Yoga is an ancient Indian form of exercise that helps improve health and fitness. It is also traditionally viewed as a set of spiritual or philosophical exercises that leads a person to greater self-awareness and internal peace. In India and in many parts of Asia, yoga is used as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment. The word yoga in original Sanskrit language means to control, to join, or to unite. There are different types or schools of yoga such as Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion), and Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge), and Hatha Yoga. Each school of yoga emphasizes a different aspect of the ancient art.
As a means of meditation, yoga can help an individual increase concentration and heighten the functions of the senses through various body postures and breathing techniques. The various body postures called “asanas” stretch the limbs and the torso. The stretching helps relax the muscles and increase dexterity. These movements are accompanied by deep, controlled breathing called “pranayana.” The term pranayama comes from the root word “prana” which means breath or “life force.”
As a spiritual discipline, yoga prescribes certain beliefs, thoughts, and behavior that should be practiced everyday. Another form of yoga called Raja Yoga prescribes eight major philosophical thoughts and practices, namely:
1. Yama – Abstention from lying, stealing, violence, illicit sex, and materialism.
2. Niyama – Observance of contentment, purity, austerity, study, and surrender to God.
3. Asana – Regular practice of meditative postures.
4. Pranayama – Controlled breathing as a means to generate internal energy.
5. Pratyahara – Exercise and “reversal” of the internal body organs.
6. Dharana – Practice of concentration by focusing on a single object.
7. Dhyana – Practice of meditation.
8. Samadhi – The “merging” of one’s consciousness with the object of meditation.
However, in the West, yoga is very popular as a means to reduce stress and anxiety and depression. Practitioners of the art claim that yoga practice helps alleviate lower back pain, migraine headaches, symptoms of arthritis and other ailments. Certain movements and poses also help relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis and other allergies.
As a form of stress management, many find yoga to be very effective and easy to learn. The breathing patterns allow a person to regain a sense of relaxation while flexing and sweating out the body’s toxins. In using yoga to manage stress, a new practitioner must be careful not to overstretch or strain the body. The key to yoga is to do slow, smooth movements in close coordination with breathing. Of course, there are different levels of yoga practice. Since the advanced postures require full dexterity, beginners are only supposed to follow or learn the basic movements.
Some of the celebrities who practice yoga include Madonna, Ricky Martin, Meg Ryan, and Sting. These celebrities were able to maintain a high level of fitness while sculpting their bodies in “Hollywood” form.
In a world that is so full of pressure, fast-paced work, and other factors that adversely affect physical, mental, and emotional well-being, the practice of yoga should be considered as a simple, inexpensive form of physical training and therapy.