decreases, sodium decreases, HDL cholesterol increases, LDL and VLDL cholesterol decreases, hemoglobin increases, total serum proteins increase, and the total white blood cell count decreases.
One of the best things about yoga is that as a single practice it can do so much more for the body than most other forms of exercise, and as such can easily fit into even the busiest lifestyle.