What we in the west call yoga is in actuality an ancient branch of Hindu philosophy that in very simplistic terms emphasizes meditation as a way of achieving spiritual enlightenment. In order to attain this state of inner peace transcendence and universal connectedness long hours are spent in deep meditation in typically a stationary cross legged position which without practice can eventually become quite uncomfortable and painful. Yoga was developed as a way of training the body through the use of various sustained poses or asanas to allow the body to physically adapt to and withstand sustained periods of immobility. Westerners now use the terms asana and yoga interchangeably.
While there are many different varied and distinct yogic systems hatha yoga is the one that has been commonly used to describe the practice of asana. More correctly the techniques used in hatha yoga harmonize and purify the body and focus the mind in preparation for more advanced practices that awaken the subtle energy systems in the body such as the chakras and kundalini.
On a superficial level yoga creates a different form of strength from what is commonly associated as traditional muscular I can lift more than you type of power. Many people think that yoga is just stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. For many including myself sustaining a variety of yogic postures can be incredibly challenging while appearing deceptively simple. The genius and beauty of yoga however is how the practice developed and evolved to address and impact many aspects of overall health. Modern research has even gone so far as to validate in western terminology the far reaching health benefits of even a short term yoga practice.
Benefits for children
Children suffering with autism are known to exhibit a variety of behavioral problems. In a recent study children even as young as 3 years old demonstrated improvement in certain behavioral parameters after participating in a regimen of yoga and dance.
Pranayama or the art and practice of focused and conscious breathing is greatly responsible for yoga's stress reducing effects. For example symptoms in post-menopausal women can many times include insomnia and irritability. Those post-menopausal women who were put on a moderate term yoga practice were shown to have a decrease in parameters of insomnia and its severity.
According to research yoga is not only effective at helping with stress relief but it can also have far-reaching physiological benefits. Patients suffering with arrhythmias have been shown to experience improvements in indices of ventricular arrhythmia.
Yoga has also been shown to affect changes in blood lipids markers and those of oxidative stress as well. Diabetic patients who typically present with significant imbalances in blood lipid profiles experienced significant improvements in these markers.
As most clinicians and sufferers know the symptoms of restless leg syndrome can greatly disturb sound sleep patterns. Again those patients suffering with the condition enjoyed a reduction in blood pressure and an improvement of both sleep quality and mood after participating in a light yoga program.
There is little doubt that this very ancient traditional healing system can have profound effects on the various facets of our being be they physical psychological or spiritual when practiced with dedication and a fully aware intention.
Michael Fuhrman D.C.