What is Yoga all about?
There are four different "paths" of Yoga. Karma Yoga focuses on selfless service. Jhana Yoga is more philosophical. Bhakti Yoga is devotional and includes chanting, mantras, and prayer. Raja Yoga is more scientific and health oriented, focusing on concentration, mind control, maintaining a healthy body and good posture, and regulating the breath.
Hatha Yoga, a type of Raja Yoga, is the most popular in the US, but there are many different popular styles of Hatha Yoga. It seems like every studio has developed its own style. These are some of the most popular:
- Hatha Yoga is generally slow-paced and gentle
- Vinyasa matches movement to the breath
- Ashtanga, Power, or Flow Yoga is very physically demanding - aerobic yoga
- Iyengar focuses on holding poses for long periods of time
- Kundalini emphasizes breathing in conjunction with movement
- Bikram, or Hot Yoga is practiced in a studio at 95 to 100 degrees F
- Viniyoga is adapted to the abilities of each student
What Yoga Really IsMany people think of Yoga as a bunch of very limber people twisting their bodies in all kinds of impossible poses. Actually, most of the asanas can be adapted for people of all abilities, but that's only one part of Yoga.
Asanas - The different positions are designed to work the entire body. The stretches keep the spine and all of the joints flexible. Because they are a weight-bearing exercise, they help to strengthen bones and muscles. Many of the asanas aim at improving balance, minimizing the chance of falling.
Meditation - An estimated 20 million Americans meditate regularly. Meditation can involve repeating a mantra or focusing on healing a part of your body, or even just your breath. It allows your brain to take a break from daily stress and multi-tasking. Meditation helps maintain brain cells and preserves memory function.
Breathing - Deep breathing improves lung capacity, which can improve endurance. Slow, deep breathing stimulates the release of oxytocin, causing a relaxation response and leading to less stress, a better ability to focus, and a happier mood.
Vegetarian Diet - Many people who practice Yoga follow a vegetarian diet, mainly because it is more humane. They believe in eating to live rather than living to eat. According to "Yoga, Body and Mind" from the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, "The human body needs food for two purposes - fuel for energy and as raw material to repair itself." In addition to avoiding meat, it is recommended that we eat mindfully: eat slowly, savoring your food; eat only enough to curb your hunger; maintain a peaceful attitude while eating; and show appreciation to everyone and everything involved in the production of the food.
Why Do You Need Yoga?
So why should you consider doing yoga at this stage of your life? Yoga has been proven to improve the health of its practioners in many ways. For those of us at or nearing retirement age, our bodies have already been on a downhill slope for quite a few years. But it is not too late to make some changes.
Think of what Yoga can do for you. Increased flexibility means you can bend over to pick up a golf ball, work in the garden, or get something out of the bottom drawer. Stronger muscles and bones let you stay more active, and reduce your chance of injury. Improved balance lessens your chances of falling and breaking a hip or other bones. Reduced stress lowers blood pressure, improves mental function and strengthens the immune system. Improved breathing and blood circulation help ward off many of the denerative diseases that slow people down as they age.
Give Yoga a Try
Yoga is not an "all-or-nothing" thing. Each and every small step you make in the right direction will improve your well-being. Chech your local phonebook or the internet for a beginning Yoga class near you. Or go to your local library to check out a DVD or book for beginners. My favorite teacher/author for beginners is Rodney Yee.
One last piece of advice - don't overdo it! Take it a little bit at a time. Make changes in small steps. Avoid injuries that might force you to stop before you even get started. Every little bit counts!