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What is it? And is it for you?

October 20, 2003

By Louis Wittig - eCureMe Staff Writer
Physician Reviewed - October 17,2003

Yoga: everyone knows someone who says, "It’s the greatest thing ever. You have to try it!" Before you go out and begin taking classes, it would help to know exactly what this popular new pastime is and if it’s right for you.

Yoga isn’t given to simple definitions; but in its broadest sense, it’s a system of mental and physical exercises aimed at improving one’s health. The word itself comes from ancient Sanskrit and means "union" - referring to the integration of body and mind Yoga \discipline promotes.

Where exactly the practice of Yoga came from, and how it developed into the health fad we know today isn’t entirely clear. Archaeologists believe it originated as long as 5,000 years ago in a little known civilization along the Indus River in what is present day Pakistan. Nothing of it was written down until approximately the 1st or 2nd century B.C.E. when an Indian scholar known as Patanjali wrote down the central tenets of the discipline. Much of the Yoga that’s practiced by modern Westerners is based on his writings - over 2,000 years old as of press date.

There are over 100 different variations - or schools - of Yoga practice. The most common is known as Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga routines are based on a series of low-impact physical movements coupled with the use of breathing techniques. These exercises aim to put pressure on the body’s glandular systems and thereby increase the body’s efficiency.

With regular practice, the health benefits of Yoga can be wide ranging. The exercises can improve your flexibility and muscle strength and can increase energy level as well as immune system functioning. Many also cite Yoga as effective in relieving stress and stress related symptoms.

Getting started with a Yoga routine doesn’t require that much from either your body or mind, so it will be the perfect fit if you’ve been getting over-acquainted with your couch lately. Finding a class is a no brainer as well; a majority of health clubs, and many community and wellness centers offer Yoga instruction.

There are a few things you should know before you think about stretching a muscle. The following tips will enhance your Yoga experience:
  1. Don’t eat before you start. Without a heavy meal weighing you down, you’ll feel lighter and more flexible even before you begin your workout.
  2. Have a cup of tea or milk after your session.
  3. If you’re thinking of introducing your child to Yoga, wait until after they’re 16. During early to mid-adolescence their nervous and glandular systems are still growing - and Yoga could interfere.
  4. Bathing before your session is essential. Taking a bath or shower beforehand helps to open the pores in your skin, which in the course of your workout will release toxins from the body. Bathing can also help both your muscles and your mind relax as the day’s tension and anxiety washes down the drain.
  5. If you have a fever, no Yoga for you.
  6. Women should take a couple of days a month off from practicing Yoga.
  7. If you feel that you’re going into your session still carrying a lot of anger or nervous energy, take a couple minutes to meditate before you begin. The more serene you are before a workout, the more you’ll get out of it.
While it may not be for everyone, Yoga is an easily accessible form of exercise that takes working out to new mental and spiritual frontiers. So go ahead, jump on the bandwagon - there’s still plenty of room.

To find out more about Yoga, check out the following links;

Yoga Journal

The American Yoga Association

Yoga Movement

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