Yoga for Life

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No matter what your current level of fitness; you can do, and you can benefit from, yoga. You don't need to renounce your religion, be able to tie yourself in knots or hold your breath for ten minutes.

All you need is a desire to improve your physical and mental health - and a good guru to guide you.

The word "guru" is the combination of two Sanskrit words: "gu" meaning darkness; and "ru" meaning light.

Enjoy this journey from the darkness to the light.

Yoga is a wonderful and relaxing way to lower your stress, increase strength, balance, flexibility, endurance and ability to concentrate. People who practice yoga can retain full range of motion and excellent balance into their 90's and beyond.

I can't stress enough how valuable that is to quality of life.

To give you some idea, think of all the falls not taken, backs not wrenched and ankles not sprained or broken. With good range of motion and the balance to adjust to life's little missteps, you are less likely to fall and, even if you do, you are less likely to suffer serious injury.

When anyone asks me how to come back to exercise after an injury or depression or many years as a couch potato, I recommend they begin walking and sign up for a beginner's yoga class. When a fit exerciser hits a plateau and asks me what they can do to provide new challenges and take their body to the next level, I again suggest yoga.

Yoga is one of the world's oldest exercise disciplines, having been practiced continually for over 5,000 years. That certainly says a lot for its content.

It is interesting to note how many "new" disciplines borrow from, or are even based on, classical yoga.

Floor Pilates should probably be named "Pilates Yoga". It incorporates many classic yoga poses or "asanas" and emphasizes deep breathing coordinated with the movements, as well as development of the body's "core" - all ideas central to the practice of yoga.

If you have any exercise experience, you might be surprised to learn how many of the moves you've picked up in various classes actually come from Hatha Yoga - the most common form of yoga practiced in the West.

Almost all of those stretches at the end of a typical aerobics class come directly from yoga. The child's pose (garbh-asana) is sitting on your heels with head down and back rounded - and it is sooo relaxing.
On hands and knees, you would probably recognize the cat back (marjari-asana) and the table (svan-asana). And what about all those wonderful twists to release the spine: seated twist (matsyendr-asana); and the knee down twist (supta matsyendr-asana).

These are the same stretches orthopedists recommend for back pain linked to stress or disuse. Lying on your back, you might recognize the knee squeeze (pavana mukt-asana) and standing, the stretch tall (tad-asana).

So it seems, you can learn a lot of yoga moves by taking a variety of exercise classes. You might ask, "Why then should I take yoga classes?"

My answer is that "doing" the poses can be quite different from doing them correctly. The coordinated breathing, the sustaining of poses and the concentration that are so integral to yoga are not likely to be achieved in a general exercise class.

Yoga teaches deep diaphragmatic breathing in tempo with each movement. Focusing on breathing allows you to transition smoothly from asana to asana and helps the muscles and joints to achieve greater range of motion.

In yoga, you will never bounce or force a stretch. You will be coached to go to your point of resistance, breathe in deeply, and stretch a tiny bit further on the exhale. You relax into the stretch; never force it.

Focusing on breathing into each asana serves yet another purpose. It takes you away from your day-to-day concerns. Once you get into your yoga zone, you will be amazed at how light you feel, how relaxed and how focused. And then, ironically, when you complete your workout and come back to earth, you will feel invigorated and energized.

Anyone undergoing a life transition or under any kind of stress (whether negative or positive) can benefit from getting away from it all and into their yoga zone where they feel calm, centered and focused. It's a lot less expensive and easier to schedule than a vacation!

Many asanas combine the stretching of one muscle and the contraction of an opposing muscle. This is why yoga is often recommended for well-muscled athletes.

Muscle building alone results in imbalances between opposing muscles. To maintain flexibility, body builders should make sure they are getting enough proper stretching work.

Very little equipment is needed to begin yoga. Your clothing should be comfortable but close-fitting so that you can observe your form. As you focus on proper breathing you want to be able to see your diaphragm moving in and out.

Yoga can be done barefoot but, for sanitary reasons, most people now prefer to wear yoga socks.

Likewise, yoga can be done on a bare floor but most people prefer to use a mat. It is not just for sanitation that mats and socks have become so popular. Many poses are sustained and at first may feel awkward and difficult to maintain. The non-slip socks and mat provide the optimal surface. Further, your portable yoga surface will be the same no matter where you take your class, making it easier to perform consistently and progress rapidly.