The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the word ‘yukti’ in Sanskrit and it means ‘union’. What union would this be referring to? Yoga means the union of body, mind and spirit to make one harmonious whole. The principles of yoga were first put down in the 2nd century B. C. by Patanjali. They were called the Yoga Sutras or the ‘secrets of yoga’. It was supposed to be a spiritual-cum-philosophical system but today, it has given of its benefits to so many people, even if they do not have a religious or philosophical bent of mind.
Yoga is practiced in different forms. The one that is most popular in the West is Hatha Yoga which is very closely linked with Ayurveda or Indian traditional medicine. Let’s take a look at the three things that Hatha Yoga offers that have proved beneficial for health.
The first set of practices is the Asanas. These include many exercises and postures. When done according to the way they should be, they improve blood circulation, align the spine and head, energize the main organs in the body and relax you. These exercises were designed to balance the various ‘doshas’ or elements in the body and it is done by the stimulation of the glands that produce these doshas. Certain asanas are specific to certain ailments.
Then you have Pranayama which takes its name from the Sanskrit ‘prana’ which means life energy and ‘ayam’ which means control. So what it is essentially is the control of your breath. ‘Prana’ is very akin to the ‘vital energy’ of homeopathy or the ‘chi’ referred to in traditional Chinese medicine. What pranayama does is to remove blockages in the system that have come about thanks to toxins, stress, bad diet or any kind of negative influence. These can be harmful not only in a physical way but mentally and spiritually as well. This breathing to get yourself back to the ideal is done with slow, abdominal breaths.
The third aspect, also very important is Meditation or Dhyana. This gets you into a state of sublime relaxation and is very beneficial not only to the nervous system but also the immune system.
All kinds of heart problems and disease, respiratory problems, muscular and stress-related conditions tend to respond well to yoga. It has also proved useful in dealing with pain and so is very helpful for people suffering from arthritis and other painful ailments. It has been beneficial in bringing down blood pressure and helping reduce stress and anxiety, not to mention reversing heart problems. A study done in London in 1973 resulted in five out of twenty high blood pressure patients stopping the use of their anti-hypertensive drugs while seven reduced their dosage. In 1993, there was a study done in India where 40 physical education instructors who were fit did yoga and showed a great improvement as far as their weight, heart rate and blood pressure were concerned. A study done in 1994 showed positive results as far as pain and movement went on osteoarthritis patients.
We move to Germany where a study was done on two groups of women – one did yoga while the other just sat around and read. There was a positive change as far as the first group went when it came to aggressiveness, excitability, psychosomatic problems and heart rate. The great thing about yoga is the fact that it does not need rigorous exercise or effort. So it really is a boon for people who cannot exercise a lot or who do not want to. So it has a lot of benefits for the old and the disabled especially. Add to that the fact that it is a holistic method of treatment – body, mind and soul – and you’ll see why it’s so popular with so many today!
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