People who practice yoga use mental and physical exercises to become healthier
and create a sense of well-being.
The physical postures of yoga, called "asanas," include special methods
of stretching, strengthening and relaxing one's muscles. Breathing techniques,
or "pranayama," are also a big part of yoga as they're believed to help circulation
and improve concentration.
There's more to yoga than sitting cross-legged and saying "Ohmmmmm." Yoga
is about recognizing the link between mind and body. "Modern medicine, modern
thought, doesn't seem to pay too much attention to the connection between
mind and body. Common sense says that's ridiculous, and so does yoga. Mental
stress takes a hard toll on our body and vice versa," says Ontario's Paul
According to those who practice yoga, focusing on your body takes your
mind off daily stresses. When you're not worried about daily problems, then
you're able to "still" your mind -- which is a form of meditation and a main
goal in yoga.
"Sit there and clear your mind. Think about nothing. You can't do it, right?
It's not really in human nature to be able to totally clear our mind. We need
something to focus our mind on, and that's why asanas [the physical exercises]
are part of yoga," says Rowlana Boychuck, a yoga enthusiast in Regina, Saskatchewan.
It's a simple explanation of a very complex philosophy, but people are
usually surprised by how easy it is to add yoga to their daily routine. Half
an hour a day is about all it takes.
"The most surprising thing for me has been that the daily practice has
really had a positive effect on all aspects of my life.... One's level of
confidence rises, relationships improve and, of course, physical health improves,"
says Seattle's Diane Nandina.
Yoga dates back some 5,000 years and is now practiced by millions of people
all over the world. But it's only been in about the last 30 years that large
number of people in America have practiced yoga - although it's hard to tell
just how many Americans can be caught in the lotus position.
The American Yoga Association, a non-profit organization for yoga education,
says they have a hard time keeping up with the number of instructors, let
alone students. "We have thousands of people using our school every year,
and that's just a very small sample of the number of people involved," says
AYA representative Lynda Gajevski.
One of the great things about this practice is that it comes with very
few expenses. Classes vary in price, and it's up to the individual to decide
when they've learned enough.
"A yoga guidance book may also be a wise investment because it will give
you something to refer to when you practice on your own," says Boychuck. A
yoga book should cost between $8 and $20.
|Yoga is derived from Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism there are several
forms of yoga, all of which have the goal of giving the practitioner cosmic
consciousness and unity with God. Here Kira Lis wears a traditional Hindu
|Courtesy of: Kira Lis|
Once learned, yoga can be practiced just about anywhere. All you need is
a flat surface and enough space to stretch out in. Get some stretchable clothing
and a towel or exercise mat for the floor, and you're on your way.
Yoga isn't a contest to see who can put their leg further behind their
head -- how hard you push yourself is up to you. As a result, it's a recreation
suited for people of any physical ability. The American Yoga Association has
information on special yoga classes for seniors and people with disabilities
and specific health problems, like arthritis or back trouble.
A yoga enthusiast might be suited to any career that focuses on health
and mental well-being. These include a career as a naturopathic healer (naturopathic
medicine examines the connection between mind and body), as a physical education
instructor (teaching the importance of healthy living), or as a yoga instructor.
Are the muscles in the back of your neck tightening up while you're looking
at your screen? Is your posture slumped and your back cramped? Perhaps a little
yoga is in order.
Exercises can be easily adapted into even the tightest schedule, and instruction
is easy to come by. "Nowadays, yoga is taught in almost every city and town.
Inquire at the local YMCA or community center. Ask at adult education offices,"
says Diane Nandini.
Physical education departments at colleges or universities are also another
good place to look for yoga classes.
Private yoga schools can also be found in many cities. It's a good idea
to do some research on these schools before signing up at a private school.
"Some of the private schools tend to be really quite devout in their practices
and follow yoga in a very spiritual manner. If that's what you're looking
for -- great. But if you just want to learn how to relax, then they might
not be for you," says Rowlana Boychuck.
If you're interested in taking yoga classes at an independent yoga school,
Boychuck recommends "sitting in" on a class before you sign up. "It's just
a good idea. If your spending the money, why not make sure you like it first?"
While it's a good idea to take a few classes to get you started, a good
yoga book will also be helpful. "Public libraries and used-book stores have
good selections of yoga books. Browse the bookshelf and pick one that appeals
to you," says Nandini.
If you'd like more information on yoga, the American Yoga Association,
which is a non-profit, non-religious organization serving Canada, the U.S.
and Mexico, will be happy to send you pamphlets or instruction booklets. It
also carries information for finding the right instructor and for teaching
or learning "easy does it" yoga for people with disabilities.
The American Yoga Association
Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness
The Runner's Yoga Book: A Balanced Approach to Fitness,
Light on Yoga,
Yoga: A Gem for Women,
Yoga: The Iyengar Way,
Silva Mira and Shyam Mehta
Back Care Basics,
Mary Pullig Schatz
Thirty-Day Quick Start Yoga Guide for Beginners
A private yoga teacher, with lots of other yoga links
Kira's Home Page
Information on yoga postures and philosophy -- look for the Yoga
in the Office page