Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why do Yoga?

People come to yoga for many reasons: to get or stay in shape, reduce stress, recover from injury, or as part of a spiritual path. Personally, though I’d taken a yoga class in college in the late 1970s for gym credit, I began practicing regularly about 10 years ago because I fell in love with a gorgeous spiritual seeker who practiced yoga. “Joe” was an ex-model and ex-world class runner, i.e. attractive inside and out, who left those worlds abruptly when he had the realization they were leading him nowhere. We spent the summer talking about God, reading Rumi, hiking in the Berkshire hills, dancing freely, sharing our life stories, and practicing yoga. I signed up for a beginning hatha yoga class in town and immediately began to feel more grounded and connected to myself. That same year I discovered Kripalu Yoga and began to attend retreats and trainings to deepen my practice. Eventually I became a yoga teacher and began passing on yoga’s many gifts to others.
Whatever your reasons for starting a yoga practice, you’ll reap numerous benefits. Some of these include:
- Increased strength. Asanas, or yoga poses, strengthen and tone the body both through movement and holding postures for various lengths of time.
- Toned internal organs. The gentle squeezing and releasing of muscles surrounding organs helps them function more efficiently.
- Improved flexibility. Practiced within your comfort zone to avoid strain and injury, over time yoga gradually brings more flexibility to both your body and your mind.
- Increased breath capacity. Yoga practice includes pranayama, or breathing techniques, that open the chest and strengthen the diaphragm (the body’s primary breathing muscle), and other muscles involved with breathing.
- Improved circulation. The contraction and release of muscles improves circulation of both blood and lymph fluid.
- More efficient digestion. Yoga increases blood flow to the digestive tract and stimulates peristalsis–wave-like contractions that move food along the digestive tract — making digestion more efficient. Yoga’s calming effects also result in improved digestion and elimination.
- Reduced stress. Yoga practice, including asana, pranayama, relaxation, (shavasana), and meditation, shifts us from the flight-fight response–sympathetic nervous system–that many of us find ourselves in frequently to the relaxation response–or parasympathetic nervous system. This results in an overall feeling of well-being.
- Promotes better health. Practiced regulary, yoga reaches all aspects of our body/mind, resulting in improved health on all levels–physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Anyone and everyone can reap the benefits of this ancient 5,000-year-old practice. The important thing is to find a class suitable for your age, background, and fitness and flexibility level; pay attention to what your body needs and never push yourself too hard; and practice regularly. In my next post, I’ll explain a few of today’s more popular styles (ultimately, there is only one yoga) to help you choose a practice that is right for you.
Oh, and the guy? Like a moth attracted to a brightly burning flame, I got burned. At the end of the summer “Joe” flitted off to India to continue his free-spirited spiritual path. Fortunately for me–unlike many a moth–I later realized I was only singed. The relationship introduced me to a practice that has transformed my body, mind, relationships, career, and health in ways I am only grateful for.join today for yoga classes from nearby to your places and get the benefits.

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