The benefits of yoga are excellent. Yoga is a form of exercise that can trace its origins back almost five thousand years. Originating in India, it is intended to boost both physical and psychological well being. To achieve this aim, it focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing and consists primarily of postures and breathing.
Yoga classes and the benefits of yoga are widely available in health and fitness clubs, leisure centers and even hospitals. The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means to yoke or to bind. Thus, it is often interpreted as a method of discipline or union.
A male practitioner of yoga is called a ‘yogi’ whereas a female practitioner is a ‘yogini’. Most scientific studies and trials agree that yoga is a safe and effective way of increasing strength, balance and flexibility.
According to tradition, the mysterious Indian sage Patanjali compiled the various yoga practices into the Yoga Sutra approximately two thousand years ago.
Consider the Sutra as a guidebook of sorts containing all of the yoga that is practiced today. According to it, eight “limbs” in total comprise the practice of yoga. They are “yamas” or restraints, “niyamas” or observances, “asana” or postures, “pranayama” or breathing, “pratyahara” or the withdrawal of senses, “dharana” or concentration, “dhyani” or meditation and “samadhi” or absorption. Most modern yoga practitioners focus on the third limb, asana. This consists of a series of physical postures intended to purify the body and ensure the practitioners are equipped with the necessary strength and stamina for prolonged periods of intense meditation.
As you may have gathered, yoga consists of more than just physical postures. These are in fact just one aspect. The positive benefits of yoga are unique as it combines the body’s physical movements with the rising and falling of the mind and simultaneously connects them to the rhythm of breathing.
Bringing these three factions together aids the practitioner in directing their attention inward and away from outside distraction. Once attention is fully focused inwards, habitual thought patterns present themselves without being labelled, judged or changed.
The practitioner begins to live life in the moment. It is this awareness that separates yoga from tasks or goals. There is no set timeframe in which to achieve this awareness. If practiced successfully, over time both the mind and the body will greatly increase in flexibility.
Yoga is not a religion and the clear benefits of yoga shows it would be more appropriate to consider it an ancient philosophy which intends to provide a means for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and psychological body. From time to time, yoga interweaves with other philosophical practices such as Hinduism or Buddhism.
However, knowledge of these is not necessary for the practice of yoga, nor is it at all necessary to surrender any religious beliefs, should you have them, in order to practice yoga.
So, who can benefit from practicing yoga? Evidence from numerous scientific studies suggests that people with high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and stress are among those who could most benefit. There are some who believe they must already be flexible before they commence their yoga journey, but this is not the case.
Yoga is a journey that everyone is welcome to take and all that is required to bring is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. (yoga leggings or shorts and a non-baggy t-shirt are recommended clothing) It is also an individual journey that one should take at their own pace. There should be no sense of competition between practitioners.
Not only will a practitioner gain new flexibility and agility from yoga; they can also expect to build their strength, coordination and cardiovascular health, as well as a boost in confidence and general wellbeing. There is also no minimum or maximum age to begin yoga and people of all generations can benefit from practicing it.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that it’s advisable not to eat anything for up to three hours before a class starts. Much twisting and bending is commonplace in yoga and such activities are highly ill-advised on a full stomach. Should you possess a fast-acting digestive system, a light snack such as a few nuts, juice or a yogurt about half an hour before class commences should suffice.
How often should one practice yoga? There is no definitive guide or recommended amounts. Even if a practitioner should engage in no more than a single hour a week, they will reap the benefits. Obviously, the more often one practices, the more benefits can potentially be reaped.
Time constraints and unrealistic goals should not be taken into consideration when practicing yoga – most people find that after getting into a steady routine, the desire to practice more often arises naturally.
Overall, practicing yoga can be a fun and stimulating exercise that can improve your long-term physical and mental health. It has no minimum or maximum requirements in order to start and there is no age limit to beginning. It would not be an exaggeration to say that yoga can change your life for the better.
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