Sun, March 27, 2004
Ask the Yoga Instructor

What is yoga?

The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit language and means "union," feeling a oneness of body and mind, and being at one with nature. Yoga is a physical and mental exercise that came to us from India. We know that yoga practice was well established in India around 2,000 - 3,000 B.C. and has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. Hatha yoga is a discipline of practicing yoga postures, breathing, relaxation and meditation. The great advantage of Hatha yoga exercises is that they bring all muscle groups into play.

Muscles are stretched to full length. The poses are held in perfect stillness, causing blood to flow evenly throughout the body. With the improvement of muscle tone and flexibility of the joints and spine, sluggish and aging glands are revitalized. Why has yoga become so popular? Other exercises have come and gone; however, yoga is here to stay. Back in the 1960s, yoga had a cult-like status. However, that is changing.

Yoga has become a major part of every fitness studio and is no longer looked at as a counterculture. Professional athletes from all sports have discovered yoga - football, basketball, baseball and tennis, as well as golfers.

At first, people might be quite skeptical, but then they learn that yoga is more than just relaxing. They see how yoga helps improve flexibility and balance, and increases strength and overall well-being.

Is yoga a religion?

I was told again recently that a father had forbidden his daughter to attend a yoga class because he felt the yoga practice would interfere with their religion.

There is still a perception by some people that yoga is a religious practice. Yoga is not a religion; it is a philosophy.

Yoga sometimes interweaves other philosophies such as Buddhism or Hinduism. However, it is not necessary to study those paths in order to practice or study yoga. Practicing yoga does not interfere whatsoever in your own religious beliefs.

How does Yoga differ from other exercise? First of all, there is no competition in yoga. In most other exercises and sports we are told, "Go for the burn," or "no pain, no gain." That is not so in yoga practice. In yoga, we carefully find that "edge," gently coaxing the body to go deeper into the stretch by using our breath. Yoga should never be painful. Yoga differs greatly from exercise gyms where people are usually looking around and comparing themselves with others. A good yoga instructor encourages the students not to compete with themselves or others, since all that does is create tension. But rather to teach what feels right and do the best the student can. Yoga is unique because we connect the movement of our body to the rhythm of our breath. Everyone's body is built and shaped differently, so we respect the body's ability to stretch as deeply as it can comfortably.

What are the benefits of yoga? In today's society, the word "age" is becoming a fearful thing. People seem to be more concerned about their looks than a healthy body. They seem to just see the beauty and vigor of youth, without seeing the beauty and growth of age. Scientists are testing the age-old claim that yoga can be a tremendous benefit to modern society. They are finding that yoga is a tool to reduce anxiety, eliminate stress, increase one's feeling of well being, as well as maintain a more youthful body and clarity of mind. Yoga helps to develop inner tranquility. One of my yoga students told me she was able to control an anxiety attack while she was going through an MRI scan. She used the relaxing breath control learned in class and was able to focus on her deep relaxed breathing and felt totally relaxed during the procedure.

Deep relaxed breathing is truly nature's way to better health. Yoga's movements along with deep controlled breathing enlivens the body rather than tires it. Concentration and focus are promoted by the practice of mindful movements and body awareness. Yoga postures exercise our organs, endocrine system and glands, increase circulation and help eliminate toxins from the body. Flexibility and strength is increased.Through yoga, we also learn that deep, controlled breathing is nature's tranquilizer and rejuvenation. Yoga truly holds the key to a balanced body, mind and spirit.

Ilse Mindling is a Yoga Alliance registered and certified instructor, instructing in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. She may be reached at (941) 204-0095 visit:

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