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  • Introduction to Yoga

    The popularity of Yoga as a means of exercise has risen dramatically. However, Yoga is not just a form of exercise, it is a type of meditation that uses mental and physical exercises designed to help you gain a sense of relaxation and well being. We give you an introduction to this incredible method of uniting your mind body and spirit.

    Yoga acts as a brilliant stress reliever

    When you hear the word Yoga, what’s the first thing that springs to your mind; deep breathing, difficult, physical exercises and strange poses?

    Well, you would be half right if you did think of one of those but did you know that Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline originating from India that dates back to 3 million years B.C.

    In its highest sense, the ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha, a higher state of being, or the union of the individual soul (yours or mine) with the Universal Consciousness (God).

    However, attaining moksha can take lifetimes and requires the guidance of a spiritual master or Guru, but the other benefits of Yoga are more immediate, such as a supple, and healthy body, glowing skin and a relaxed and calm mind.

    Yoga, which encompasses physical exercise (Hatha Yoga), meditation (Dhyana Yoga) and breathing techniques (Pranayama) makes the body more flexible over time as the different poses stretch specific parts of the body in a gentle but effective way. Your bodily strength increases as some of the poses require you to support your body weight. This in turn improves muscle tone. Yoga is also renowned for improving posture as it aligns the back, and can amongst many other ailments help heal back pain.

    Most of us do not breathe to the full capacity of our lungs as our breathing is very shallow. Yoga is combined with effective breathing or pranayama which helps to still the mind producing a calming effect on our central nervous system and this has both physical and mental benefits.

    Practicing Yoga requires a high level of concentration, which means that the mind is not engaged in the usual stressors of daily life and, combined with pranayama, Yoga acts as a brilliant stress reliever.

    In fact, experienced Yogis and Yoginis, (committed practitioners of Yoga) are known for their calm demeanour and calming influence on those around them.

    Yoga should always be practiced on an empty stomach or at least 3 hours after any heavy meal and only small sips of water should be taken during practice.

    Try this right now:

    • Sit up straight and Take a deep breath in, to a slow count of 3. Notice your lungs expand as you breathe in.
    • Now breathe out slowly to the count of 3.
    • Repeat two times and close your eyes and think of a quiet place where you feel safe, warm and relaxed. Picture this place in your mind and imagine you are right there.
    • Now focus your attention on your breathing again, but now breathe normally but slowly. Focus your attention on your breath as you breathe in and out and do this for as many minutes as you can.

    You have just practiced Yoga in the form of meditation.

    If you try to do this every day, even for just 10 minutes, you will feel refreshed and relaxed.

    For those of us who think a lot of random thoughts, even destructive ones which can harm us, this technique is a treasure trove because it helps to alleviate worries and tension and what’s even better is that you can do it in the comfort of your own home, on the train or bus or even during your lunch break at work. What’s more, it doesn’t cost a penny! So you don’t need an expensive gym membership to experience this form of exercise.

    In fact, many Bollywood stars swear by the benefits of Yoga. Akshay Kumar meditates daily. Bipasha Basu does the Surya Namaskar (Hatha yoga) 108 times every day and Kareena Kapoor does 1000 Kapal Bhati (a type of pranayama), and 50 Surya Namaskar every day. Shilpa Shetty has released a Yoga DVD entitled, ‘Shilpa’s Yoga’ (available from www.amazon.co.uk).

    Here are some basic Yoga asanas, or exercises:

    SARVANGASANA
    This yoga asana is a pose that increases the blood supply to the brain. This pose exerts a gentle pressure on the neck region, which helps regulate the thyroid gland (which controls metabolism).

    PAVANMUKTASANA
    The warmth and pressure created after doing this asana releases bloating and trapped gas.

    SHAVASANA
    This asana is a relaxing pose providing deep relaxation to the body and mind. It calms the brain and helps relieve mild stress and depression. It is also good for easing back pain.

    SALABHASANA
    This asana is known as the Locust Pose and prevents constipation, increases appetite and improves abdominal tone.

    ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA
    This asana is known as the ‘Half Spinal Twist’ and it tones the spinal nerves, ligaments and improves digestion.

    Yoga can be practiced at any age by anyone, at any level. You can start from the most basic level and work your way up in a way that is comfortable for you. You will notice benefits from day one. There are a range of books and DVD’s or classes you could join.

    You can start with a good beginner’s Yoga class and when you feel you have mastered the basics, you can continue at home, working with a book or DVD.

    The Nintendo Wii Fit and X-Box Kinect both have excellent Yoga games and cover many basic poses and practiced regularly can have great benefits.

    Yoga can be effective when incorporated into a weight loss programme. The more vigorous asanas such as Surya Namaskar and more cardiovascular Yoga styles such as Iyengar and Ashtanga provide the most significant benefit to weight loss.

    There are many books on Yoga and one in particular which is inspirational is – Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Shifmann (available from amazon.co.uk).

    Above all, incorporate Yoga into your daily life by focussing on your breath and clearing your mind of all thoughts for 10 minutes every day and by doing Yoga exercises on waking or before your evening meal. There are many different styles of Yoga on offer and there is bound to be one which appeals to you.

    Rashmi is an office manager and a mother. She has a keen interest in alternative therapies and the rich cultural heritage of India. She loves to travel and write. Her motto is 'happiness is a way of travel not a destination.'

    Yoga can be adopted as a major form of exercise, so if you have any existing medical conditions it is advisable to consult a medical practitioner before undertaking any new discipline.



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