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The Benefits of Yoga

An article on the health benefits of regularly practicing yoga.

Yoga, a term stemming ultimately from the Sanskrit word meaning "union" or "yoking," started in India and has been in existence for thousands years. Evidence of this can be seen in artifacts that have been dated to be from 3000B.C. which show yoga postures.   The physical poses, or asanas, which are apart of yoga were initiated in the 6th century B.C. by Buddhist teachings.  Although currently, yoga is known to provide physical benefits, yoga was initially a means of improving the world and for its practitioners to become spirtually enlightened.       

Modern yoga is founded on 5 concepts which were articulated by Swami Sivananda.  These are meditation and positive thinking, proper breathing, proper diet, correct exercise, and proper relaxation.  According to International Yogalayam, yoga is a way of learning about one's self.  It is also a means to achieve physical, spiritual, and mental health.  It is meant to illuminate the reasons for a lack of balance in our lives.  It teaches that one's view of a situation needs to change in order to acheive success in life.  Yoga is more than just a method of movement, but also way of approaching one's relationships, diet and lifestyle.

There are 14 tradtional types of yoga, including bhaki, classical, hatha, japa and kriya. There are also modern forms of yoga which include iyengar, anusara, ashtanga, raga and bikram. Each as its own benefits which practitioners can experience.  For instance, Ashtanga, which is practiced by Madonna, Sting, Gwenyth Paltrow and other celebrities, is a form of yoga which emphasizes balance, discipline, flexibility and strength.  Practioners of yoga, in general, can experience the above benefits and others.  As stated by WebMD, the benefits can be experienced regardless of age. The stretching which is part of yoga can help to break up the lactic acid which acculumates in muscles. This leads to increased flexibility. Yoga also improves one's range of motion.  Yoga asanas like downward dog or upperward dog increase upper body strength, which is important to improve as one ages.

The lower back muscles are strengthened by holding positions like chair pose for an extended period of time.  It also brings an increase in physical awareness. If you are slouching, for instance, it is easier for you to realize this and correct your posture as a result of doing yoga. There has also been ancedotal statements by practitioners of yoga that it improves spiritual awareness, increases concentration and helps one's mood, among other things.

Although the anecdotal statements may be hard to prove scientifically there are other benefits of yoga for which there is scientific evidence.  Yoga's impact on heart disease has been well-studied. The heart disease program by Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D. included yoga. This program involved diet and lifestyle changes, and no surgery, to deal with heart disease, resulting in a partial reversal of the condition.  Yoga has also been seen to boost the immune system and to decrease cholesterol and triglycerides.  It also has improved arthritis, back pain, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, and asthma symptoms.  It may also have an anti-oxidant effect. 

Other benefits of yoga relate to its de-stressing effect.  The emphasis that yoga places on long, deep breathes leads to relaxation and improved lung capacity. Biochemically, the body is altered by practicing yoga as a decrease in the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine as been seen. This decrease leads feelings of calm.  The catecholamines, hormones released from the adrenal glands as a result of stress, are also decreased.  Studies also indicate that oxytocin, a hormone associated with a feeling of connectedness to others and relaxation is also increased during yoga.

Yoga can be learned through a variety of means including taking a class taught by a local instructor or at home by purchasing a yoga DVD.

References:

http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Fall05/levy/history.html

http://www.discover-yoga-online.com/what-is-yoga.html

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/yoga

http://www.dietsinreview.com/diet_column/02/most-popular-yoga-classes/

http://www.webmd.com/balance/the-health-benefits-of-yoga

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