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What is Yoga?

Yoga is a meditational practice involving the mind and body. It originated in India nearly 5000 years ago and has a mention in ancient Indian works. There are numerous styles or asanas of yoga combining physical poses, breathing techniques and meditation or concentration.

In recent years, yoga has gained tremendous popularity all over the globe. It is a form of physical exercise that promotes health along with balance and control of mind. Yoga has found immense support among the younger as well as older generations. Especially the older adults, who are unable of doing rigorous exercises, yoga is a boon for maintaining good health.

“Yoga Sutra,” a 2000-year old anthology on yoga and its philosophy by the Indian sage Patanjali is the ultimate guidebook to master the mind and control the body. This book is the oldest available text on yoga and is the foundation of all forms of modern yoga too.

Yoga was originally used for gaining spirituality and quieting the mind. Fitness was not the primary goal of yoga. Yoga as an exercise technique gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. This movement first began in India and slowly spread worldwide.

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Philosophy of Yoga

There are six branches of yoga. Each branch has its own set of characteristics and areas of focus.

  1. Hatha yoga: Physical and mental branch to discipline the body and mind.
  2. Raja yoga: Involves meditation and a series of disciplinary steps.
  3. Karma yoga: Involves service to create a positive and unselfish future.
  4. Bhakti yoga: Involves creating a path of devotion and a positive outlet for emotions and develops the traits of acceptance and tolerance.
  5. Jnana yoga: Involves gaining wisdom and developing the intellect through study and observation.
  6. Tantra yoga: Involves using rituals, ceremonies or consummation of relationships to progress in life.

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If you have a specific goal in life, you can take up the desired branch to attain that goal.

According to Patanjali, yoga consists of 8 steps or limbs. Each is equally important and is part of the whole. The purpose of these eight limbs is self-realization. The eight steps are:

  1. Yama: Codes of restraint, abstinence, and self-regulation
  2. Niyama: Observances, self-training, and practices
  3. Asana: Meditation posture
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises, expansion of breath and prana, control and regulation
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of senses, bringing calm
  6. Dharana: Concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Deep absorption, a complete state of meditation, perfected concentration

Yoga and health

Yoga has been researched quite extensively for its effectiveness in therapeutic practice. In recent times, disorders like mental stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases are on the rise. Lifestyle changes are the main culprit of these growing numbers of disorders.

Lifestyle and mental disorders affect older adults more acutely than the rest of the population. Adopting yoga in everyday life is an easy solution for older adults who cannot manage active exercise regularly.

Here are some disorders and how yoga is beneficial in each case:

  1. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Yoga is effective in the prevention and management of stress. Though systematic studies do not show any correlation between anxiety and anxiety disorders due to methodological shortcomings, a positive outcome has been observed in most cases. Yoga is particularly very beneficial for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In fact, yoga is suggested as a complementary mode of treatment in depressions and depressive disorders as well as treatment of anger issues and neurotic symptoms. Yoga decreases levels of salivary cortisol, plasma rennin levels, and epinephrine.
  2. Hypertension: Practising yoga for an hour daily has shown results in controlling hypertension. Yoga, combined with relaxation and meditation has shown to be effective in controlling hypertension. A study by JIPMER, Pondicherry showed that Sukha Pranayama at the rate of 6 breaths per minute reduces heart rate and blood pressure in hypertensive patients within 5 minutes.
  3. Diabetes Mellitus: India is the diabetic capital of the world as it has the largest number of cases of diabetes. Yoga asanas and pranayama are often suggested as complementary therapy to medical therapy and are effective in controlling type 2 diabetes mellitus. Practicing yoga and pranayama for 3 months continuously for an hour daily has reduced fasting and PP blood sugar levels.
  4. Heart diseases: Practising yoga for a year showed a decrease in the number of angina episodes per week. Yoga exercises also retard the progression of atherosclerosis in patients with severe coronary artery disease. Revascularization procedures were also reduced in people who practiced yoga regularly.
  5. COPD: Yoga significantly strengthens the muscles of the lungs and improves lung functions.in a study by AIIMS, Delhi, it was shown that yoga, pranayama, and meditation improved pulmonary function in older adults having mild to moderate bronchial asthma and a decrease in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

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