by DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, Ph.D.
Doctor in health & physical education
Many people are unrolling their yoga mats and polishing their poses to find flexibility and sanity amid the financial chaos. Last month I read an article from New York news that said fitness experts say gym memberships are holding steady or rising and yoga classes are thriving. What I really think is that a yoga practice becomes a refuge from the negativity of an economic recession, and the studio kind of becomes the sanctuary.
Yoga uses movement and postures to strengthen the body and breathing techniques and meditation to quiet the mind.
People who take yoga class, “take a break” from whatever else may be going on in their lives. And at the very most, a practice can become a transformational experience that reenergizes and rejuvenates you. These days, especially when faced with any crisis, devotees are eager to cite the tranquility they have found by regularly participating in yoga.
Often, people get hurt because they assume that yoga is simple and that anybody can pretzel himself or herself on demand. At the same time, others see yoga as a practice originally conceived to help people achieve inner peace and tranquility, as a way to get a vigorous workout. More than five times as many people take yoga classes at health clubs today as did a decade ago, and enthusiasts have devised all kinds of variations found appalling to purists: hip-hop yoga, disco yoga, power yoga, not to mention other different controversial yoga branches.
When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a gymnast. That makes them worry that they’re too old, unfit, or “tight” to do yoga. The truth is it’s never too late to improve flexibility.
The series of yoga poses called asanas work by safely stretching your muscles. Yoga increases the range of motion in joints. It may also increase lubrication in the joints. The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body.
Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time.
Some styles of yoga are more vigorous than others. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles of yoga, which focus on less movement and a more precise alignment in poses, can provide strength and endurance benefits. Many of the poses build upper-body strength. This becomes crucial as people age. The standing poses build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. There are also poses that strengthen the lower back. When practiced correctly, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength. That’s because you’re counting on your deep abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you’re more likely to sit and stand “tall.” Another benefit of yoga is the increased body awareness. This heightened awareness tells you more quickly when you’re slouching or slumping so you can adjust your posture.
In essence, the bottom line is that the human energy system is a profoundly subtle and nuance system. When we experience anxiety or intense stress, our system is signaling to us that it is time to review and adjust the way we are managing our energy. The yoga system is comprised of poses well-known for their ability to restore, replenish and strengthen the nervous and digestive systems, leaving you feeling more focused, a greater sense of calm, and an evenness of the mind and emotions. As yoga combines several techniques used for stress reduction, it can be said to provide the combined benefits of breathing exercises, flexibility, meditation practice and guided imagery in one technique. However, for those with great physical limitations, simple breathing exercises, meditation or guided imagery might be a preferable option and provide similar benefits. Yoga also requires more effort and commitment than taking herbs for stress reduction.