What is Yoga?

woman practicing yoga at a beach during sunset

This is a complex question, and often, only answered by oneself to oneself after trying yoga.  Yoga originated in India and is the oldest of physical disciplines. The word “yoga” refers to physical and mental disciplines that originated in India, and comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to control, to yoke, or to unite”.  Combining stretching, breathing, postures, and meditation, yoga has been practiced for thousands of years.  Yoga is a wonderful way to strengthen the core, improve balance, stamina and flexibility.  Unlike traditional workouts, yoga (which is based on deep breathing) truly quiets the mind and brings a sense of calm. Yoga is practiced by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, for a multitude of reasons:

  • Stress Relief:  Practicing yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and further help the practitioner to control these feelings.
  • Increased Strength and Flexibility: Yoga can improve flexibility, mobility, and increase range of motion.  With regular practice, the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and connective tissue lengthen, increasing elasticity and also helping to prevent injury.  Yoga asanas (postures) use every muscle in the body, increasing strength, literally from head to toe.  Yoga is a low-impact physical exercise recommended for people of all ages and physical abilities.
  • Pain Relief:  Studies have shown that practicing yoga reduces pain for people with many chronic conditions such as arthritis, hypertension, sciatica, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and chronic neck and back pain.  The combination of postures, stretching, and meditation can ease pain.  Most people with severe neck and back pain report substantial relief after the first or second session, and a steady decline or absence of pain with regular yoga practice.
  • Weight Management: People do not have to practice the most intense or vigorous types of yoga to lose weight.  Yoga encourages the development of a positive, healthy self-image, and attention to be paid to the body as a whole, including nutrition, exercise, and general well-being. The physical routine of yoga certainly has a positive effect on body shape and muscle tone.
  • Improved Circulation and Cardiovascular Conditioning:  Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells. A warm body allows the blood to be easily delivered to the body.  This means that more oxygen goes to the muscles and helps remove waste and toxins. Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering heart rate, increasing endurance, improving oxygen intake, and reducing blood pressure.
  • Inner Peace: Perhaps the most profound effect of yoga is the effect it has on ones inner-self.  Through breathing exercises (called pranayama), yoga encourages deep relaxation.  Moving through each posture with focus and mindfulness creates harmony between ones breath, circulatory system, physical body, and mind.  The effects of a consistent yoga practice help many to cultivate self-acceptance, self-awareness, inner peace, and calm.