Yoga & Stress Management


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Yoga is the oldest physical discipline in existence. The exact origins of yoga are unknown, but it is thought to be at least five thousand years old. The earliest evidence of yoga practice can be traced back to about 3000 B.C. The original purpose of the postures and breathing exercises was in part to bring stability and relaxation so that one could prepare for the rigors of meditation -- sitting still and alert for long periods of time. Civilizations of the past often had sub-cultures that sought longevity and knowledge from the “super-conscious”. The word yoga has its roots in the Sanskrit language and means to merge, join or unite. Yoga is a form of exercise based on the belief that the body and breath are intimately connected with the mind. By controlling the breath and holding the body in steady poses, or asanas, yoga creates harmony. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions and is a tool that allows us to transcend the chaos of the world and find a quiet space within. To achieve this, yoga uses movement, breath, posture, relaxation, meditation, and diet in order to establish a healthy, vibrant and balanced approach to living. Modern scholars have defined yoga as the classical Indian science that concerns itself with the search for the soul and the union between the individual, whose existence is finite, and the Divine, which is infinite. Yoga is a concept that today would be labeled as holistic. That means that the body is related to the breath; both are related to the brain; in turn this links with the mind, which is a part of consciousness. The essence of yoga is to gain some level of control over oneself. So instead of the brain being on auto-pilot the real you can take control and pro-act instead of react. Control is a key aspect of yoga: control of the body, breath and mind. The secret of yoga practice lies in a simple but important word: balance. In every area of our life, yoga represents balanced moderation.

What is Hatha Yoga?

The system of yoga practiced most often in the West is called Hatha yoga. The word Hatha is a composite of Ha, which means sun and Tha which means moon. Yoga is the union between them, suggesting that the healthy joining of opposites - in this case, the mind and body - leads to strength, vitality and peace of mind. Hatha yoga is the physical aspect of the practice of yoga. Hatha yoga emphasizes asanas (practice of postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation). Its aim is to balance various energy flows within the human body. As a form of exercise, hatha yoga consists of asanas or postures that embody controlled movement, concentration, flexibility, an
d conscious breathing. The postures range from the seemingly easy to accomplish (with practice you will come to find that there is much more to even the simplest pose) to the very challenging. While the movements tend to be slow and controlled, they provide an invigorating workout for the mind and body, including the internal organs. Yoga exercises ease tense muscles, tone the internal organs, and improve the flexibility of the body's joints and connective tissue. Proper yoga exercise will improve suppleness and strength. Each posture is performed mindfully in fluid movements. Violent movements are avoided; they produce a buildup of lactic acid, causing fatigue. Hatha yoga is a complete fitness program and will release endorphins in the brain just like any regular exercise program. Yoga postures stretch, extend, and flex the spine, while exercising muscles and joints, keeping the body strong and supple. When done in conjunction with breathing techniques, hatha yoga postures stimulate circulation, digestion and the nervous and endocrine systems. As a workout, yoga can be intense, easy, or somewhere in between. It can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age, to achieve a more limber body, increased physical coordination, better posture, and improved flexibility without incurring the potentially negative effects associated with high-impact forms of exercise. Hatha yoga remains different from modern types of exercise. It does not aim to raise the heart rate (although variations such as Ashtanga, Power Yoga, or the flow series taught by Bikram Choudhury may) or work on specific muscle groups. Overall, the postures release stiffness and tension, help to reestablish the inner balance of the spine, renew energy and restore health. Some postures provide the added benefit of being weight-bearing which helps sustain bone mass. Relaxation and breathing exercises produce stability and reduce stress and put you in touch with your inner strength. In addition, regular practice of hatha yoga can promote graceful aging. Whether you are learning yoga singly or in a group, it is a good idea to start by educating yourself through books and video while also being supervised by a qualified teacher. A teacher will demonstrate how to ease your body gently into and out of the yoga postures. He or she will ensure that you do not strain your limbs and will help you align your body in the asanas. According to a recent Roper poll, six million Americans now practice hatha yoga. Yoga also is increasingly being embraced by the medical community in this country.


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