How Does Yoga Work?

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Yoga is a mind and body practice that can build strength and flexibility. It may also help manage pain and reduce stress. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Yoga is an ancient practice that may have originated in India. It involves movement, meditation, and breathing techniques to promote mental and physical well-being.

There are several types of yoga and many disciplines within the practice.

This article explores the history, philosophy, health and wellness benefits, and various branches of yoga.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice that involves physical poses, concentration, and deep breathing.

A regular yoga practice can promote endurance, strength, calmness, flexibility, and well-being.

Yoga is now a popular form of exercise around the world. According to a 2017 national survey, one in seven adults in the United States practiced yoga in the past 12 months.

History

The first mention of the word “yoga” appears in Rig Veda, a collection of ancient texts. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means “union” or “to join.”

Yoga can be traced back to northern India over 5,000 years ago.

Indian monks spread their knowledge of yoga in the West during the late 1890s. Modern yoga teachings became widely popular in Western countries by the 1970s.

Philosophy

The overall philosophy of yoga is about connecting the mind, body, and spirit.

There are six branches of yoga. Each branch represents a different focus and set of characteristics.

The six branches are:

  • Hatha yoga: This is the physical and mental branch that aims to prime the body and mind.
  • Raja yoga: This branch involves meditation and strict adherence to a series of disciplinary steps known as the eight limbs of yoga.
  • Karma yoga: This is a path of service that aims to create a future free from negativity and selfishness.
  • Bhakti yoga: This aims to establish the path of devotion, a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance.
  • Jnana yoga: This branch of yoga is about wisdom, the path of the scholar, and developing the intellect through study.
  • Tantra yoga: This is the pathway of ritual, ceremony, or consummation of a relationship.

Chakras

The word “chakra” means “spinning wheel.”

Yoga maintains that chakras are center points of energy, thoughts, feelings, and the physical body. According to yogic teachers, chakras determine how people experience reality through emotional reactions, desires or aversions, levels of confidence or fear, and even physical symptoms and effects.

When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion.

Asanas are the many physical poses in Hatha yoga. People who practice yoga use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra.

There are seven major chakras, each with its own focus:

  • Sahasrara: The crown chakra, which is at the crown of the head, symbolizes spiritual connection.
  • Ajna: Located between the eyebrows, the third eye chakra has to do with intuition.
  • Vishuddha: The throat chakra corresponds to immunity and verbal communication.
  • Anahata: The heart chakra, which is in the center of the chest, influences professional and personal relationships. Any imbalances in this chakra will affect oxygen, hormones, tissue, and organ control.
  • Manipura: The solar plexus chakra is in the stomach area. It corresponds to self-confidence, wisdom, and self-discipline.
  • Svadhishthana: The sacral chakra, which is beneath the belly button, connects pleasure, well-being, and vitality.
  • Muladhara: The root chakra, which is at the base of the spine, connects the mind and body to the earth to keep a person grounded. It controls the sciatic nerves and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Benefits of yoga

According to a 2012 survey, 94% of adults who practice yoga do so for wellness reasons.

Yoga has many physical and mental benefits, including:

  • building muscle strength
  • enhancing flexibility
  • promoting better breathing
  • supporting heart health
  • helping with treatment for addiction
  • reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
  • improving sleep
  • enhancing overall well-being and quality of life
  • It is advisable to consult a medical professional, if possible, before starting a yoga practice.

Risks and side effects

Many types of yoga are relatively mild and therefore safe for people when a well-trained instructor is guiding the practice.

It is rare to incur a serious injury when doing yoga. The most common injuries among people practicing yoga are sprains and strains.

However, people may wish to consider a few risk factors before starting a yoga practice.

A person who is pregnant or has an ongoing medical condition, such as bone loss, glaucoma, or sciatica, should consult a healthcare professional, if possible, before taking up yoga.

Some people may need to modify or avoid some yoga poses that could be risky given their specific condition.

Beginners should avoid advanced poses and difficult techniques, such as Headstand, Lotus Pose, and forceful breathing.

When managing a condition, people should not replace conventional medical care with yoga or postpone seeing a healthcare professional about pain or any other medical problem.

Summary

Yoga is an ancient practice that has changed over time.

Modern yoga focuses on poses designed to stimulate inner peace and physical energy. Ancient yoga did not place as much emphasis on fitness. Instead, it revolved around cultivating mental focus and expanding spiritual energy.

There are many different types of yoga available. The style a person chooses will depend on their expectations and level of physical agility.

People with certain health conditions, such as sciatica, should approach yoga slowly and with caution.

Yoga can help support a balanced, active lifestyle.


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