Practiced for more than 2,000 years across the world, yoga is more popular in the United States today than it has ever been. As reported in the “Yoga Journal,” more than six million Americans practice yoga, with another 17 million showing interest in it.
On the physical level, yoga not only increases flexibility, strength and balance but also improves range of motion. On the emotional level, it reduces stress and creates a deep sense of well-being and peace; the mind and body feel energized and relaxed. Everyone — from athletes, executives and stay-at-home moms to people coping with illness, injuries or chronic pain — can experience the benefits of practicing yoga because yoga is so versatile. A routine can be tailored for any age and ability.
According to Ronni Diamond, a certified Kripalu and Cardiac yoga instructor from Media, Pa., you can expect a typical yoga class to consist of conscious breathing, warm-ups, yoga postures and relaxation and visualization.
“Most of us breathe approximately one-third of our lung capacity,” says Diamond. “Since the body is starved for oxygen, we experience everything from fuzzy thinking to fatigue, to utter exhaustion.” Conscious yoga breathing techniques increase lung capacity, improve concentration and focus, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and provide much-needed energy.
“Preparing the body for the formal yoga postures is essential,” Diamond emphasizes. Yoga warm-ups and stretches stimulate blood flow to the muscles as well as increase our body awareness. They also release tension from muscles and joints. “Each warm-up and stretch is combined with breath,” she explains. “When a point of resistance in the body is reached, the person breathes and relaxes, letting the muscles release naturally. Stretching becomes pleasurable rather than painful.”
Yoga postures are specific ways of moving the body. “It’s important to understand that the physical movement itself is not yoga,” says Diamond. “The yoga posture is the vehicle for us to discover where the body is holding tension.” This is accomplished through “dynamic tension,” whereby the body is consciously moved in an unfamiliar way, with awareness and breath. “It is the physical position combined with the mental attitude and breath that makes yoga different from other forms of exercise,” she adds. “When the body is properly aligned, with the mind focused and steady, and the breath deep and flowing, we are in optimum balance and health. We become centered, flexible and relaxed.”
Relaxation and Visualization
As Diamond explains, “Relaxation following ‘dynamic tension’ allows us to enter a state of deep peace and contentment. The energy that was locked in the muscles and joints is released into and absorbed by the body. The body and mind feel lighter. In this relaxed state, we can use visualization to bring the body and mind into greater balance. As we relax and let go of restricted thinking, we can feel the deep connection between the mind and the body, recognizing them as one.”
When the body is limber and relaxed and the mind is focused and calm, we perform better — whether at home, at the office, or on the playing field. Yoga is for everyone. It is inexpensive, requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere at any time. Some insurance companies even cover the cost of yoga classes, which are available at many health clubs and yoga centers throughout the country.
Find a yoga class with a qualified, preferably certified, yoga teacher. Ask about their particular style of teaching. Choose the style that sounds most suited to your personality and interests. Then, begin slowly. In time, you will realize that yoga is truly a unique fitness tool.