Yoga began in India 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and means, to join or integrate, or simply union. Yoga started, as far as we know, as part of India's philosophical system, but not everyone practiced yoga, and it has never been a religion.
About 5 million people in the United States do some yoga. Dance and stretching exercise classes usually have parts and pieces that come directly from yoga. If you ever go to a physical therapist, he or she may give you therapeutic exercises that are yoga postures.
There are several types of yoga. The yoga you may have seen on TV or taught at your local Y or an adult education class is called Hatha yoga, or physical yoga. Sometimes it's known as the yoga for health. You may also find yoga being taught in a hospital or medical setting. Many health professionals today feel yoga can be part of a treatment plan.
Hatha yoga has three parts: a series of exercises or movements called asana (poses or postures in English), breathing techniques of all kinds, and relaxation.
Turbaned gurus, sing-song mantras and bodily contortions . . . the promise of true enlightenment and omphaloskepsis (contemplation of the naval) completes the cliche. But don't knock yoga till you've tried it, and then only with respect.
Yoga means to bind together - variously joining sun and moon, left and right, male and female, and any number of yins and yangs - through ascetic techniques of meditation and exercise. The goal is physical and mental balance.
Indian Hatha' yoga is best known to Westerners. Double-jointed ness isn't a prerequisite, but the classic lotus position, cross-legged on the floor, soles-up on the inner thigh, either comes naturally or doesn't.
Then there are more magical/mystical varieties of yoga for which people quit jobs and polite society and retreat to the Himalayas. But not everyone follows a spiritual guide beyond the Beltway; they'd rather take up the discipline at a local ashram or the Y.
Committed practitioners claim yoga leads to intuitive awareness, spiritual harmony, and perfect concentration. Others use it to lose weight or quit smoking. Some just like the lift they get from yoga asanas (positions) better than breaking into a sweat with pushups. In any case, it can't hurt, if done in moderation and with proper guidance.
You can get audio or video tapes that give breathing instruction and teach relaxation techniques at health food stores, bookstores, and by mail order. It's probably fine to learn breath and relaxation from a tape or booklet, but don't try the yoga exercises without a skilled teacher. He or she can make corrections, caution you when necessary, and help you to adapt poses, if you need to.
It will be worth it to you to spend a little time finding an instructor who is right for you. Your diabetes nurse educator or other health care professional may be able to recommend a yoga instructor. Get referrals for a yoga instructor as you would for any professional you might wish to consult.
Yoga instructors aren't required to be certified, but many are, through many different programs. Ask prospective teachers if they are certified. A certified teacher isn't necessarily better than someone who isn't certified, but it's something to consider.
Yoga is fun, healthy, and calming. It's a wise way handed down over several thousands of years. There is little danger in yoga, and even a little progress brings with it freedom and peace of mind.
Although most people with diabetes can exercise safely, exercise involves some risks. To shift the benefit-to-risk ratio in your favor, take these precautions:
Have a medical exam before you begin your exercise program, including an exercise test with EKG monitoring, especially if you have cardiovascular disease, you are over 35, you have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, you smoke, or you have a family history of heart disease.
Discuss with your doctor any unusual symptoms that you experience during or after exercise such as discomfort in your chest, neck, jaw, or arms; nausea, dizziness, fainting, or excessive shortness of breath; or short-term changes in vision.
If you have diabetes-related complications, check with your healthcare team about special precautions. Consider exercising in a medically supervised program, at least initially, if you have peripheral vascular disease, retinopathy, autonomic neuropathy, or kidney problems.
Learn how to prevent and treat low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). If you take oral agents or insulin, monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercise.
If you have type I, and your blood glucose is above 250 milligrams per deciliter, check your urine for ketones. Don't exercise if ketones are present, because exercise will increase your risk of ketoacidosis and coma.
Always warm up and cool down. Don't exercise outdoors when the weather is too hot and humid, or too cold.
It increases muscular strength. It reduces tension and stress. It has a low potential for injury, and it doesn't even look like exercise.
Why, then, don't more people practice yoga. People think of yoga as being passive and mystical - an otherworldly activity that doesn't relate to their lives. People are experiencing a vacuum because of all the outward directed activity, and they are going to have to go back to the experience of self.
Although the Indian discipline of yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, in this country there are few followers. Almost half the American adult population swims and closes to a quarter runs or jogs, yet only 2 percent practices yoga.
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to yoke or connect. Through yoga's various techniques, one is said to arrive at mental and physical equilibrium, better health and inner peace. It has been described as providing, in effect, a ''work-in'' rather than a workout.
There are at least eight main branches of yoga and several offshoots of each, but essentially there are only two concerned with exercise: Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga.
Hatha is the most popular type of yoga in the Western world. It is a slow-paced discipline that emphasizes controlled breathing and assuming various physical poses. It is said to aid the nervous system, the glands and the vital organs.
Kundalini, which was introduced to this country in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan, is more active, combining various modes of breathing, movement and meditation. It is based on the idea that body energy that is coiled below the base of the spine can be tapped so that it travels upward through different energy centers or chakras until it reaches the head. At this point one arrives at one's highest potential.
Classically, there are 84 basic yoga positions, or asanas, which are coordinated with special breathing techniques. The asanas range from simple bends and twists to pretzel-like contortions reserved for the most advanced practitioners. The various poses elongate the muscles and build flexibility. Along with the proper breathing, they help rid the body of tension. Static holds isolate and strengthen particular muscles.
Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound, and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind.
You don't need to fall into the stress mode of life. You can use breath to relax, rather than stress, your mind and body. Yoga helps you to relearn that natural state that your body and mind want to be in: relaxation.
Deep breathing is both calming and energizing. The energy you feel from a few minutes of careful breathe is not nervous or hyper, but that calm, steady energy we all need. Slow, steady, and quiet breathing gives a message to your nervous system: Be calm.
Whole books have been written on yoga breathing. Here is one 5-minute Breath Break. (Read through the instructions several times before you try the practice.)
1. Sit with your spine as straight as possible. Use a chair if necessary but don't slump into it. Feet flat on the floor with knees directly over the center of your feet. Use a book or cushion under your feet if they do not rest comfortably on the floor. Hands are on the tops of your legs.
2. Close your eyes gently and let them rest behind closed lids.
3. Think about your ribs, at the front, back, and at the sides of your body. Your lungs are behind those ribs.
4. Feel your lungs filling up, your ribs expanding out and up. Feel your lungs emptying, your ribs coming back down and in. Don't push the breath.
5. The first few times you do this, do it for 2 to 3 minutes, and then do it for up to 5 to 10 minutes. At first, set aside a time at least once a day to do this. When you learn how good it makes you feel, you'll want to do it at other times as well.
Just as one stressful situation goes into your next challenge, relaxing for a few minutes every day gradually carries over into the rest of your daily life and activities.
1. THE COBRA: Do this in easy stages. Lie down, face prone, legs tightly together and stretched back, forehead on the floor. Put your hands, palm down, just under your shoulders. Inhale and raise your head, pressing your neck back, now use your hands to push your trunk up until you are bending in a beautiful arc from your lower spine to the back of your neck. You need go no further than this. However, if you are supple enough, you can now straighten your arms completely, bend the legs at the knees and drop your head back to touch your feet. Even if your head goes nowhere near your feet, drop it back as far as possible and hold the posture with deep breathing. Come out of the posture very slowly, returning to the face prone posture. Relax with your head to one side. Repeat.
2. THE BOW: This is also an extreme version of the simple bow. It is surprising how many children can do it immediately. Take it, once again, in easy stages. Lie face prone on your mat. If you are very slim have a nice thick, padded mat for this one. Inhale and bend your knees up. Stretch back with your arms and catch hold of your ankles, keeping fingers and thumbs all together on the outside. Inhale and at the same time raise your head and chest, pulling at your ankles and lifting knees and thighs off the floor. Breathe normally, trying to kick up your legs higher and lifting your head up. You are now bent like a bow, balancing the weight of your body on your abdomen. You can stop right here but if you can still stretch further, then slide your hands down your legs, lift them higher, keep the knees together and pull back as much as you can. Hold for a few normal deep breaths, then relax back to the face-prone position, head to one side.
3. THE SHOOTING BOW: In Sanskrit this is known as Akarna Dhanurasana and one leg is drawn up like a shooting bow. Sit with both legs stretched out in front and back straight. Reach forward with both hands and clasp your feet, catching the right foot with the left hand and the left foot with the right hand. Inhale, bend the left knee and pull the foot across the body, close to your chest, pointing the elbow up and twisting the body slightly to the right. The left hand stays firm and tight, holding the right foot. Hold posture with normal breathing, release slowly, and relax. Repeat on other side. In the beginning it is enough to hold the bent left leg with the right hand. When this is easy, stretch down and hold the left foot with the right hand. Continue to pull on the left foot, lifting it higher on each exhalation.
Yoga in a popular position Yoga, one of the world's oldest forms of exercise, is experiencing a rebirth in our stressful modern world. You wouldn't think that a 3000-year-old exercise could increase its popularity. But yoga is now being prescribed even by some medical practitioners for a range of health ailments and illnesses, as a stress reliever and to complement other fitness programs.
Talk to anyone who practices yoga and they will quickly extols an endless list of benefits. It seems beginners quickly become converts. They believe it is the key to good health and happiness in today's world - a common goal for most people. But probably the greatest advertisement for yoga is the fact that it seems to have graduated from the weird and alternative ranks into a position of fairly wide community acceptance.
Housewives, businessmen, sportspeople, teenagers and the aged are all practicing a variety of yoga positions, meditation and associated breathing exercises. For many, yoga becomes a way of life _ often giving a more spiritual side to people's lives, although not necessarily linked to religion. One school of belief maintains that chronic and accumulated stress is the reason for many of our modern illnesses.
Proponents of yoga argue that it has a multiplicity of techniques to counter that cause and, unlike drug therapy, attack the cause, not just the symptoms. It offers, they say, a holistic approach to health and fitness. Many professional athletes, looking for the edge have turned to yoga as a supplementary form of training. They have found that yoga aids their state of mental and physical relaxation between training sessions, and their crucial build-up to big meets, where a competition is usually won or lost in the mind.
Perhaps one of yoga's major attractions is that it combines physical and mental exercise. It is excellent for posture and flexibility; both key physical elements for most sports-people, and in some respects, there are strength benefits to be gained. Yoga teachers say that the approach of yoga therapy is one of the most effective ways of achieving the mental edge that athletes seek.
Marian Fenlon, one of Brisbane's leading yoga teachers of the past 20 years, is the author of two books on the subject and has had thousands of yoga pupils. Many of them have, in turn, become teachers. Believe it or not, she has even taught yoga to footballers. Many years ago, she took Brisbane Souths rugby league team for an eight-week course and, amazingly, it was well-received. She says there are eight components to yoga therapy - attitudes, disciplines, posture and flexibility, breathing, sensory awareness, concentration, contemplation and meditation. Yoga can play a substantial supporting role to modern medicine, and complement other fitness and exercise programs. While there is no great component of aerobic fitness in yoga therapy, it complements aerobic exercise because of breathing techniques that can be learned. So there are advantages for even the most demanding of aerobic sports - swimming, cycling and running. There are numerous documented cases of yoga relieving or curing serious illnesses - such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses like asthma and emphysema.
Yoga exercises strengthen your body make it more flexible. Yoga also calms your mind and gives you energy. In active sports or strenuous exercises, you use up energy. In yoga classes, students report that they feel tranquil after a class, yet have more energy. Slow and steady motion is the key to going into or coming out of the postures. You hold a yoga pose for several seconds or even minutes and give attention to full, quiet breath. Your yoga instructor will always encourage you to relax as the exercises are being done.
You gently place your body into yoga postures. Done correctly, there's very little chance of injury or muscle stress. A particular asana is not repeated dozens of times, nor are you ever encouraged to push yourself too much.
A yoga session is designed for balance. You stretch to the right and then to the left. You bend back and then forward. You learn to recognize when one side is stronger or more flexible than the other. Thus harmony and balance are achieved with yoga practice.
People of all ages can practice yoga exercises. They are easily modified to meet your needs and physical condition. Don't be put off by the difficult looking postures you may see in a yoga book. A skilled teacher can adapt most asanas by using chairs, cushions, even a wall or other props. A yoga practice can be tailor-made just for you. If something is really impossible for you to do, just forget it. Never compete with yourself or others. Yoga is a stress-free but powerful way to exercise.
Yoga is good for increasing your flexibility and relieving stress, but it doesn't take the place of aerobic exercise. You should still do regular, aerobic exercise, which increases your cardiovascular fitness, helps you lose weight, and, for people with non-insulin-dependent (type II) diabetes at least, improves blood glucose control.
Whether you might be staying home with a new baby or working too many hours at the office, anytime is a good time for yoga. You can do yoga stretches and postures in bed or even while driving to work.
Hundreds of fitness seekers use their lunch hour to squeeze in exercise and take off extra pounds.
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