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The Benefits of Yoga and Youby Sharon Snead
What is this love affair we seem to have with yoga? When you think about it, the practice itself is time-consuming and laborious--but, it's also full of excitement. It's a wonderfully curious adventure, a momentous discovery, and a quite trip into our inner being. Each moment of our yogic journey holds opportunities to feel powerful, spacious, connected, and so much more alive.
Since the beginning of my journey into yoga, I have treasured how the ancient teachings can so easily apply to every aspect of modern day living. Whether it be our jobs, relationships, raising children, running errands, losing a loved one, or the constant challenges of riding life's on-going rollercoaster, the lessons of ancient yoga can be found everywhere.
The word yoga means to join or to unite. The underlying purpose of yoga is to unite all parts of the self (mind, body, spirit) and to unite ourselves with the larger consciousness of the world. In yoga, the practice of each individual is directed, not toward outward appearances and display, but rather, inward to the center of your own unique oneness. Its focus is to teach you how to have more control over your own mind and body, so you can transform yourself both physically and mentally. Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying its health benefits.
Anyone can practice yoga! You don't need special equipment or clothes--just a small amount of space and a strong desire for a healthier, more fulfilled life. I believe that yoga can fit the needs of anyone who wishes to try it. You can have any kind of body type, be any age, be fit or unfit, have injuries, be flexible, or for that matter, feel mostly inflexible. All bodies are different, and yoga is as much about getting stronger both mentally and physically, as it is about becoming more flexible. Yoga exercises every part of the body, stretching and toning the muscles and joints, the spine and the entire skeletal system. By releasing physical and mental tension, yoga also liberates vast resources of energy. It helps to revitalize the body and helps to calm the mind, while increasing clarity, mental power and concentration. It's a complete science of life!
Yoga is the oldest system of personal development in the world, encompassing mind, body and spirit. Ancient yogis had a profound understanding of man's essential nature, and of what you need to live in harmony with yourself and your environment.
During your first few weeks in a new yoga class, you will have much to learn, but don't be intimidated. Yoga is about moving at your own pace, and self-progression, so no need to rush through it. Just remember to stay focused on YOU. For new yogis, the primary focus is on asana (postures) and on opening the outermost layer of your consciousness--the body.
This opening, strengthening, and ultimate aligning of the body, clears the energy channels of the body and enhances the flow of "prana," or life force (breath). Guided by mind and breath, the heightened flow of prana creates changes on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Most beginner students feel the effects of their yoga practice the first time on the mat. For experienced yogis, practice profoundly affects mental and spiritual layers by calming the mind and awakening intelligence throughout the body. Seasoned yogis experience a deeper understanding of our essential nature and the world we live in. The practice becomes the quintessential ingredient in living a more fulfilling, healthier, and awakened life.
Whether you are a new or experienced yogi, the health benefits of practicing yoga are the same. Yoga stretches not only your muscles, but all of the soft tissues of your body--ligaments, tendons, and fascia that surrounds your muscles. No matter what your level of yoga, you will most likely see its benefits within a very short period of time.
Yoga can provide strength and endurance benefits. With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. Because of the deep, mindful breathing that yoga involves, lung capacity often improves. And, even beginners tend to feel less stressed and more relaxed after their first class. Concentration and the ability to focus mentally are also common benefits to practicing yoga.
One of the most studied areas of the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Because yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate, it can benefit people with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. It is also an integrative therapy used as an adjunct treatment for specific medical conditions, such as depression and anxiety, asthma, back pain, and arthritis. Some studies have even suggested that yoga may have a positive effect on learning and memory. Other research has also shown that yoga can slow the aging process, increase a person's sense of self-acceptance and self esteem, and improve over all energy levels. Yoga has also been linked to increasing spiritual awareness, and improve marriage and relationships.
Yoga is about learning to achieve your full potential with a balanced, conscious lifestyle that recognizes the treasures of the earth as life affirming and life-enhancing gifts. Learning to live in harmony not only makes you healthier and happier, but it can lead to a longer life. The only way to be certain of all that yoga can do for you, is to try it for yourself and see. I think you will be delightfully amazed!
Sharon Snead, E-RYT 500 & CPT
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