Today when we think of yoga, we mostly envision young adults with toned bodies, wearing spandex-type clothing, all standing on mats with bodies contorted in some unthinkable pose. I recently found an article entitled, “17 Best Images for Contortion and Yoga.” However, this common view of yoga is highly misleading.
Those who advocate yoga seem to use a similar philosophy as those who promote clothing – by only using models who are tall, thin, and attractive. Yet the truth is that individuals of all sizes and ages need clothing…and yoga.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over 10 years and in reality, yoga is practiced by all ages and by those with a wide range of body types. There are several diﬀerent methods of yoga, each designed for diﬀerent purposes. Two of the many types of yoga are Ashtanga Vanyasa and Hatha Yoga.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is among the most common styles of yoga being practiced today. This yoga style is a rigorous system of ‘yoga-based’ physical exercises. These exercises were specifically designed to build strength, flexibility, and stamina. This is quite evident in the practice, which consists of a set series of poses, which are usually performed in the same order. In this physically demanding type, yoga students move from one posture to the next in a continual flow, while at the same time linking movements to breath.
Hatha Yoga refers to a set of gentle physical exercises (known as asanas or postures) performed slowly, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. By creating balance in the poses, we develop balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our eﬀort and surrender in each pose. Students are asked to bring attention to the breath, which helps to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the moment. The higher purpose of Hatha Yoga is to calm the body and mind, giving us awareness and control over our internal states and preparing one for meditation. Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation.
People practice yoga for a number of reasons. A recent article in Yoga Journal stated that more than half of those who practice yoga regularly in the U.S report they do it for the purpose of physical fitness. Nearly 80% said they practice yoga for the relaxation. This month’s issue of the AARP Magazine has a “Special Health Section” devoted primarily to yoga, listing 21 of its health benefits. This year’s February edition of The Harvard Heart Letter stated, “Over all, people who took yoga classes saw improvements in a number of factors that aﬀect heart disease risk. They lost an average of five pounds, shaved five points oﬀ their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points.”
Another article in Yoga Journal, reported, “The health care world’s increased acceptance of yoga therapy is partly due to a significant body of clinical research that now documents yoga’s proven benefits for a range of health conditions, including back pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as its ability to help reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and hypertension.”
Why is yoga so healthy for us? In general, yoga combines breath control, simple meditation, and body postures to achieve improved health, flexibility, and strength. An added benefit is a greater awareness of the mind’s ability to be quiet and the body’s ability to relax.
In our busy world we often overlook our need to be quiet. As we learn to calm our mind, our reaction to stress diminishes and our ability to manage our mood increases. A quiet mind can also enhance our spiritual awareness and lead to greater peace.
Stress has become a common ailment. The world we now live in tells us that happiness comes from achieving and attaining.
Therefore, we are constantly trying to do more and to get more. We have become conditioned to look outside ourselves for that which will bring us happiness. Yet most of us know intuitively that more things and more accomplishments will not fulfill that deep longing that is natural in all of us. We sense within ourselves that something about our lives could be better.
Our individual journey to find ultimate peace and happiness is diﬀerent for each individual. The one thing that we all have in common is that a quiet mind is more likely to help us find our way.
Yoga is an invaluable tool to improve our overall health and well-being and help us along life’s journey!