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Yoga For The Non-Spiritual

For a lot of people the first image that will pop into their head when they think of Yoga is a little old man in a loincloth sitting on top of a stone pillar with his legs crossed and his arms on his knees. He’s probably chanting, humming or got a look of relaxation and serenity on his face. I’m not a person who likes to sit still and I hate any minute that I feel is wasted so this idea of sitting around doing nothing all day was not something that appealed to me. I’ve changed that initial perception quite a lot and in this article I want to tell you about the personal journey that taught me about the benefits of yoga for a very non-spiritual person.

The first yoga class I ever went to I spend a lot of time sitting in silence with a bored expression on my face and thinking, “This is so dumb”. I listened to the instructor drone on about inner peace and harmony and balance and energy flowing through my body and I was pretty close to never going back again. Then I got lucky.

One of the guys in the class was a professor at the local university and it struck me as a little strange that a professor of biology would be doing this spiritual Yoga thing. I got an opportunity and speak to him briefly. Actually he singled me out and observed I looked bored. He explained he had felt the same way when he began and then he translated the instructors talk into biology terms and it was all very sound.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. As I thought on it more and more I could see this from a purely scientific point of view. For instance take the ‘energy’ that flows through our body. A lot of people are turned off when they start to hear talk like that, but it’s a very core component of Yoga. I substituted ‘blood’ for energy and looked at this thought process again.

I know that blood carries nutrients and oxygen around our body. I know that if our cells don’t receive these nutrients and supplements they become weak and we can become ill. I know that people can become sick if they have high or low blood pressure. The regular healthy flow of blood is clearly a very important factor in us staying healthy. Of course, Yoga was first used many hundreds of years ago and while it would be arrogant to assume that we know everything about circulation and blood flow, we certainly know more than the average Chinese peasant from that time. “Energy” is just a nice word that anyone can understand for blood flow.

Yoga Class at a Gym

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Yoga stretches out certain muscle areas and allows our blood to flow more freely and bring the nutrients to all parts of the body which need them. That is a nice scientific explanation I am quite happy to accept. You can do the same with the other ‘alternative’ terminology you don’t relate to when you hear the instructor talking about it. Inner peace, oneness, emotional calm – it’s all just a very dressed up way of saying concentrate on one thing – your blood flow and the health it is bringing you, or your breathing and the supply of life giving oxygen it brings you. Concentrate on that just for this one small part of the day and make being alive and healthy your only goal. Forget about what’s happening at the office because you cannot do it from here. Forget about what your husband or wife is doing or whether the kids are being bullied at school and just concentrate on being you, being alive and being healthy.

Now stress has been attributed as a major factor in over 40% of all medical issues. Stress, in a nutshell is caused by thinking too much. This practice shows us how to let all those worries be something we can think about later and leaves the brain free to concentrate on doing all it’s vital health giving functions.

It’s strange that as I’ve done more and more Yoga I have developed a spiritual side that I never had before. It’s not a religious thing but more a case of recognizing that my own health and wellbeing are important and worthy of being made a priority. Whether the same happens for you is yet to be seen, but if you’ve been putting off learning Yoga or giving it a try because of all the spiritual talk I can assure you there are scientific reasons behind it and that if you give it a chance you may just be surprised.

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Popular Yoga Poses

Yoga has been described as a science which seeks to achieve the harmonious and balanced development of the body, mind and soul. It is a system which allows us to bring culture, balance and happiness to ourselves. It works via a need for strong mental discipline and the ancient theories, which it is based on regarding the interconnection between the mind and body, are now being regularly supported by modern scientific theory. Yoga consists of a number of different exercises or poses.

Examples of these poses are the cat and cow poses. Both are connected and begin with you on all fours on the floor. Arching the back upwards like a cornered cat places you in the cat pose and the reverse, lowering the back puts you into the cow pose.

Another common form of exercise is a forward bend that will help in the stretching of the lower back and hamstring muscles. There are a number of other advantages to forward bends: They release tension in the back neck and shoulder as well as increasing the flexibility of the spine. Forward bends can be uncomfortable if you have any injuries in the next or back area, but regularly performing will help assists in the recovery of these injuries and even strengthen the area for the future.

English: Kurmasana or The Tortoise Hatha Yoga ...

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The counterpart of a forward bend is a back bend. These open up the chest, hips and rib cage area. As well as strengthening the arms, they also provide increased strength and flexibility to the shoulders. This type of exercise is fantastic at increasing the stability of the spine, but is also useful for relieving built up tension along the front of the body and the hips. The relationship between back and forward bends is a perfect example of the importance of the bodies balance in Yoga.

Hatha Yoga poses were developed in India during the fifteenth century. They are designed as an aid to relaxation and healing and usually introduced with a concept of “the contemplation of one reality”. The result of using these exercises properly and in conjunction with suitable breathing exercises and meditation is an increase in vitality, physical health and a stronger mental health. Hatha Yoga exercises have become a part of numerous different Yoga disciplines over the years and it’s quite common to see exercises such as the half moon posture, the bow posture of the salutation posture even if it is not Hatha Yoga you are practising. This is because the principles of Yoga and the movements and balances required are fairly consistent from one discipline to another.

Another simple Yoga exercise is doing the twist. Twists will strengthen and stretch your back or abdominal muscles and help to increase the flexibility of your spine. They also aid in increasing your bodies circulation that brings oxygen supplies to your cells. This fresh blood and oxygen supply that is released as you twist will improve the functioning of your bodies internal organs.

A yoga session will often begin with a standing pose. These are a very good low impact, low stress starting point for a Yoga session. Standing poses benefit the legs and hips and help provide a sense of centring, balance and of course strength to the legs themselves. The end of a Yoga session is usually marked by a group of poses known as Relation and Restorative Poses. This group of exercises is designed to give the positive energies and forces released by the Yoga session to move throughout your body and benefit you completely.

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The Different Motivations And benefits Of Yoga

Yoga Class at a Gym Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs

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There are many different reasons for taking up and practising Yoga. For one person they may be ill and looking to rejuvenate themselves. Another will want to maintain and improve their current level of health. Some people like the mental challenge…and for some it is a physical challenge that can be overcome. Some people may use Yoga as a relaxing form of stress relief. The great thing about Yoga is that all these people are going to find what they are looking for and so much more.

Yoga has a long list of benefits, both physical and mental, associated with it. Yoga can assist in recovery from a heart attack through it’s blood lowering and distressing effects. There has been a considerable amount of research done into heart patients and Yoga, most notably by Dr Ornish who is now also a best selling author. Dean Ornish has no reservations in recommending Yoga both as a way of recovering from heart attacks and also avoiding future heart problems. Yoga has also been reported to be very beneficial to people with diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis due to it’s ability to assist with balance and muscle tone.

Yoga gently works muscle groups around the back and spine of spinal injury sufferers and because it puts very little stress on the muscles while still working them thoroughly it is a fantastic way of strengthening this part of the body. Regular Yoga for back pain sufferers can result in complete restoration of their range of movement.

As we age most of us become frailer and less co-ordinated in our movements, but Yoga can help us age more gracefully by ensuring we are always in control of our body and mind. In fact most Yoga sessions are filled with a slightly older crowd who recognize the ongoing benefits it gives them.

Yoga is also a strength building discipline that allows even progression in the arms, the legs and the trunk or core of the body. Many of us take strength for granted until it fails us, but increasing your physical strength will benefit you not just with lifting heavy objects, but also in everyday tasks like getting groceries or mowing the lawn. It even makes it easier for us to move ourselves!

As well as strength Yoga will greatly increase the range of motion we are able to achieve, particularly in the spine and joint areas. Once again this is often something we take for granted unless it is missing. The act of reaching up to put something in a cupboard is natural to many of us, but for others it can cause a jolt of pain down their back, they simply cannot move their arm through the range of motion needed to reach up, or when they do their grasp is not strong enough to grab anything from the cupboard.

It’s important not to just focus on the physical benefits of Yoga because the mental benefits are at least as impressive. Simply put Yoga will focus and sharpen your mind. Each posture is performed with a focus and an awareness of your body and your breathing. This is not a gym session with mind numbing reps or chatter between exercises. Whatever you are doing during a Yoga session is done with absolute focus on the movement, the body, the breathing and the moment. Breathing is something that most of us do wrong most of the time. We are accustomed to taking shorter, quicker breaths, but with Yoga the breathing is deeper and fuller. These deeper breaths will make the mind calmer and more focused. Yoga enthusiasts often describe this calmness as a sense of well-being. The deep breathing also makes it easier to release the stress and negative thinking that accumulates in us. Just as the physical blocks are removed through increased blood circulation during the exercises, so the mental blockages are removed by clarity of thought.

Yoga is not a discipline you simply know or do not know; it is an ongoing learning process. There are a huge number of different postures and each posture has a number of different variations on how it can be performed. This never-ending sea of options keeps the body stimulated and engages the mind constantly. Behind the postures and exercises themselves there is a complex philosophical system based in the writings that Yoga derives from. Not many people think of a complete code of ethics including steadfastness, truth, self inquiry and an opposition to stealing, harming others and hoarding when they think of yoga, but these ethical issues are a central part of the system on which Yoga was founded.

The different postures, breathing exercises and the deep philosophy of Yoga all lead to the same end – a deep contemplation. Because Yoga relaxes both the body and the mind tension and stress are greatly reduced. This is highlighted during a Yoga class by pauses for us to get in touch with how we are feeling and reacting. Ending the class in a point by point contemplative meditation performed on the back is common.

Yoga is an exercise, but it is also a meditative process, a code of ethics and a confidence and character building course all rolled into one. It’s no wonder the group of people who attend the classes are so diverse.

 

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