By: Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games
No one is sure of the exact date when yoga was first introduced. Some have claimed that it began before written language and was part of an oral tradition dating back over 5,000 years. The word yoga is first seen in sacred writings from Northern India. These texts were a collection of songs and rituals used by the Brahmans or Vedic priests. Yoga masters eventually created a system of practices that were used to enhance the quality of one’s physical and spiritual self.
In 1893 yoga was introduced to the West by a wise man from India named Swami Vivikenada who demonstrated yoga practices at the Chicago World’s Fair. People were intrigued, at first intellectually, then over time more people came to see yoga as a way to improve their physical fitness through breathing techniques, stretching and balance and also as a way to discipline their minds through relaxation and meditation.
Yoga today has expanded to include a variety of styles that include the more traditional practices of hatha yoga as well as the more exotic like hot yoga or yoga with goats. One reason for its popularity is that pretty much anyone can participate. It doesn’t require great physical strength or coordination, although yoga can improve both. Poses can be quite simple, others quite challenging, and all poses can be modified. Also, yoga is not just about physical exercise, but it also engages the mind and for some, even the soul or spirit is brought into harmony through the use of meditation along with the physical movements and poses.“The purpose of yoga is to build strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body,” explains Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, California. She further reminds readers that yoga is not just about physical fitness but about overall well-being:physical, spiritual and intellectual.
Dr. Nevins and others claim that yoga can be used to lesson chronic pain, lower blood pressure and improve sleep. Additional physical benefits include:
- increased flexibility
- increased muscle strength and tone
- improved respiration, energy and vitality
- maintaining a balanced metabolism
- weight reduction
- cardio and circulatory health
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
Yoga also offers benefits for mental health as well. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety and help a person develop coping skills. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Nevins. According to studies, yoga can help lower cortisol, the primary stress hormone. It has been used in studies of patients with PTSD and has been credited with lowering fear and heightened anxiety probably due to its emphasis on creating an inner sense of calm and peacefulness while encouraging patients to maintain a positive, forward-looking perspective.
Especially as we age, balance, flexibility, sleep and lung function can cause problems. Yoga is good for all of these.One study found that 15-30 minutes of yoga each day can improve mobility, flexibility and balance in elderly patients. Another study said that participants who did yoga “... fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than the other groups.” Another study done in 2009 found that because yoga focused on breathing techniques patients with mild to moderate asthma symptoms saw improved lung function when they consistently incorporated yoga into their daily routine.
It is difficult to find any downsides to yoga. One may be that because of its current popularity many people claim to be yoga teachers without having any standards or training required. Practitioners need to be careful in their selection of a yoga instructor just like they would any personal trainer or instructor. Also, just like in any sport or fitness routine, don’t do things that for which your body is not prepared. Yoga is not competitive. It’s a progression, and the simple poses can be just as beneficial as some of the more advanced. Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine teacher and trainer in Queenstown New Zealand. She has also practiced yoga for over 3 decades but she says that she still finds herself drawn back again and again to the "simple" poses. 1) Mindful breath, 2) Cat/Cow 3) Mountain Pose 4) Downward Facing Dog 5) Standing Balance Poses 6) Side Plank 7) Prone Backbends 8) Inversions 9) Supine Twist 10) Meditation
She reminds readers that “Without supernatural strength or flexibility, we can mobilize and lubricate our joints, improve our posture and balance, stimulate digestion, boost energy, soothe the nervous system, and create mental focus and clarity, at any age or stage of life.
One final thought from Rachel about why so many people are drawn to yoga. “Yoga is the only system that has lived for over 15,000 years without any papacy or enforcement. Nowhere in the history of humanity has it happened that somebody put a sword to someone’s neck and said, ‘You must do yoga.’ It has survived and lived on because it has worked as a process of wellbeing like nothing else. Even though today it is being taught in a very rudimentary or even distorted way, it still endures. Many things come and go with changing fashions, but yoga has survived for thousands of years, and it is still picking up momentum.”
“Benefits of Yoga,The.” American Osteopathic Association. https://osteopathic.org/what-is-osteopathic-medicine/benefits-of-yoga/ 2020.
Carrico, Mara.“A Beginner's Guide to the History of Yoga”
“History of Yoga” Yoga Basics. https://www.yogabasics.com/learn/history-of-yoga/ updated 2020.
Land, Rachel. “10 'Simple' Yoga Poses That Help Everyone at Any Age”https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/10-simple-yoga-poses-that-help-everyone-at-any-age#gid=ci02228525500026fe&pid=cat-cow updated March 14, 2018. Original March 4, 2018.
Link, Rachael.“13 Benefits of Yoga that are Supported by Science.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-benefits-of-yoga August 30, 2017.