Yes, thank you.
I will start by saying that I have not been a regular practitioner of yoga. I practiced Bikram (hot) yoga for 6 months several years ago. I enjoyed the challenge, even the part where I almost blacked out every time we got there. And sweat? Boy howdy! Buckets. Just buckets. My contact lenses would dry out afterwards, I was so dehydrated. In spite of that, I enjoyed the experience, and have often thought about getting yoga back into my routine. So, maybe just as motivation to me, let’s take a look at Yoga.
Historians aren’t entirely sure when the notion or practice of yoga first appeared, and it’s often a matter of debate. The term “yoga,” however, is found in ancient India’s earliest known scripts — the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest writings of Hinduism and Sanskrit literature. The Vedic period began in 1500 BCE.
In the 3rd century BCE, references to the term “yoga” became more common in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist writings. In Buddhism, the notion of yoga as a spiritual or meditative practice as we know now was referred to as Yogachara, which involved eight steps of meditation that was known as “calmness” or “insight.”
During the medieval era, different schools of yoga emerged. Among these was Tantric yoga. Westerners today have often associated “tantra” with a sexual form of yoga, and it turns out they weren’t too far off. Some Tantric beliefs involved yogis having sexual relations with low-caste women whom they believed were yoginis, or women who embodied Tantric goddesses. Having sex with them could lead these yogis to a transcendent level of consciousness.
At least that’s what the yogis claimed.
But I digress….
Today there are more than 100 different forms of yoga. Some are fast-paced and intense. Others are gentle and relaxing. They include:
– Hatha. The form most often associated with yoga, it combines a series of basic movements with breathing.
– Vinyasa. A series of poses that flow smoothly into one another.
– Power. A faster, higher-intensity practice that builds muscle.
– Ashtanga. A series of poses, combined with a special breathing technique.
– Bikram. A series of 26 challenging poses performed in a room heated to a high temperature.
(I can vouch for the “challenging” part.)
– Iyengar. A type of yoga that uses props like blocks, straps, and chairs to help you move your body into the proper alignment.
Some of the advantages to yoga as part of a fitness practice include;
– No gym fees!
-Good for beginners! People of all ages and fitness levels can do the most basic yoga poses and stretches.
– You can do it at home. You don’t have to drive somewhere. All you need is enough space for your yoga mat.
– No equipment required! You don’t need any equipment because you’ll rely on your own body weight for resistance. But you’ll probably want to use a yoga mat to keep you from sliding around in standing poses, and to cushion you while in seated and lying positions. Other, optional equipment includes a yoga ball for balance, a yoga block or two, and straps to help you reach for your feet or link your hands behind your back.
– You can do it outdoors. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, neither of which you necessarily get in a gym environment.
– Photo ops. Because, if you start a yoga practice you MUST post photos of yourself in yoga poses. At the beach, in nature, at national monuments, family reunions, weddings. You’re almost as bad as runners.
Health benefits! Let’s talk health benefits;
– Stress relief: The practice of yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body.
– Pain relief: Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, helps reduce pain for people with arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.
– Better breathing: Yoga includes breathing practices known as pranayama, which can be effective for reducing our stress response, improving lung function and encouraging relaxation.
– Flexibility: Of course. Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion.
– Increased strength: Yoga asanas use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.
Also, unexpectedly, at least to me, these benefits;
– Lower back pain relief. Multiple studies have found yoga to be an effective treatment for chronic back pain. In a study of 80 individuals with chronic lower back pain, the group that participated in just one week of yoga showed less disability and greater flexibility than patients who completed other physical exercises.
– Fertility “Yoga can help with infertility in a variety of ways,” says Bethany Grace Shaw, founder and president of YogaFit, Inc. “Yoga allows the mother-to-be to relax, de-stress, and open up energetic channels, thereby improving chances of conception. Also, by reducing stress, conception becomes easier,” Shaw adds.
Energetic channels. Hmm…
– Hangover cure “Yoga is a great way to detox your entire system,” Shaw says. “Yoga also helps with metabolism. The poses ‘shoulder stand,’ ‘plow,’ and ‘fish’ work on the thyroid gland and improve metabolism, thus getting rid of a hangover faster.
So, in summary, adding yoga to your fitness routine is a great way to add aspects of fitness (flexibility, breathing, relaxation) which we sometimes forget in our preoccupation with reps, HIIT, P.R.s and CrossFit. It’s been around longer than any of that stuff. There might just be a reason for that.