With so many people raving about this thousands-of-years-old ancient art of movement there has to be something to it, yes? Recent studies show there were 36 million Americans practicing yoga in 2015, up from 15 million in 2008 and it is projected there will be 55 million Americans practicing in 2020. And they are on to something. Science has caught up and shed light on the numerous health, wellness and longevity benefits of practicing yoga. (1,2)
So what exactly is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient path or practice (several thousands of years old and originated in India) that works to enhance the mind, body and spirit. There are actually 8 elements to the yoga path, although primarily the physical path is practiced in the West.
In its totality it looks to combine practices that makes us more aware of our body, our mind and our Spirit. It includes aspects that focus on breath and awareness much the same as meditation. Yoga also brings awareness to our activities in the world or with and among each other. At its essence, as a very simplified explanation, yoga combines breath work, movement and meditation into one modality with numerous health benefits.
In the West when most people speak of yoga it is primarily for the health benefits associated with the physical practice (which includes the meditation practices of breath work and awareness).
Is Yoga a religion or religious practice?
No, it is not. In its full form it does bring about a spirality in that it teaches us to be aware of our bodies, our surroundings and connect with ourselves and thus others. In this sense it can be seen as enhancing one’s spirituality.
However, it is not, even it its purest forms a religion nor does it promote “worship” of any kind. There are forms of yoga and teachers that emphasize a spiritual path and those can be found if that is your intended practice.
Is it hard or even too easy?
Yoga is a full range modality inducing every nerve, muscle and gland. It incorporates breath work and awareness that can awaken your entire body in as little as 2 minutes. It enlivens each part of the body and teaches you to listen and respond to your individual needs. Yoga meets your body where you are.
You are not expected to start your practice touching your toes or twisting like a pretzel.
That is a wonderful aspect of yoga. There is no expectation to do a pose or sequence a certain way. There are guidelines for optimal health and proper alignment (and to keep you safe). Other than that you move into the pose to the amount you are able. Then, over time, as your body conditions and relaxes and stretches you will move further into a pose.
This process happens at each level. In the beginner classes or poses you could easily spend a year or two or three. There is no pressure. No check marks to accomplish. It is all about working with your body and increasing your own awareness of your body’s needs.
Along the way, as you stretch muscles and open your hips and joints you will become more flexible, feel more calm and at ease, certain aches and pains and tension will dissipate. You’ll feel less stressed and more restful, more aware. And yes, you will become stronger and see other health benefits as well.
What health benefits can I expect from Yoga?
Practice in America generally focuses on more of the physical realm together with focused breathing and awareness. This practices shows marked health benefits in many areas.
Enhanced Immune Function
Yoga has been shown to Reduce:
Chronic Pain (15)
How do I start?
There are myriad apps to be downloaded for a quick start at home. You will find routines from just 2 -5 minutes up to an hour and at every level. A complete beginner can start with a short 2-5 minute yoga session and work into each pose as his/her body allows.
What Do I need?
Contrary to popular belief, you really only need your self. You can practice in your living room in your pjs or sweat pants or jeans (if they are flexible). You can practice on the beach, in the woods, in a park. You really do not need anything.
Yes, there are many items you can buy such as oh-so-cute trendy yoga clothes and even a yoga mat or blocks. A mat is likely the primary item you would need if you only have wood floors at home (the mat would give you a cushioned slip-proof surface to start).
Yoga can be done from a chair, sitting or lying on the floor. To get started just download an app and peruse a routine or two.
My go-to Yoga app is Yoga Studio: Mind & Body
Stuck at a desk most of the day? Get some yoga in at your desk with these discreet Office Yoga Sequence to Restore & Rejuvenate