The Many Benefits of Yoga
The practice of yoga originated in India around 5000 years ago. The word yoga is a Sanskrit term meaning union, specifically union of body, mind, and spirit. The benefits of yoga are numerous. This article will focus on the manifold physical benefits. The central focus of any yoga practice is the breath and allowing optimal flow of prana (Sanskrit word for energy) through proper breathing. Depending on the type of yoga being practiced, asanas (Sanskrit term for postures) will be of a flowing nature or will be held for a few breaths with deepening into the posture with each exhalation. Over time, this will lead to improvements with flexibility. Another focus of any yoga practice is alignment, which will serve to optimize the flow of prana (energy). With so many of our daily activities (reading, driving, eating, computer work) we regress into a cashew-type posture with our heads peaking out like a turtle. If prolonged, these malalignments can lead to pinching and shortening of structures such as nerves and tendons. No wonder doctor’s offices are filled with patients complaining of shoulder, neck, and back pain. Through yoga, postural awareness is improved, flexibility of tightened structures is enhanced and strengthening of weakened postural muscles is achieved by holding asanas (postures) in proper alignment. Yoga practices also include balancing the body to maintain asanas (postures). Various degrees of difficulty can be practiced, often influenced by the type of yoga one is doing. For example, with ashtanga yoga great strength and balance is required to get into and to maintain some of the advanced asanas. Purification of toxins is another physical benefit of any yoga practice through the focus of proper breathing techniques. Further, some types of yoga encourage purifying sweat by producing intense internal heat and/or practicing in a heated room. Remember to always talk to your yoga instructor or a physical therapist if you have any physical limitations or injuries so that proper adjustments can be made. It is of keen importance not to ignore or push through physical limitations as this may prolong or cause further injury. Remember to leave your ego at the door and have fun!