Yoga practice can be traced back 5000 years to Indus-Sarasvati civilizations in India. A Hindu teacher named Patanjali was said to have recorded the first principles of yoga in religious scriptures known as the Yoga Sutra. Many forms of yoga have been developed since – each focusing on a new realm of personal development. Our physical body is meant to move and exercise.
If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and great discomfort will ensue with time. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life. There are numerous modern physical culture systems designed to develop the muscles through mechanical movements and exercises. As Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection, Yogic physical exercises are designed to develop not only the body. They also broaden the mental faculties and the spiritual capacities.
The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. However this is quite an advanced practice. Initially, our concern is simply to increase body flexibility. The body is as young as it is flexible. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine’s flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen. The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones).
On an energetic level, yoga teaches you how to cope better with stress by cultivating a sense of ease in both active or passive poses. On a psychological level, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness by shifting your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose or exercise.
Practicing yoga will help you improve muscle tone. The postures are meant to strengthen your body from the inside-out, so you don’t just look good, you feel good too. Many of the poses, such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. Poses that strengthen the lower back include upward dog and the chair pose. When done right, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
Yoga poses work by stretching your muscles. They can help you move better and feel less stiff or tired. At any level of yoga, you’ll probably start to notice benefits soon. In one study, people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga.
When you’re stronger and more flexible, your posture improves. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength, since you need your core muscles to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you’re more likely to sit and stand “tall.” Yoga also improves your body awareness which helps you notice more quickly if you’re slouching or slumping, so you can adjust your posture.
Have you started your practice yet?