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Ancient Form of Exercise Offers Numerous Health Benefits

Yoga was developed in the 5th or 6th century BCE in India. The term “yoga” has been applied to a variety of practices and methods. Well-known Hindu schools of Yoga include Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Laya Yoga. In India, it traditionally encompasses meditation and spiritual core. Yoga came to the attention of the educated western public in the mid-19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy. There was a second “yoga boom” in the 1980s as the West connected the practice to heart health, legitimizing yoga as a purely physical system of healthy exercise. The West, in the early 21st century, typically associates the term “yoga” with Hatha Yoga as a form of exercise.

Everyone can practice yoga. It improves flexibility, makes you feel less stiff and tired, and improves strength and endurance, as nearly all poses build core strength in deep abdominal muscles. After 8 weeks of yoga practice, flexibility improves 35%. The practice brings attention to breathing and relaxation and increases awareness of balance and stability. No weights or machines are needed, just the ability to lift and hold our own body weight. Since 2001, the popularity of yoga in the United States has risen constantly. The number of people who practiced some form of yoga has grown from 4 million in 2001 to 20 million in 2011.

The three main focuses of Hatha yoga (exercise, breathing, and meditation) make it beneficial to those suffering from heart disease. Overall, studies of the effects of yoga on heart disease suggest that yoga may reduce high blood pressure, improve symptoms of heart failure, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, and lower cardiovascular risk factors. A recent Norwegian study indicated it can enhance our immune system at a cellular level and can ease the amount and severity of migraines after only three months of practice. After 8 weeks of daily yoga, sleep quality for cancer survivors and insomniacs improves. It makes individuals mindful of eating and improves awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. Long-term yoga users in the United States have reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements, as well as reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatics. There is evidence to suggest that regular yoga practice improves mood and anxiety more than some other metabolically matched exercises, such as walking.

As you can see, yoga has a deep international history, takes a minimal amount of equipment and space to practice, and is shown to have numerous health benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of yoga into exercise regimens as a form of stretching and as an enhancer of breath control and of core strength. Whether you practice it alone, in your home with one of the many yoga DVDs available, or in a group atmosphere with a trained yoga instructor, it can be very enjoyable and beneficial to your health and well-being.

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