Hatha yoga is a mind/body exercise which dates back thousands of years to India. The word yoga means “union” or “joining”. Although there are several branches of yoga (Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and others) Hatha yoga refers to achieving the union of the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual selves through the practice of physical postures and special breathing techniques. For those interested, yoga can go beyond the physical exercises to incorporate dietary recommendations, meditation, service to others, philosophy, and moral and ethical guidelines for living. Yoga is neither a sport nor religion.
Hatha yoga is noncompetitive and emphasizes show, purposeful movements practiced mindfully and in combination with deep breathing. Yoga can be modified to help people achieve a wide range of personal and fitness goals. Some styles of yoga are gentle and slow while others are vigorous and strenuous. Yoga’s benefits include the ability to:
- Tone, stretch and strengthen the body
- Increase self-awareness, self-discovery and self esteem
- Relieve stress
- Improve concentration and mental functioning
- Awaken and balance the emotions
- Benefit the muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, endocrine, digestive and respiratory systems
- Optimize energy and vitality
Yoga features postures that are done standing, sitting and lying down. Quality of movement takes precedence over quantity. All movements are coordinated with deep, diaphragmatic breathing to maximize the entire experience. Each type of stretch offers special yoga benefits.
- Moving Sequences promote coordination and grace. They help warm up the body and get the energy moving. Vinyasa-style yoga combines individual movements together into a posture flow. The Sun Salute and Moon Salute are other examples.
- Standing Poses tone and strengthen the whole body and can provide a full range of movement for a complete workout. They can be practiced at the start or end of a session. They strengthen the nerves of the legs and bring awareness to the entire body. Examples include the Triangle, Right Angle Pose and variations, Tripod, Pyramid.
- Balancing Poses foster poise and grace. They increase mental concentration while toning and strengthening the legs. The Tree, Dancer and Eagle are examples.
- Backward Bends increase energy flow, improve posture, stimulate the nervous system, and bring flexibility and strength to the back. They require careful attention to alignment and are practiced while fresh and after taking time to warm-up thoroughly. They are followed by forward bends and spinal twists. Cat stretches, standing arch, cobra, locust, bow, and bridge pose are some of the better known back bends.
- Forward Bends are relaxing and soothing to the nervous system. They reduce tension, improve posture, help body alignment and assist digestion and elimination. They can be practiced anytime and can be done either standing or sitting. The forward fold and cobbler stretch are examples.
- Twists release pressure on the spinal nerves and cultivate better body alignment. Although they can be practiced throughout the session, they often follow backward and forward bends to relieve compression and tension. The spinal twists can be done sitting, standing or lying down.
- Sitting Poses incorporate twists, balancing poses, and backward and forward bends.
- Inverted poses improve circulation, balance the endocrine system and counteract the negative effects of gravity. The shoulder stand and headstand are the best examples.
- LINK: Get a standing yoga sequence that is “Good to the Core.” It will flatten your tummy, strengthen your back, tone your legs and hips.
Yoga is versatile. Yoga can accommodate people with a variety of physical conditions ranging from improving athletic performance, endurance and stamina to relieving aches, pains and headaches. Therapeutic yoga adjusts postures, pacing and sequences to benefit those with heart problems, cancer, arthritis, injuries, etc. Desktop Yoga ® was specifically designed by Julie Lusk for people who work at a desk, computer or workbench. Traditional yoga postures were modified to be done by anyone sitting in a chair to relieve stiff backs, tired eyes, and sore necks, wrists, arms and legs.