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Lotus - Symbol of Yoga (photo by Carey Stokes)

Yoga is the oldest form of recorded exercise. Yet it seems as modern as today. In fact a great benefit of yoga is it’s de-stressing and calming effect, which is more needed now then ever before. Dean Ornish proved that yoga and meditation could actually reverse heart disease. As a result of his groundbreaking work there are clinics offering yoga and meditation in many hospitals and insurance companies are paying for these classes. When an insurance company is willing to pay you know that the research has been overwhelmingly in favor of that treatment.

Although most exercise is good for you, no others have proven to actually reverse a disease. What is it about yoga that makes it so healthful? To understand this I would like to compare some exercises.

While regular exercise strains and exhausts the body, Yoga actually increases the energy level, relaxes the body, and calms the mind. Another added benefit of Yoga is that the slow movements done with total mental concentration unit the body and mind. This allows the body to go slowly and safely and in so doing to increase flexibility as well as range of motion safely, guarding against injury.

Most forms of exercise utilize quick repetitive movements. This produces large quantities of lactic acid in the muscle fibers. One of the causes of leg jerks when sleeping at night is the attempt of the body to release built up lactic acid.

The quick, jerking and bouncing type movements used in other forms of exercise actually cause small tears in the muscle fibers. The body repairs these tears with scar tissue. Scar tissue is harder and denser then normal tissue. This scaring contributes to a decrease in flexibility. In cases where there is a lot of scar tissue a condition is created where the muscle no longer slides smoothly over the bone which results in additional problems such as joint strain. Yoga, with it’s slow controlled movements does not cause a lactic acid build up nor does it tear muscle tissue.

Aerobic exercise has instructors yelling above loud music, while doing rapid movements with many repetitions. This very aggressive and tiring method is stressful to the body and mind. It is why there are so many injuries in theses classes. It’s ultimately exhausting and hurtful which is why you won’t see any older aerobic teachers!

Yoga can be done by anyone at any age. Even elderly and handicapped people can benefit from the gentle, slow, conscious movements of yoga. Yet even the young flexible person gets a strong workout. How is is possible, especially in a single general class? It is because each person works within the parameters of their own ability. Yoga is amazingly individualized.

Yoga increases range of motion. It does this is several ways. The major way is by lengthening the ligaments. The ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to other bones and cartilage. These ligaments tend to shorten with misuse and age. This in turn restricts movement. Even the stiffening of the backbone is due this tightening of the ligaments. The ligament structure along the backbone is continuous. If any area along the backbone tightens, the entire attachment is effected. Some of the causes of ligament tightening are faulty body alignment, inactivity, and a lack of stretching. All of these will be helped through yoga.

With Yoga's increased current popularity, many types of hatha Yoga have evolved. Most of these forms are geared towards the American/ European concepts of what exercise should be and are therefore rather aggressive. The emphasis of these practices seems to be in competition and power rather then gentle slow awareness. Yoga was originally devised to get the body in shape so that the practitioner could sit for long periods in meditation. Since meditation was the reason behind it’s creation, it is reasonable to assume that the way Yoga was intended to be done was in a non stressful way. My suggestion is to seek classes and teachers who follow this tradition.

See more about Yoga in the Treatment Section and the Workshop Sections.

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