Yoga brings the body and mind together and is built on three main elements – movement, breathing and meditation. Yoga has many physical and mental health benefits including improved posture, flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness.
Always consult your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or have not exercised in a long time.
The difference between Pilates and yoga
Pilates and yoga are often thought to be one in the same, however Pilates traditionally focuses more on control of movement and muscular endurance as opposed to yoga which connects the body to the mind through flow of movement.
Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that dates back thousands of years. It was designed as a path to spiritual enlightenment, but in modern times, the physical aspects of yoga have found huge popularity as a gentle form of exercise and stress management. There are many different varieties of yoga, but each one essentially relies on structured poses (asanas) practiced with breath awareness.
Researchers have discovered that the regular practice of yoga may produce many health benefits, including increased cardiovascular fitness, improved muscular strength and normalisation of blood pressure. Yoga is a renowned antidote to stress and promotes improved sleeping patterns. Over time, those who practice yoga report lower levels of stress, and increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing. This is because concentrating on the postures and the breath acts as a form of meditation.
The classical techniques of yoga date back more than 5000 years. The practice of yoga encourages effort, intelligence, accuracy, thoroughness, commitment and dedication. The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit language and means ‘to join or yoke together’. It brings your body and mind together, and is built on three main elements – exercise, breathing and meditation.
The movements of yoga are designed to challenge flexibility, balance, coordination and strength, increasing your body’s efficiency and overall health. Breathing techniques promote greater mind body connection, improving the function of body and mind.
Focusing on controlled movement and breathing prepares the body and mind for meditation, with an approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and relief from everyday stress. When practiced regularly, yoga can become a powerful and sophisticated discipline for achieving physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Types of yoga
There are many different varieties of yoga, each with a slightly different slant. The most popular are Hatha, Bikram, Iyengar, Yin and Vinyasa yoga.
Asanas or yoga postures
Each yoga posture, or asana, is held for a period of time and linked with controlled breathing. Generally, a yoga session begins with gentle asanas and works up to more vigorous or challenging postures. A full yoga session should move every part of your body and should include pranayama (breath control practices), relaxation and meditation.
The different postures or asanas include:
- lying postures (supine and prone)
- sitting postures
- standing postures
- inverted or upside-down postures.
Health benefits of yoga
The practice of yoga asanas develops strength and flexibility, while soothing your nerves and calming your mind. The asanas affect the muscles, joints and skin, and the whole body – glands, nerves, internal organs, bones, respiration and the brain. The physical building blocks of yoga are the posture and the breath.
Health benefits of yoga include:
- Cardiovascular system (heart and arteries) – asanas are isometric, which means they rely on holding muscle tension for a few seconds to several minutes. This improves cardiovascular health and circulation. Studies show that regular yoga practice may help normalise blood pressure.
- Digestive system – improved blood circulation and the massaging effect of surrounding muscles improves and promotes normal digestion.
- Musculoskeletal – joints are moved through their full range of motion, which encourages mobility and eases pressure. The gentle stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and stiffness, and also increases flexibility. Maintaining many of the asanas encourages strength and endurance. Weight-bearing asanas may help prevent osteoporosis, and may also help people already diagnosed with osteoporosis (if practiced with a qualified yoga professional and guided by an allied health professional). Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture.
- Nervous system – improved blood circulation, easing of muscle tension and the act of focusing the mind on the breath all combine to soothe the nervous system. Long-term benefits include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.
Yoga for people of different ages
Yoga is taught in classes, catering for beginners through to advanced participants. It is non-competitive and suitable for anyone, regardless of your age or fitness level. Your yoga teacher should carefully guide and observe you, and modify postures when necessary.
An asana should never cause pain. If you experience pain or discomfort, ease back on the stretch or don’t do it at all. It is important to keep within your physical limits.
If you are a male over 45 years of age or a female over 55 years of age, haven’t exercised for a long time or have a pre-existing medical condition, you should check with your preferred general practitioner or another suitably qualified professional before starting any new or regular exercise routine.
Pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions or contraindications that may put them at a higher risk of experiencing an adverse event during physical activity. It is a tool to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you and whether you should seek further guidance from an allied health or medical professional.
Yoga classes usually have 10 to 20 people, allowing for individual attention. Suggestions for getting the most out of your yoga class include:
- Wear comfortable clothes and take a blanket or mat, since many poses are performed sitting or lying down.
- Allow enough time between eating and attending a yoga class.
- Always tell your yoga teacher if you have a specific complaint (i.e., pain or discomfort), so they can advise against any asanas that may aggravate your problem or refer you to an allied health professional for further guidance.
- Always tell your yoga teacher if you are pregnant, have had a recent injury, illness, surgery, high blood pressure, heart problems or osteoporosis.
- Avoid talking during the class because it may disturb your own quiet focus and that of others in the class.
CONCLUSION In the end I would like to conclude this article by saying that yoga has several benefits. Everyone must practice it to keep their health maintained and also benefit from it. It is the secret to living a healthy and long life without the use of any artificial means like medicines or any other shortcuts of any kind.