If you have ever spent any time stretching, taking deep breaths to relax or thinking about the things in life you are most thankful for, then you are closer to the practice of yoga than you may think. Sure, there may be confusion about the mechanics of it all (i.e., twisting oneself into a pretzel can’t possibly be relaxing), but to truly understand this discipline is to appreciate the care and respect for one’s body it teaches, and the many health benefits it promotes.
Yoga has increasingly become a popular form of exercise and spiritual practice in western culture over the past century. In fact, during his time at Walden Pond writer Henry David Thoreau, may have been one of the first Americans to practice yoga.
However, the origin of this ancient body of knowledge goes back more than 5,000 years to Northern India. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” meaning “to unite.” Ancient Yogis believed that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit by aligning emotion, action, and intelligence. The way Yogis achieved and maintained this balance was through exercise, breathing, and meditation.
Furthermore, by performing this set of techniques in a very gentle and subtle way, the body and spirit align. Perhaps this is why yoga has become so popular with all age groups in today’s fast-paced environment. Even the common salutation Namaste, a deep form of gratitude and respect shared between teacher and student evokes a sense of peace and goodwill.
Yoga is for everyone. There is kid yoga, prenatal yoga, yoga for teens, yoga for runners, yoga for older adults, and the list goes one and on. Research has shown that yoga has a multitude of health benefits, including relieving aches and pains, increasing flexibility and building muscle strength, preventing cartilage and joint breakdown, improving bone health, lowering blood pressure, improving balance, lowering anxiety, encouraging better sleep patterns, preventing digestive issues, boosting immunity, increasing focus, improving heart health and mental health.
From group classes to the comfort of your own home, there are many ways to experience the benefits of yoga. Additionally, many schools, community centers and gyms offer a variety of yoga classes for all ages and levels. For example, The Merion offers its’ residents two types of yoga class options per week in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and well-being. Check in your community for local options. Namaste!