Yoga for a Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit, Part 1 of 2
Guest Columnist: Catherine Heimrich, DPT
Patients frequently ask me about the merits of yoga, from relaxation to flexibility. Many say, they are too busy or they don’t know enough about it. Well, in light of the fact that everyone has been forced to spend more time indoors, slow down and try new things, now may be a good time to try yoga.
It is hard to believe that yoga, which is now a cultural mainstay, was once considered a foreign practice. An ancient discipline that totes numerous health benefits, yoga is meant to cultivate inner peace, enlightenment, and a strong relaxed body. In the past, only major cities housed yoga studios but over time yoga has spread into small towns across the country. Studios offer a variety of classes and each promotes their own unique philosophy. Whether you are looking for a new workout regime, compliment to your current program or simply to quiet your mind in a hectic world, yoga may be an option for you.
Yoga is a discipline that developed over 5,000 years ago and is generally recognized as an ancient system for wellbeing. The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, literally means to yoke or to bind together. The primary focus of yoga is to harmonize or unite the mind, body, and spirit through a combination of poses, breathing techniques, and meditation.
The specific origin of yoga is a topic of debate. However, it is said to have originated in India and was brought to the Western world by yoga gurus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The basis for most current yoga practices is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In The Yoga Sutras, eight limbs of yoga are specified. The three most common limbs are meditation, pranayama or breathing exercises, and asana which are the physical poses. Yoga classes can vary greatly, however, most classes include a combination of meditation, breathing exercises, and physical postures.
So what is with all the hype? Why has yoga become so popular? Many would say it is due to its numerous mental and physical health benefits. Research has shown that yoga, when practiced regularly, can reduces stress levels and even boost one’s immune system. Regular stretching releases tension in the body and the controlled breathing and mediation decrease anxiety. Studies show that those who practice yoga habitually can have decreased blood pressure and cholesterol making them less prone to heart disease. Other ailments which are shown to be positively impacted by yoga include insomnia, depression, and chronic pain including low back pain and headaches. Yoga is an excellent way to combat the negative effects of stress on the body and cope with anxiety and angst.
In addition to stress reduction, yoga has many physical benefits. These include increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Those who practice yoga regularly are often less prone to injury, such as a muscle strain or tear, due to their increased flexibility. Furthermore, yoga can be an effective way to strengthen one’s core which is crucial to maintaining ideal posture and protecting the back. For athletes, yoga can be a great way to challenge one’s balance and improve stability. In the elderly, it is a safe way to improve overall body awareness and decrease the risk of falling. Yoga has also been shown to improve respiration and many report an overall increase in energy when incorporating yoga into their lives.
With all of the positive impacts yoga has on the body it is easy to see why it has become such a popular form of exercise. There are classes to meet almost all needs and most poses can be modified based on ability. Yoga can be practiced by those of all ages and all fitness levels. Whether you’re looking for a way to loosen up tight muscles or you simply wish to quiet your mind for an hour, yoga is a tool to improve and maintain health. The only thing you need is a mat and an open mind.
Yoga can be practiced by anyone. From children to adults to the elderly, there are classes for all ages and abilities. It can be a form of cross training for athletes, especially runners who tend to have tight musculature. It also promotes balance and core stability which may be beneficial to sportspersons including football players, soccer players, boxers, etc. Furthermore, there are classes for the elderly which focus on balance and maintaining mobility. There are even prenatal yoga classes for pregnant women to promote deep breathing, flexibility and muscle tone.
Next Week: Types of Yoga and Basic Poses
Guest Columnist: Catherine Heimrich, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy and is an associate at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton, where she works with outpatient orthopedic and neurological patients. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance problems.
Read Dr. Mackarey’s "Health & Exercise Forum" in the Scranton Times-Tribune every Monday. Next Week: Yoga - Part 2
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.