3.9 Yoga

Gumby dolls doing Yoga with a prescription for Yoga.

Why Yoga?

If your goal is to lose weight, feel great, and be fi t, then one of the best exercise routines I know of is yoga. Why yoga? Isn’t that just a bunch of stretching and easy movements? Well, yoga comes in many different forms, which isn’t surprising considering it has been around for millennia. That long history means yoga is not just a passing fad. In fact, many structured exercises in existence today, like P90X and Pilates, have defining characteristics borrowed from yoga. Yoga is many different things, but yoga as exercise basically consists of stretching, breathing activities, and postures that create isometric strengthening exercises. Yoga links breath to movement and creates a deep mind-body balance that benefits us in many ways. If yoga is done in a conscious and proper way, it can significantly help us with endurance, strength, and flexibility. Yoga is a lifelong activity that can be started young and continued well into our twilight years with only a few modifications. One of the world’s foremost yogis, B. K. S. Iyengar, lived well into his late nineties—and practiced yoga until the end. But he is far from an exception; many yogis live very long and productive lives. Yoga has benefits on multiple levels, including fitness, mental calmness, emotional balance, and relaxation when meditation is added. I have found no other single activity as valuable for our overall life fitness as yoga.

What Is Yoga?

This is by no means a book on yoga—many great texts (and people) are already around to define and teach it. So simply put, yoga means joining or bringing together and was originally focused on spirituality and meditation. When someone has spent many years practicing the physical postures of yoga, also known as “asanas,” then a natural progression into the meditative aspects of yoga usually occurs. I believe yoga to be the most powerful medicine we can take (albeit a very slow one), and the best custom-made exercise program around. Our fast-paced modern world constantly bombards us with choices. It markets and advertises us into a state of confusion, all of which makes yoga even more important than it was centuries ago. Yoga is a journey, not a destination. If practiced over time, it enables a well-balanced mind-body connection.

Yoga’s Allure

What makes yoga so effective is that all the kinks have been worked out over the last few thousand years—something very few activities can claim (tai chi is one of the exceptions). As we’ve discussed, yoga is also custom fit to our body and our life on any given day. Yoga that is done in a varied and proper way can prepare our entire body and mind for daily activity. And just like with the drug Valium, as we prepare our bodies and build self-confidence, our mind becomes calm and peaceful. Since we don’t engage in hunter-gatherer activities as our ancestors did, we need to engage in some regular activity to keep ourselves fi t. Yoga’s popularity is rapidly growing because once we experience the benefits from it, we continue to embrace it.

Powerful Medicine?

Yes, yoga can act as a custom-made medicine for what ails us. Yoga does many positive things for us mentally, physically, and spiritually, both directly and indirectly. Th e physical postures help us become stronger, more flexible, and better grounded to the earth. On an indirect level, we develop a deep consciousness that helps us build awareness of our limitations and mental security. Th at was a mouthful, but what I’m saying is that our subconscious brain becomes happy and content with our body and its limitations. What a novel idea—something physical that helps our mental well-being! Yoga connects our mind and body through breath-connected movement, which leads to a great internal peace. The medication diazepam (Valium), one of many of a class of benzodiazepines, helps us relax in that very same way. The medication is directly a muscle relaxant, which in turn decreases muscle nerve input to our brain, creating a sense of relaxation. Now, granted, the pill works a lot faster than yoga, but yoga lasts longer and has virtually no side effects—such as sleepiness, lethargy, and addiction.

Customized Exercise Program?

Yoga is the most customized exercise program around for activities of daily life. Every day we walk, talk, sit, twist, bend, reach, stumble, jump away from danger, repeat motions—the list is lengthy. All of these daily life movements are done against the resistance of gravity rather than against steel weights, elastic bands, rotating wheels, or other weight training objects. Each body has a specific height, weight, body fat content, strength, flexibility, and range of motion, and yoga takes all of this into account. Th e asanas, or physical postures of yoga, consider all the exact specific configurations of your body and place it against gravity to help it stretch, strengthen, and become connected to your mind. Let me illustrate this point with a specific yoga pose, Warrior I. In Warrior I, one knee is bent with the quadriceps supporting most of your weight against gravity, the thigh of the bent leg is ideally parallel to the floor. As one gets into this position and holds it, resistance of the force of gravity strengthens the quadriceps muscle. The back leg is also working to balance the body and is being stretched at the hip. The arms are skyward in a vertical position against gravity, a way they are not used to, which creates a strengthening of the arms. The core muscles are woken up and involved in keeping the torso upright and aligned as the practitioner tries to square their hips. Whew. Overall, many muscles are being used against the resistive force of gravity to the tune of your precise body weight! That exact exercise weight prescription is right for you that day. How could any machine, weight set or trainer fine-tune your workout so perfectly? And that’s only one of many typical yoga poses.

Exercise Prescription

Yoga is as varied as the people teaching it, so I recommend you begin by finding a qualified teacher. Search for a Yoga Alliance-certified teacher online and start in a beginner class, many studios offer the first class for free or a reduced rate, so if it’s not a good fit you can simply try another teacher or class. Friends may also be a helpful resource for finding the yoga class that best suits you. As a slow medicine, results will take time, but will be very steady and consistent. You will quickly notice that you may be more clearheaded, walk with more confidence, and find physical tasks easier to manage. As your yoga practice progresses, many more positive changes will occur. If you can’t find a local teacher, many wonderful texts and DVDs exist to get you started. So no more excuses; go do yoga and have fun. Adding a walking regimen of 20–40 minutes a day four to five times a week to your yoga practice makes for a well-rounded exercise program If you spend your workday sitting behind a desk, try standing to do your work if possible. You will soon notice the positive results such a little change can make.

3.10 Work All the Muscles

The human body has about 450 muscles, a little over two-hundred bones, and many tendons and ligaments, and cartilage that all need our attention. I believe yoga to be the best way for all of these parts and pieces to get full attention and use. Remember “Use it or lose it?” If we get all of…..

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