Yoga is more than just another way to exercise your body and mind – it is a series of physical positions or stretches with Indian/Hindu roots. These “asanas” or “poses” (the English translation) can have a positive impact on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They are widely understood to increase the energy flow throughout the body; they help purge the body of toxins, sharpen the mind, and free the emotions. They are also known to enhance spiritual awareness. Although the direct historical roots of yoga are unclear, experts believe the practice to be more than 5,000 years old. What we know today as yoga is a relatively recent form of the ancient practice. Introduced to America in the early 1900s, modern yoga is a mix of ancient Indian indigenous cultural practices and asanas, blended with modern gymnastics, physical therapy, and naturopathy. Modern yoga was designed to help individuals become more self-aware, tuned into their body’s needs, while opening up to both feelings and intuition. At the same time, it provides a full-body workout, including strength training and stretching. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a religion, although some people have included it as part of their religious practices. That is understandable, because this form of exercise is highly effective at removing distractions, calming the emotions, and clearing the mind, which lays a foundation for increased spiritual awareness. In this book, however, the focus will be on the physical aspects of yoga practice and how they can benefit your mind and your emotions. The majority of yoga positions stimulate the glandular system, encouraging your internal organs to function efficiently. This exercise practice also promotes deep, controlled breathing, which encourages a centered, peaceful mind and a calm, alert spirit. The consistent practice of yoga can lead to many amazing physical, mental, and emotional benefits that you definitely don’t want to miss out on! While we will detail specific potential benefits of yoga in the next chapter, here are a few of the things you can look forward to when you put into practice the poses in this book.
- Protects your body from a multitude of physical conditions, ranging from migraines to heart disease.
- Keeps your bones and skeletal support system strong.
- Boosts your mental health and supports the functioning of the neurological system and other “invisible” body parts.
- Is a cost-effective way to stimulate your mental health, your physical health and your spiritual well-being.
- Can be very easy to master.
- Can be practiced by nearly anyone, anywhere.
Yoga comes in a variety of forms and levels of difficulty, ranging from very basic to extremely complex. Hatha Yoga, the most popular form, is what you are probably most familiar with. It focuses on posture, movement, and breathing. Other types of yoga focus intensely on breathing and meditation while others focus on aspects of wisdom and traditions associated with various forms of religion. This book, however, will focus primarily on the physical and mental aspects of Hatha Yoga.
A Time for Yoga
Yoga can be practiced by adults of any age or physical condition. As you will see throughout this book, certain poses are not recommended for individuals with specific physical conditions. Other poses can be practiced with modifications. Listen to your body; if your body is uncomfortable with a certain pose, back off and find out why. Your mind, emotions, and body are tightly intertwined. What affects one will impact the other. It is not uncommon for someone to consult a doctor when his or her emotions refuse to respond to professional counseling. In the same way, if physical conditions don’t respond to yoga, a trip to the doctor may be a good idea. Sometimes a visit with a trained yoga instructor can correct positioning that would otherwise cause harm, or would prevent you from experiencing the full benefits of a specific pose. However, little potential harm can come from practicing the beginner-level poses in this book, if you follow the instructions and honor the restrictions that are given for each one. Feel free to let these pages be your introduction to the wonderful and challenging world of yoga.
Women And Children
Some experts recommend that women who are nursing, pregnant, or menstruating should forego yoga entirely, but most admit that while the most strenuous poses, especially inversions, should be avoided during menstruation and pregnancy, some of the gentler asanas can actually be beneficial. In this book you will discover poses that are frequently used to relieve menstrual pain, address the symptoms of menopause, and support a woman’s body during pregnancy. Nursing mothers often benefit from poses that can support the muscles used to hold a baby while nursing, avoiding backache and injury caused by the repetitive motions of lifting and carrying a baby. It can also relieve postpartum depression and help both mother and baby relax during those first few weeks of adjusting to breastfeeding. Some mothers even opt to nurse their infants while they perform various yoga poses. Prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to stay in shape while pregnant. A knowledgeable yoga instructor should be able to adjust your workouts as your pregnancy progresses and suggest specific asanas to strengthen your body for the delivery process. In each of these cases, a conversation with a professional yoga instructor is highly recommended. A professional will be able to guide you in practicing yoga effectively and safely, adapting some poses and suggesting others that might not have crossed your mind. Children of all ages can enjoy yoga; it can provide plenty of enjoyable play with peers and parents alike. The breathing exercises can help a child gain body-awareness and increase mental control. The only possible dangers posed are the same dangers experienced by young gymnasts. If the exercise becomes more than just fun play, if children are encouraged to push themselves beyond what is fun and natural, young developing bodies can be harmed rather than helped to grow. For most children, however, yoga is fun, a delightful form of play.
Benefits of Yoga
Even if you’re inexperienced with yoga, you’ve probably heard others talking about it. You may have even heard reports of its many benefits. While you may harbor initial skepticism about the usefulness of yoga, modern research is now available to back up many of the claims reported by yoga practitioners. Believe it or not, many celebrities swear by yoga! Stars such as Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, Adam Levine, and Kate Hudson have credited yoga with helping them get in shape for various movie roles. They have also used it to help them mentally focus, heal from injuries, and to protect themselves from re-injury. Some celebrities have even credited yoga with helping them overcome addictions and face incredibly stressful life challenges. Yoga is hardly a prissy activity, so don’t let those svelte women in cute leotards mislead you. It’s a grueling form of physical training. Many professional athletes swear by yoga. LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, former NHL goalkeeper Sean Burke, and Blake Griffin swear by it. “Yoga can be hard.” says John Capouya, author of Real Men Do Yoga. “Not bed-of-nails painful, just tough. You’re in for a demanding, athletically challenging workout here.” Of course, you don’t have to be a celebrity or a superstar to enjoy the benefits of yoga. Nor do you need a perfect body. While the stars may have the ability to hire top-notch instructors, you can still enjoy the benefits of yoga wherever you are. All you need is this book and the willingness to teach yourself. Once you truly understand all the good things yoga can provide, it is likely that you will feel even more confident and motivated to try it out. Are you wondering if yoga is worth your time? Take a couple minutes to acquaint yourself with some of its amazing benefits.
- Promotes flexibility. Yoga can gradually loosen your muscles and increase the flexibility in your joints while retaining their integrity.
- Improves brain function. 20 minutes of yoga can sharpen your mental focus and improve your memory.
- Helps you develop strong and flexible muscles.
- It leads to protection from chronic conditions and can reduce the likelihood of falls and injuries.
- Protects against heart disease. Yoga can lower your risk of heart-related conditions such as overly high or low blood pressure, unsafe blood sugar levels, and high cholesterol.
- Gives you impeccable posture. Poor posture can cause a slew of joint and muscle problems over the years, but knowing how to balance your head properly over your spine can greatly reduce the amount of strain on your back. Yoga increases your body awareness, making it easier to adopt and sustain postures that avoid excessive stress on any one joint.
- Can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Research has shown a correlation between consistent yoga practice and a decrease in body weight. Yoga can also boost the metabolism and support the transition from fat to muscle tissue.
- Protects your joints and cartilage from wear and tear. Yoga involves a full range of motion, which encourages your body to provide your joints and supportive tissues with the nutrients they need to remain healthy and strong. It can help reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis and reduce the chances of developing other conditions that restrict physical movement.
- Can improve your sex life. Research has found that four months of yoga can increase the sexual performance of both men and women. It enhances blood flow to the genitals and strengthens the sphincter muscles, along with increasing flexibility, strength, mental focus, and total body awareness. In short, yoga can provide a tremendous boost to your sexual activities.
- Safeguards your spine. Certain yoga positions can help strengthen your spinal disks, which act as shock absorbers for your vertebrae and promote proper skeletal alignment. When your back is properly aligned, it protects your nerves and allows them to communicate freely throughout your body, providing health and all-around well-being.
- Helps to heal chronic migraines. Several studies have shown that consistent, long-term yoga practice can help to resolve or reduce the occurrence of chronic migraines. Experts now believe certain yoga positions help prevent physical misalignment while helping to fend off mental stress, thus relieving migraine symptoms and minimizing migraine triggers.
- Enhances bone health. Since many yoga positions leverage your own body weight, yoga is a great way to strengthen your bones. The practice of yoga can also promote healthy cortisol levels, which helps your bones preserve calcium.
- Fends off cravings. The University of Washington reports that yoga has a positive impact on diet awareness. Those who practice yoga are much more mindful of the needs of their bodies and consequently of what they eat and drink. It is easier to choose healthy snacks when you are aware of how unhealthy snacks impact your body.
- Boosts your blood circulation. Yoga increases blood circulation by relaxing your muscles. Better blood circulation increases cellular oxygen levels, which can help every part of your body perform more effectively.
- Eases chronic back pain. Yoga increases muscle strength and flexibility, especially to your core. This has been proven to ease numerous painful back conditions.
- Boosts your immune system. When you sustain a specific yoga position, it helps to flush out your lymph nodes and stimulate various internal organs. This gives your body a greater advantage when fighting infections, cancers, and other diseases.
- Enhances fertility. While there are few studies that support yoga’s positive influence on fertility, many believe that by helping to reduce stress, yoga contributes to increased fertility levels in women.
- Helps your heart. Yoga poses are great for heart health. The longer you hold a specific position, the more your heart will work to supply the energy your body needs to sustain the pose. Certain poses, like the mountain and the easy pose, open up the heart and its surrounding region to increased circulation. The chair, the triangle, and the cobra actually require your heart to work harder.
Breathing is too important to overlook; yoga’s two-to-one breathing ratio, where you exhale for twice as long as you inhale, has been shown in several studies to enhance heart health even as it boosts circulation.
- Speeds hangover recovery. Ever regret all those drinks you enjoyed the night before? Certain yoga poses (for example, the cat cow and the corpse) focus on working out your thyroid gland and wringing alcohol-generated toxins from your liver and kidneys. They can also boost your metabolism, which can then work to resolve hangovers in a more efficient manner.
- Can decrease blood pressure. Two British studies have shown that, compared to inactivity, the corpse actually causes a drop in blood pressure.
- Eases asthma symptoms. One study has shown that yoga can ease mild to moderate asthma symptoms in adults, because it promotes mindful breathing techniques and induces muscular relaxation.
- Natural mood enhancement. Several studies have shown that practicing yoga can increase the amount of serotonin in your brain and decrease the amount of cortisol. Higher levels of serotonin are linked to increased feelings of happiness.
- Helps individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. Evidence now indicates that yoga may help those with MS by increasing circulation, boosting their mood, and enhancing their physical abilities.
- Can decrease blood sugar. Studies have linked yoga directly to decreased levels of bad cholesterol and increased amounts of good cholesterol, making it much easier for diabetics to manage their blood sugar. The bow, the plough, and especially the tree, when practiced on a regular, extended basis have helped many diabetics to return to healthy blood sugar numbers.
Yoga addresses the primary cause of blood sugar spikes: stress. The deep breathing that accompanies many asanas promotes relaxation of body and mind while the physical positions enhance proper functioning of systems that regulate cortisol and serotonin production and release.
- Boosts your memory. Experts believe that a reduction of mental and physical stress can help people focus and organize their thoughts in an efficient manner. In this, yoga excels. The tree and the lotus both support clear thinking.
- Encourages focus. Research shows that consistent engagement in yoga can improve coordination, memory, and reaction times.
- Can delay signs of aging. Practicing yoga can help your body cleanse itself of toxins, which can delay visible signs of aging.
- Relaxes your nervous system. Since yoga postures and breathing can cause you to relax, it can unwind your nervous system’s fight-or-flight impulse, freeing you to generate a calm, thoughtful response to challenges.
- Boosts your energy levels. Consistent yoga can consistently boost your metabolism and elevate your energy levels.
- Enhances your balance. Yoga is great for improving your posture, which is a great first step to better balance. Even before you get to the poses where you stand on one leg, practicing yoga can stabilize your balance.
- Reduces your body’s sodium levels. Yoga can decrease the levels of sodium in your body in two ways. First, your muscles use up sodium as they contract to sustain a yoga position. Secondly, many yoga asanas energize your kidneys, increasing their ability to flush excess sodium from your body.
- Releases tension. We unconsciously build up tension in muscles without even realizing it. A prime example occurs when a dangerous road or dense traffic lead us to grip the steering wheel tightly as we drive. Sustained, this death grip can lead to chronic tension, soreness, and muscle fatigue. Yoga can help you become aware of which muscles are carrying tension and can help you relax them. When muscles relax, they drain the buildup of toxins and increase the circulation of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the area’s tissues. This, in turn, facilitates the healing of muscle fibers, which leads to stronger muscles that work with greater ease.
- Increases your red blood cell count. Research has shown that yoga can help boost the number of red blood cells in your body.
- Facilitates sleep. Research suggests that the relaxing nature of yoga can help encourage a better night’s sleep. Specific yoga poses are designed to prepare mind and body for times of rest.
- Increases and maintains hand-eye coordination skills. Yoga is a great way to develop and maintain excellent hand-eye coordination; it’s even more effective than gaming. The body-awareness fostered by yoga can also increase your depth perception.
- Promotes proper breathing techniques. Studies suggest that those who practice yoga are less likely to take huge gulps of air. Yoga also prevents shallow breathing by including specific instructions for controlled, deep breaths as part of each yoga exercise. Proper breathing boosts circulation, helps the immune system, encourages relaxation, and stimulates clear thinking, along with a host of other benefits.
- Protects your digestive system. Stress can aggravate digestive issues such as ulcers, constipation, and diarrhea. Yoga can easily help these conditions. Many of the yoga poses in this book will stimulate your digestion. Any of the spinal twist positions are especially good at helping the digestive system operate smoothly.
- Boosts self-esteem. Many people who participate in yoga report feeling an increased sense of gratitude and a greater ability to forgive, which in turn provides a huge boost to your self-esteem.
- Can serve as a supplement for – or an alternative to – modern medicine. Yoga has been used to treat a variety of conditions for millennia, well before the advent of modern medical modalities. Never stop taking your medication without first consulting your doctor, but if you can see improvements in your health as a result of practicing yoga, don’t hesitate to request a medical review of your condition.
Still not convinced of the awesomeness of yoga? Here are a few more quick facts:
- People have been practicing yoga for at least 5,000 years.
- There are more than 100 different yoga poses; their execution can range from slow and gentle to fast and intense.
- Yoga can target almost every area of your body. It can massage internal organs not easily reached by any form of massage.
- Yoga can provide your body with a complete but low-impact workout.
- Research suggests that yoga can provide as much of a cardiovascular workout as aerobic exercise.
- Yoga can be the perfect non-competitive group activity.
- Yoga is highly affordable; you can spend next to nothing to learn the basics. On the other hand, you can invest considerable sums to ensure you get the best professional instructors, the perfect tools, and effective learning materials.
- You can practice yoga anywhere – outside on a beautiful sunny day or indoors, regardless of the weather.
- Yoga requires minimal equipment. Many people use yoga mats to minimize slipping, sliding, and uncomfortable sitting on a hard surface, but it’s not absolutely necessary to own one. Some people also utilize yoga balls, blocks and straps, but again, you can exercise effectively without them. A towel can substitute for a strap in most cases, a sturdy book or metal cans of food can stand in for yoga blocks, and a blanket can serve as a makeshift yoga mat.
- You can practice yoga even if you have a health condition. Just discuss your intentions with your doctor beforehand. Throughout this book I will alert you to contraindications for specific physical conditions. Certain poses will require adaptations, while other poses should be avoided entirely, based on your physical restrictions. Yoga is quite possible – indeed, it can often reduce symptoms – for individuals with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and arthritis.
- Prenatal yoga is available for women who want to stay strong and in shape throughout pregnancy. Some poses strengthen muscles you will use in the birthing process, while others will energize you and help you through those early weeks of sleep deprivation after your baby is born. There are poses to help you wake up and others to help you prepare for sleep. Postpartum depression can be alleviated as well, since both the breathing practices and many yoga poses help to balance the emotions.
Whether you’re in perfect health or you live with any range of physical or emotional challenges, yoga can help improve your quality of life. It can prevent disease, minimize symptoms, and can provide you with extraordinary mental health benefits. Yoga can directly improve your overall sense of well-being, which can help you maintain a positive mood and an upbeat attitude. Yoga has been found to improve self-acceptance as well as self-control. It can help reduce hostility and boost social skills. Most importantly, yoga is easy to learn and master. Experts recommend two to three days a week from thirty minutes to an hour and half each, maximum, as the ideal amount of time to spend practicing yoga. Even if you only spend one hour a week, total, on yoga, you can still experience all of its amazing benefits! For that matter, even five minutes a day can prove helpful, so if you only have that much time between activities, use it wisely on yoga. You won’t regret it.
HOW TO YOGA?
There are seven primary forms of yoga: Hatha, Vinyasa, Power, Ashtanga, Bikram, and Iyengar yoga. Hatha is the most common and easiest form of yoga. It combines breathing techniques and basic movements. Vinyasa yoga combines multiple poses that smoothly transition into one another. Power yoga is an intense form, designed to build muscles quickly. Ashtanga is similar to Vinyasa yoga in that it combines multiple poses that smoothly transition into one another; it is unique in that the poses include special breathing techniques. Bikram is a collection of 26 yoga poses designed to be performed in very hot temperatures. Finally, Iyengar yoga utilizes objects like blocks or chairs to align the body in the proper position. In this book, we will focus primarily on the first form, Hatha Yoga. If you are already a committed practitioner of yoga, you probably will use established routines and will have successfully worked yoga into your life.