Yoga offers physical and mental benefits

Paula Reece

Yoga is all about learning to balance life with calmness and positive thinking. Yoga means to join or yoke together the body and mind into one experience.

Yoga dates back more than 5,000 years and combines three main areas: breathing, exercise and meditation. Breathing techniques are based on the concept breathing is the source of life. Exercises put pressure on glandular systems and promote health and well-being. Through meditation, practitioners learn how to quiet their minds and heal from the stresses of life.

There are more than 100 schools of yoga.  The most common type and one most people associate with is Hatha yoga. This is an easy to learn form of yoga that combines physical movements and postures with breathing techniques. 

Another type is Bikram yoga that includes muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss. This type of yoga is performed in a room heated to 95 degrees to 105 degrees. The heat promotes flexibility and detoxification while preventing injuries. Warm yoga is similar, but in a warm rather than hot environment.

Power yoga combines stretching, strength training and meditative breathing. Many of the poses resemble such basic calisthenics as push-ups, handstands and side bends. The pace of this type of yoga is faster, with each move flowing into the next without pausing.

Although there are many more forms of yoga, these give you an idea of what’s available. Many instructors incorporate different forms of yoga into one class.

Most adults with varying degrees of abilities can practice yoga. There are some advanced classes that aren’t suitable for people with physical limitations from injuries or pregnant women. Always check first with your doctor before engaging in an exercise program. However, there are special classes that incorporate yoga into a workout with modifications. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and always listen to your body.

In taking your first yoga class, expect to enter a low-light room with soft music. You should wear comfortable clothing. You don’t need special shoes — most people are barefoot. You’ll have a mat and such props as bands, blocks and blankets. Your instructor will tell you when and how to use these. 

At the end of each yoga class, most teachers bring their hands together in front of their hearts, bow their heads and say “namaste.” Students bring their hands together and respond in kind. Namaste means “I bow to the divine in you.”

Yoga offers numerous benefits, including improved breathing, flexibility, posture and strength. Many people worry they’re too old or out of shape for yoga. In fact, you’re never too old to improve flexibility. Yoga not only stretches your muscles, but also the soft tissues of your body, including ligaments and tendons. Nearly all of the poses in yoga build core strength in the abdominal muscles. With this stronger core strength comes better posture. You also become more aware of your posture in daily activities. Most forms of yoga concentrate on breathing. Learning to deepen or lengthen your breath will stimulate relaxation. Yoga also improves mood and concentration.

If you’re already a yogi, you understand all this. If you’re not, hopefully this has answered some of your questions about yoga. Challenge yourself to try a few classes for a couple weeks and see if you experience some of the amazing benefits. Namaste.