Did you know that Yoga is more than an exercise? It is also a spiritual
awakening. Most people in the West practice Hatha yoga, a form of yoga which emphasizes the physical aspect.
Interestingly, Hatha is the composite of two ancient Sanskrit words. Ha is the word for sun and tha is the word for moon. Hatha yoga therefore is the union
between the sun and moon – the combining of opposites. It is also, not coincidentally, the combining of the mind and the body. Hatha yoga, more than any other exercise, is a perfect example of holistic health in action.
When you perform yoga, you'll find that not only does it lead to greater strength and vitality for your body, but it also provides an unparalleled peace of mind.
Yoga exercises are expressly used to not only ease tired, tense muscles, and to improve flexibility, but to tone the body's internal organs as well. Yoga is purposely performed slowly with care being given to your breathing.
The beauty of yoga is that it can be practiced by anyone. It doesn't matter how old you are. If you desire a more limber body, yoga is one of the quickest ways to attain it. Yoga also increases an individual's physical coordination and promotes better posture. And it does all this without potentially hazard negative effects that are often incurred in high-impact forms of exercise.
Yoga is also one of the best exercises to do if you are not in the physical shape you used to be in. It's a great way to introduce your body to subtle gentle movement – performed at your own pace. If you are considering an overall exercise program but feel that you don't have the energy at the moment, dive into yoga first. You'll find that, ironically, the gentle movements and relaxed tone of this ancient practice reinvigorates the body to provide more energy. At the same time, your body is refreshed and renewed, giving you a clear-headed feeling.
Curiously, Hatha yoga reaches much of the same effects of aerobic exercise. It improves your overall health by reducing stress, but unlike aerobics, it doesn't increase you heart rate. And many of the postures go a long way towards strengthening your bones, but without the need of lifting weights or doing other weight-bearing exercises.
When performed properly – in conjunction with proper related breathing techniques – yoga also helps stimulate the circulatory system, the digestive process as well as the nervous and endocrine system.
Many women now turn to yoga to help alleviate the back pain and other symptoms due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Others find that practicing yoga help alleviate back problems, arthritis symptoms or other chronic health problems.
Many health care practitioners are taking a second look at this ancient form of exercise, as its abilities to seem to heal are beginning to be verified by scientific research. According to Emmanuel Brandeis, M.D., the founder of Yoga Nemo of West Hollywood, CA as well as a board-certified gynecologist, "There's a lot of research being done [regarding yoga] but not in the United States. The research is mostly being done in India, and the studies are being published in noted journals with a lot of credibility.
Funding for research in the United State, by contrast, Brandeis says, usually get funneled into projects that will eventually yield profits for company. Yoga cannot yield big profits for the pharmaceutical industry. "Compared to a drug," he explains, "which can be prescribed and sold worldwide, yoga just doesn't make money.
While many of these studies are being carried out in India, if you look deep enough and long enough, you'll find some stunning results on the benefits of yoga from research being conducted around the world. Here are just a few of the growing benefits science is confirming.
Yoga appears to have an influence in reducing an individual's risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. A three-month study in Germany treated cardiovascular patients with a combination of yoga, meditation and a vegetarian diet. The researchers at Hanover Medical Center discovered a "substantial reduction" in risk factors for heart disease – which included the lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In studies conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine yoga seemed to have improved the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hands. The group which received the yoga therapy discovered less pain during activity as well as less tenderness. Additionally, the participants' experienced a greater range of motion in their fingers. The results were published in the Journal of Rheumatology.
Surprisingly, some fibromyalgia patients have been helped by the daily practice of yoga. Patrick Randolph, Ph.D., director of psychological services at the Pain Center of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, studied yoga's effects on this often elusive disorder. While difficult to diagnose, fibromyalgia is often debilitating. The wide range of symptoms make it difficult to treat.
The study consisted of a very small group of only six women, but the results are exceedingly encouraging. The women discovered that the practice of yoga improved the circulation to the arms and legs which in turn helped the individuals to relax.
But yoga had a second, unexpected benefit. It helps to lift the irrelevant "mind chatter" that frequently turns chronic pain into pure misery. The mind very often refuses to quiet which only produces more anxiety about the problem itself.
And in the view of some health care practitioners, this ability to quiet the mind and help it to live with our chronic problems may be one of the greatest assets of yoga.