Yoga was developed in India at least three thousand years ago, and is a discipline that uses breath control, meditation and physical exercises.
There are number of things about yoga that make it particular appealing, chiefly because it helps to promote mental and physical well being. The purpose of the philosophy and technique is to achieve a heightened awareness, and ultimately, to attain spiritual enlightenment.
First, there are some basic principals about yoga that are an integral part of its teachings.
These come mainly from the Bhagavad Gita, which is one of the primary religious texts outlining ways to achieve liberation from one’s worldly worries and desires.
There are many different types of yoga, and one of the most popular forms in the West is hatha yoga, which focuses on strengthening, toning and relaxation. Most yoga exercises focus on proper positioning of the body in various postures. One of the high points about yoga is its benefit to overall body health. Daily practice improves strength, suppleness, and circulation. It promotes relaxation and increases range of motion, which helps to reduce the likelihood of muscle strain. Many people use it as a primary source of exercise, and others use it complementarily – such as with running, to help strengthen a host of different muscles.
Yogis believe that breath is the bridge between mind and body.
Pranayama are specific exercises in which the person breathes deeply, concentrating on the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils. This puts the person at ease and allows their muscles to warm up gradually. This focus on breathing allows deep muscle relaxation, releases tension, and induces a tranquil state.
Yoga can be especially useful to older people and those with disabilities who are recovering from an illness. However, anyone can benefit from the slow, gentle exercises and the positive effect they have on hormonal balance, alleviating depression, and increasing strength and flexibility. One of the best things about yoga is that it is accessible to people of all ages and physical fitness levels.
One of the important differences between yoga and a typical workout exercise is an emphasis on process.
While many exercise programs encourage you to push and strain every muscle in your body, to eradicate the ‘negative’ things in your body, the positive thing about yoga is that it has an entirely different approach. It focuses on developing awareness of the body as it is, accepting and working within its limits.
Perfect Truths about Yoga
Turbaned gurus, sing-song mantras and bodily contortions . . . the promise of true enlightenment and omphaloskepsis (contemplation of the naval) completes the cliche. But don't knock yoga till you've tried it, and then only with respect.
Yoga means to bind together --
variously joining sun and moon, left and right, male and female, and any number of yins and yangs -- through ascetic techniques of meditation and exercise. The goal is physical and mental balance.
Indian Hatha' yoga is best known to Westerners. Double-jointedness isn't a prerequisite, but the classic lotus position, cross-legged on the floor, soles-up on the inner thigh, either comes naturally or doesn't.
Then there are more magical/mystical varieties of yoga for which people quit jobs and polite society and retreat to the Himalayas. But not everyone follows a spiritual guide beyond the Beltway; they'd rather take up the discipline at a local ashram or the Y.
Committed practitioners claim yoga leads to intuitive awareness, spiritual harmony,
perfect concentration. Others use it to lose weight or quit smoking. Some just like the lift they get from yoga asanas (positions) better than breaking into a sweat with pushups. In any case, it can't hurt, if done in moderation and with proper guidance.
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