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Yoga - An Introduction to the Art Form

Many of you will be aware of yoga, seeing it advertised in gyms alongside other classes such as ‘body pump’ ‘kickboxing’ and ‘aerobics’ and therefore consider it purely as a form of exercise, however yoga is much more than this. Read on to find out about the basic principles of yoga and how to get started.

An overview of Yoga

Yoga (also called ‘asana’) refers to the traditional physical and mental disciplines based in India. The word itself translates as ‘union’ and in this way defines the union of the mind, body and spirit expressed through physical postures and poses.

The biggest misconception people have about yoga is that it is purely stretching but although stretching is involved, yoga is about the balance in the body which is gained though postures and poses which each develop strength and many other physical benefits. As an individual starts doing yoga their experience is referred to as ‘their practice’ which is meant to describe how your relationship with the discipline develops, evolves and changes. Yoga isn’t a competitive practice and there are classes and different types to suit different people.

Additional to yoga poses, the discipline focuses on breathing techniques, meditation and many other calming practices which can make the class a spiritual work out as well as a physical work out, however this will vary from teacher to teacher.

There are many different types of yoga being practiced today (Hatha, Vinyasa, Astanga, Iyengar, Kundalini and Bikram are the main types), so make sure you find the right one for you.

The benefits of yoga and its affect on the body

The benefits of yoga are numerous as well as varied healing both physically and mentally, here are a few:

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Reduced anxiety and muscle tension
  • Better sleep
  • Improvements in other medical conditions
  • Asthma and allergy relief
  • Lower blood pressure
  • An aid to quitting smoking
  • Lowering heart rates
  • Spiritual growth
  • Wellbeing
  • Increased physical strength and flexibility
  • Increased energy levels

The physical benefits of yoga in more depth

Many of us suffer from stiffness and tight muscles due to our lifestyle as well as stress levels causing tension. Even the most athletic suffer stiffness and painful muscles which are only remedied by deep intensive sport massage.  Yoga can therefore act as part of a training schedule in addition to the main sport itself bringing more flexibility and greater range of motion to muscles and joints stiffened through other activities. I know as a runner myself I always suffer tight hips and hamstrings so yoga has acted to loosen these areas up significantly.

Another ailment of other sports and activities is that they can cause imbalances and weaknesses in certain parts of the body which then lead to injury, requiring weeks and months of recovery. Yoga helps to reduce these imbalances as it requires you to support the weight of your own body in new ways, moving slowly in a controlled fashion through moves which increases the strength of those areas.

Pain prevention
Another great benefit of yoga is that it can reduce big problems such as back pain. Many people suffer back pain from sitting at computers all day, or on distance driving causing spinal compression and tightness. Yoga improves the alignment of the spine and therefore reduces many causes of chronic pain. However, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor before seeking yoga as a cure for your problems.

The mental benefits of yoga in more depth

Yoga is renowned for its ability to bring calmness to the mind. By focusing intently on each pose and what your body is doing, all other stresses of life are pushed away.

Meditation also helps you to focus your thoughts and learn ways to control your negative feelings with the belief that controlled breathing helps to control the emotional mind. With this, yoga can relieve stress and many of the problems related to stress such as panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Learning to focus on the here and now brings peace into your world instead of the usual rush of life. A recent US study found that just 20 minutes of yoga a day can help reduce stress by as much as 10 percent!

Another noticed plus I am personally aware of is self esteem and confidence. By learning how to control and work ‘with’ your body as opposed to ‘against’ your body, you learn to accept your body and become more confident in oneself increasing self esteem and general happiness. Not only does yoga produce these benefits but it is also a practice that can be done practically anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours so easily fitting into one’s lifestyle and schedule.

The only drawback to yoga is that it demands patience and dedication to learn the art form and so as with many other sports, benefits are reaped over a period of time and not within a few sessions. 

In my next and following article I outline the different types of yoga and all the practicalities you need to know in order to get started so do read on.

Article by:
Gemma Carter who is a fully trained fitness and life coach. Visit her website at http://www.cartercoaching.co.uk

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