Health and Fitness

Yoga – a gentle alternative for health and fitness

Yoga has its origins in ancient India. In its original meaning it was associated with mental and physical disciplines, but in modern times in the West it is primarily associated with its physical aspect, known by the Sanskrit word asana. Asana is a body position associated with restoring and maintaining the well-being of the person practicing this art. Asana is just one of several aspects of yoga, most of which are related to the spiritual and mental aspects.

The advantage that yoga enjoys over many other popular physical disciplines is the fact that it doesn’t involve the body in high-impact, stressful exercise. It’s also performed in a non-competitive context so that the individual ego doesn’t get much of a chance to interfere with what’s happening.

There are a number of postures or poses in yoga that aim to increase the practitioner’s strength and flexibility over time. No matter how inflexible you may be, there is always room for improvement, and your own individual progress is the only path you must pursue. Breath control and meditation can be incorporated into yoga classes depending on whether or not the individual teacher wishes to combine some of the spiritual aspects of yoga with the physical aspects.

There are many different types of yoga classes available. They all engage in the same basic postures, but each style emphasizes a different aspect of the practice, such as vinyasa, where the breath aligns with the physical movements, or ashtanga, a fast-paced style also known as “power yoga.” Iyengar deals with the alignment of the body during practice. Another style with a strong emphasis on the breath is Kundalini, the purpose of which is the upper movement of energy in the body. Some of the other yoga styles are Sivananda, Kripalu, Anusara and Jivamukti.

The basic attitudes include:

Sukhasana or seated/easy pose that creates awareness of breathing and strengthens the lower back and opens the hips and groins

Dog and cat, making the spine more flexible.

Tadasana or Mountain Pose, which is a standing pose designed to improve balance and posture.

Trikonasana, or Triangle, a stretching exercise for the spine.

Bhujangasana or the Cobra, which also lengthens the spine, strengthens the back and arms, and opens the chest and heart.

Virabhadrasana, or warrior, an exercise to strengthen the arms and legs and a balance aid.

Uttanasana or forward bend and stretch that stretches the spine and legs and calms the neck and heart while relaxing the body and mind.

Savasana or The Corpse which relieves stress and relaxes both mind and body.

Sethu Bandhasa or The Bridge, which is designed to improve flexibility and strengthen the abdominal muscles and lower back.

Janu Shirshasana or Head to Knee which increases flexibility while stretching the hamstrings and back.

Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog which improves flexibility and strength while stretching the hamstrings and spine and resting the heart.

Ardha Sarvangasana or Half Shoulder Stand which is good for improving blood circulation while stretching the upper back and strengthening the abdominal muscles. It also helps promote improved thyroid function.

So if you feel like embarking on a path to fitness and well-being, and the thought of pounding the sidewalks and enduring sweaty gyms doesn’t appeal to you, then the gentle art of yoga may just be what your inner doctor has prescribed.

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