What is yoga?
Yoga has become popular in this country over the past few decades. It is a form of mind-body medicine which unites the spirit, mind and body, resulting in better overall health.
In fact, yoga means "union". Similar to meditation, yoga encourages a mind-body connection. Yoga poses or "postures" stretch, strengthen and tone the body to help physical health while facilitating mental well-being.
People who practice yoga believe there is a life force or energy within each person and in the world around us. Yoga is not a religion, but is practiced by people with various religious beliefs.
History of yoga
Yoga developed many thousands of years ago in India, with the earliest traces said to be around 3000 B.C. There is some discussion that Yoga originated in Africa by the Ancient Egyptians and was brought to India. African yoga (also called Egyptian Yoga) was popularized by Black yogis in the United States in a practice called Kemetic Yoga in the 1970s. Yirser Ra Hotep, one of the first practitioners of Kemetic Yoga, says that many of the recognized Yoga postures or poses are present in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Branches of yoga
Hatha Yoga is the most popular branch of yoga in this country, but there are several branches of yoga that focus on different goals. Each branch may have several types of yoga. For example, Hatha is one branch of yoga that focuses on gentle, slow moving postures (or poses). There are different types of Hatha yoga.
While Hatha yoga focuses on postures, other branches seek to deepen spiritual knowledge, some focus on prayer while others focus on selfless acts.
How yoga can help your health
- Stress reduction: Yoga can offer a calming effect through focus on breathing and postures, helping to reduce anxiety and tension. Reducing stress may provide overall benefits for your health.
- Cardiovascular: Research shows that yoga can help lower blood pressure, which can help cardiovascular disease. The stress-busting effect of yoga is likely to be the reason behind this health benefit.
- Pain: Yoga is sometimes recommended for patients who need gentle exercise. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis or chronic back pain try yoga as a way to keep joints lubricated and increase joint flexibility.
- Lung function: Yoga has been shown in some studies to improve symptoms of asthma due to its focus on breathing exercises but more research in this area is needed.
- Diabetes: Some research studies show improvement in the complications many diabetics experience when they practice yoga. However, more information is needed to determine how helpful yoga is in regulating blood sugar.
Keep in mind...
While yoga is well tolerated among people of all ages and abilities, as with any exercise, getting the okay from your doctor to practice yoga is important. There may be some postures in yoga that may be too difficult or possibly harmful depending on your health condition. Many yoga instructors ask if students have any health conditions they should know about. Don't be shy and tell the instructor if you have any health concerns. You can do this in private before the class begins. Yoga instructors are trained to guide all levels of students through proper form so letting your instructor know these issues will make your practice more comfortable.
Where to go
Here are some places in Harlem that offer opportunities for mind-body health.
Around Harlem: Spirit & Mind