Yoga – The Exercise Blend of Science and Spirituality
When a person hears the word “Yoga,” images of people bending into pretzels and mumbo-jumbo about becoming one with the universe spring to mind. While flexibility and spirituality are certainly part of Yoga, one should definitely not dismiss it offhand. In recent years especially, Yoga has been shown to be a beneficial physical activity to get in to. So, without further ado, here is an overview of the history and benefits of practicing Yoga.
History of Yoga
Although it’s exact origins are a bit vague, most historians agree that it originated in Northern India roughly 5,000 years ago. The word Yoga first appeared in the Rig Veda, an ancient sacred text. Over thousands of years, several subdivisions of Yoga were developed. Finally, in the late 1800s, Yoga migrated to Western Civilization. The first major introduction of Yoga to the United States was in Chicago in 1893. At an event known as the Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda lectured on Yoga and soon attracted a large following.
Of the many forms of Yoga, the most popular form in the U.S. is Hatha Yoga. Hatha literally translates into “force,” and is the form that focuses on postures, breathing, and technique. Meditation also plays a key part in this form of Yoga, as in all forms. The overall goal of practicing Yoga is both physical and spiritual health.
Another form that has become popular in the US is Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga, as it is known in some areas. This form of Yoga is unique because it is practiced in heated rooms, making it more physically intense.
Benefits of Practicing Yoga
The physical and mental benefits of practicing Yoga have been extensively studied in recent years. There have been hundreds of studies done on yoga’s effect on participants with high blood pressure, diseases, anxiety, and other conditions. From the research, here are just some of the benefits of practicing Yoga.
1. Reduced Risk of Disease
This a key selling point for all types of physical activity. Having an active lifestyle leads to better health. One area where Yoga may be extremely beneficial is reducing Hypertension (high blood pressure.) Hypertension is one of the most prevalent health problems in the US and around the world. According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure as of 2014. This is a ridiculously high number!
Not only is hypertension detrimental to your health and life by itself, it can also lead to other diseases. These diseases include Coronary Heart Disease, Heart Attacks, and strokes.
In a systematic review published in 2014, it was shown that practicing Yoga led to having significantly reduced blood pressure compared to conventional medication. This means that practicing Yoga can reduce your risk of having high blood pressure, as well as other diseases.
2. Improved Physical Health
In addition to reducing blood pressure and disease risk, doing yoga also improves your overall physical health. As previously stated, the most popular form of Yoga in the US, Hatha yoga, focuses on posture, breathing, and technique. While Hatha yoga is not as intense as say, kickboxing, yoga can still be physically challenging.
When practicing Hatha yoga, you will go through various postural positions a.k.a downward dog, the cobra, and so on. These positions, especially to beginners, will challenge your flexibility and stabilizer muscles. As you progress, these muscles will strengthen, and your flexibility will improve. Doing yoga will also improve your heart health and posture.
3. Improves Emotional Health
In our society, emotional issues are becoming more and more common every day. Conditions such as anxiety-related disorder, PTSD, and other issues affect a large portion of the US population. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), roughly 44 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.
Many of the studies done on yoga have focused on its effects on people dealing with anxiety and stress. In a study that focused on Italian Police Officers, the participants reduced their stress and improved their overall well-being. The study also showed that the officers were able to improve their ability to cope with stressful situations.
Getting Started with Yoga
There has never been an easier time to find a yoga studio in the United States. According to Statista, a statistics portal, there are currently over 28 million yoga practitioners in the US as of Fall 2016. These instructors can be found in yoga studios, health clubs, gyms, and private practices all around the country.
In addition to the ease of finding a place to practice yoga, you also do not need a lot of equipment to get started. All you need is clothing you are comfortable moving around in (most women own yoga pants anyways.) The only other piece of gear you need is a yoga mat. This is a type of mat that gives you some cushioning that a normal floor does not have.
In this society that is becoming more and more stressful, it is important to maintain physical and emotional health. Yoga is one of the most effective means of reducing stress, reducing disease risk, and improving strength and flexibility. Before you decide to begin doing yoga, be sure to consult with your doctor. This is especially important if you want to try Bikram (hot) Yoga. Also, be sure to research the studios you want to attend to make sure they are qualified. Namaste everyone.