Welcome to 12 Weeks to Calm – Week Seven. Yoga is steeped in ancient Indian tradition. The Sanskrit word for yoga has several definitions, basically meaning ‘uniting’ or ‘a method of discipline’. The practice unites the body, mind and breath.
What is Yoga?
Traditionally, yoga was taught orally directly from the teacher to the student. While yoga has been practiced for more than 5000 years, the Yoga Sutra was written which has helped to bring yoga to the wider world. Hatha yoga (the physical side of the practice) was originally created as a vehicle for meditation, and prepares the body for stillness. It is the form of yoga that addresses both body and mind, and requires discipline and effort. By creating physical strength and stamina in the body, the mind can be calm.
How to Practice Yoga
Yoga is such a popular physical activity that there are many options for it’s practice. Many gyms offer yoga as a group fitness class, or you can use a site like Find Yoga to find a studio or class near you. Community colleges often run relatively inexpensive courses.
If you would prefer to try it in your own home, there are many DVDs and even apps that you can use to learn the poses. I borrowed a fantastic DVD from my local library, and after taking several classes at my gym I was able to continue my practice at home. Healthline named their 10 best yoga apps of 2014 here for some download ideas.
Once you have practiced yoga for a little while, you can start your day with some of your favourite poses. I love doing sun salutations on waking – it’s the perfect way to stretch after being curled up in bed, and to get the blood flowing for the day.
Yoga is an inexpensive form of exercise to start, as all you need is a mat and comfortable clothes. Blocks and bands that can be used later are optional.
Health Benefits of Yoga
There are many health benefits of yoga – hence why it has a 5000 year history! According to The Better Health Channel, yoga exercises are designed to put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which increases the body’s efficiency and health. The breathing techniques that are taught increase breath control, which in turn improve body and brain function. The asanas (movements) will develop strength and flexibility when practiced regularly. The Better Health Channel also outlines the following benefits:
- Cardiovascular system – asanas rely on holding muscle tension for a short period of time. This improves cardiovascular fitness and circulation. Studies show that regular yoga practice may help to normalise blood pressure.
- Digestive system – improved blood circulation and the massaging effect of surrounding muscles speeds up a sluggish digestion.
- Musculoskeletal – joints are moved through their full range of motion, which encourages mobility and eases pressure. The gentle stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and stiffness, and also increases flexibility. Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture.
- Nervous system – improved blood circulation, easing of muscle tension and the act of focusing the mind on the breath all combine to soothe the nervous system. Long-term benefits include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.
I started yoga about 10 years ago, and have practiced it on and off. I find it to be an incredibly relaxing form of exercise. You can really challenge yourself, and you will notice improvement from week to week, which is a great motivator to keep going. One of my favourite things to do after a stressful day is a 20 or 30 minute yoga session by candlelight. It is so incredibly relaxing and really brings you back to earth. I would love to go to a retreat one day – it’s on my bucket list!
Yoga is a fantastic exercise for people of all ages. I have taught my students some poses, and my mum practices yoga with people in their 80’s! The only question remains… when will you book into a class?