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Yoga

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What To Expect
What Is It Used For?
Side Effects/Cautions
Recommended Books
Recommended CDs


What Is It?
Yoga is more than just the series of postures we have become familiar with in the West. It is a philosophy of life, incorporating exercise, breathing, relaxation, body awareness, meditation and personal and spiritual development. The word yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning “union”; the practice of yoga aims to unite the body, mind and spirit in harmony and balance.

Yoga is thought to have originated from Hindu philosophy around 5,000 years ago, although the first known written teachings, the Yoga Sutras, were compiled during the second century B.C. by Indian sage, Patanjali. In his work, Patanjali outlines eight steps to spiritual enlightenment:

1. Moral practices such as truth, non-violence and avoidance of greed and theft
2. Self purification through cleanliness, contentment, effort, study and faith
3. Physical practice of yoga postures (asanas)
4. Breath control
5. Turning the attention within and focusing on the senses
6. Concentration
7. Meditation
8. Enlightenment

There are many branches of yoga, which may specialise in specific aspects of these eight steps, but the one most commonly practised in the West is Hatha yoga, which combines postures, controlled breathing and meditation. The combination of physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of yoga make it useful as both prevention and therapy for a wide range of ailments.

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How Does It Work?
Yoga enhances the life force, or prana, within our bodies, and allows us to reach a state of balance by integrating the mind and body. The practice of Hatha yoga involves postures (asanas), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). The physical postures increase strength and flexibility, improve posture and circulation, promote relaxation and enhance the functioning of the nervous system. The breathing techniques of pranayama help to calm and focus the mind, lowering the breathing rate and promoting relaxation. Meditation calms and focuses the mind and relaxes the body, reducing stress and anxiety, and enhancing energy levels.

Scientists are unsure exactly why yoga is so beneficial to health, but some suggest it mainly works by reducing stress, while others suggest it triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

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What To Expect
You can learn yoga from books or videos, but beginners will gain more by learning from an experienced instructor in a class setting or in private sessions. Yoga is normally practised in loose, comfortable clothing, and bare feet. It is best practised on an empty stomach. The instructor may provide a “sticky” mat which prevents slipping, or you can buy one yourself, although a foam mat or blanket can also be used. You may also be asked to bring a cushion to sit on during meditation and/or a blanket, which will keep you warm during relaxation.

A yoga class may start with gentle warm-up exercises. You will be taught to focus on your breathing during the exercises, breathing through the nose, and inhaling during certain movements, exhaling during others. You will be taught a series of postures that are held for a few seconds to several minutes. These include standing, seated, or lying down postures which gently stretch the muscles, and squeeze the internal organs. Some postures will be repeated up to three times. Beginners will start with simple postures and gradually advance to more difficult ones. You will be encouraged to work at your own pace and to your own physical limitations. Classes will usually end with a period of relaxation. Longer classes may also include breathing exercises and meditation.

Classes normally last between one and two hours and are held once a week. In addition to classes, many people practise yoga at home everyday for at least 20-30 minutes.

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What Is It Used For?
Most people practise yoga as a means of maintaining physical and emotional health rather than as a therapy. It improves strength, flexibility, co-ordination and range of motion, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and aids sleep and digestion. Although yoga on its own is not a cure for any disease, it is used as a complementary therapy for people with cancer, respiratory problems such as asthma, heart disease, depression, arthritis, diabetes, addictions and AIDS.

Side Effects/Cautions
Consult your doctor before beginning yoga if you have any health concerns. You should also mention these concerns to your yoga instructor.

Avoid yoga if you have a back injury or have had recent surgery.

If you have high blood pressure, avoid upside down postures or postures that involve standing still for lengthy periods of time.

Let your instructor know if you are pregnant so s/he can modify the exercises for you. Some classes are available which are designed specifically for pregnant women.

Don’t try to do too much too soon. Take it slowly to avoid over-stretching which can cause injury.

Some forms of yoga such as astanga or power yoga are very challenging, and are not appropriate for beginners, or people who have not been exercising regularly.

References

Find a Yoga Instructor

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Recommended Books

Prices are in US Dollars

 

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners
H. David Coulter

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga is the only modern authoritative source that correlates the study of hatha yoga with anatomy and physiology. Hatha yoga is comprised of stretching, strengthening and breathing exercises in upright, lying down and inverted postures. Yoga teachers and students, personal trainers, medical therapists, or anyone who is curious or troubled about how the body responds to stretching and exercise will find in this book a cornucopia -- partly new and partly old -- of readable and reliable information. It was written and edited to meet the needs of a general audience largely unschooled in the biomechanical sciences, and yet to attract and challenge the interests of the medical profession. This book features 230 black and white photographs and more than 120 diagrams and anatomical illustrations.

WINNER, 2002 Benjamin Franklin Award for Health Wellness, and Nutrition - Publishers Marketing Association.

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Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health
B. K. S. Iyengar

In this comprehensive and highly illustrated guide B.K.S. Iyengar, the world's leading teacher of yoga, shares his unique, holistic approach. For Iyengar, yoga is more than just a form of exercise; it is a holistic experience that benefits the body, mind, and spirit. He outlines the philosophy and ideals behind this ancient practice and explains how yoga can help to counter the stresses of modern living. Designed for every level of ability, age, and physical condition, there are detailed instructions for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students. Clearly illustrated, step-by-step instructions explain how to perform each yoga asana, or posture, correctly, while a unique 360-degree view of the final pose shows exactly how to position each part of the body. A special section introduces B.K.S. Iyengar's innovative use of props, enabling beginners or the less flexible to practice the classic yoga asanas more easily and effectively. A further section illustrates sequences of asanas to treat or prevent a wide range of ailments. In addition, there is a 20-week yoga course, personally formulated by B.K.S. Iyengar, which progresses from simple to more challenging postures. Without a doubt, Yoga: The Iyengar Way is the definitive guide to the practice of yoga by the master.

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Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual: An Illustrated Guide to Personal Practice
David Swenson

This is the most user-friendly yoga book available! It contains the entire Primary and Intermediate series of Ashtanga Yoga with three options for every asana. It is spiral bound to easily remain open while practicing. It contains over 650 photos with clear instructions and commentary. It is a great book for all levels of practitioners to enjoy and teachers will find it to be an invaluable tool for teaching their students.

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More Yoga Books

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Recommended CDs

 

Bryan Kest's Long, Slow & Deep: A Complete 90 Minute Yoga Workout (CD & Booklet)
Bryan Kest

This highly anticipated live recording of Bryan's Long, Slow & Deep routine will help you move into areas deeply and safely with a combination of deep stretching poses. Only on rare occasions does Bryan teach this routine, but now you can have your very own recording. Balance your usual regimen of vinyasa (flowing) routines with this deep exploration. The live, approximately 90-minute recording was done at his very popular Santa Monica, CA studio, and is in audio CD format, accompanied by a beautiful, 8" x 8" spiral bound instructional booklet. (Like the other titles in the series, the spiral binding makes it easy to keep the book open and follow along.) The audio CDs are segmented into 14 tracks for easy repeating or forwarding. The booklet has photographs of the asanas (positions) which track the recording, along with detailed written instruction for key poses provided by Bryan. A nice treat: Bryan Kest is one of the two models photographed for the asanas.
In addition to being an excellent, complete yoga routine for your library, the CDs are a compact format perfect for travelers.

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Bryan Kest: Advanced Yoga (CD & Booklet)
Bryan Kest

You've asked for it, and you got it: an advanced Bryan Kest routine. We all like the physical challenge that Bryan provides within the context of yoga. Practice working at your edge while maintaining a healthy approach to your practice. This is the third in a series of live recordings just made available to the general public. The recording is of one of Bryan's 90 minute classes at his very popular Santa Monica, CA studio, in audio CD format accompanied by a beautiful, 8" x 8" spiral bound instructional booklet. (Like the other titles in the series, the spiral binding makes it easy to keep the book open and follow along.) The audio CD is segmented into 18 tracks for easy repeating or forwarding. The booklet has over 100 photographed asanas (positions) that track the recording, along with detailed written instruction for key poses provided by Bryan. A nice treat: Bryan Kest is one of the two models photographed for the asanas.
In addition to being an excellent, complete yoga routine for your library, the CDs are a compact format perfect for travelers.

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Yoga Sanctuary: A Guided Hatha Yoga Practice
Shiva Rea

"Shiva Rea's CD offers a lot of flexibility in designing a home practice. Practicing at home is an important part of yoga because it helps you integrate the benefits yoga offers into your life more readily. Most people develop their home practice with video tapes, which are great as you want to watch to learn new postures.
But video tapes can be difficult (hard to rewind or adjust the volume while you're standing on your head!) and after you've used one or two a while, a little boring.
So this 2-cd set is incredibly useful. If you have a programmable CD player, you can easily create your own mix-n-match yoga practice by choosing the tracks you feel like doing that day. If you're tired, choose the slower, more meditative tracks; if you're feeling pumped, go with the more energetic, aerobic ones. This means less boredom than you might get with other home yoga instruction, and a more personal, customized practice.
The set has sections that focus on balance, abdominals, hip stretching, strength building, general flexibility, fast flowing poses, and meditation. All this with a complete warm up and cool down. There is also a great poster to help you visualize the poses in each section." - Amazon Reviewer

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Om Yoga in a Box: Basic Level
Cyndi Lee

 

OM Yoga in a Box-Basic Level, Contains everything you need to sustain an ongoing, varied home yoga practice:
• 2 Compact Discs: Instructional CD with 70+ minute yoga class (This CD can be programmed into 4 shorter, targeted classes, including one especially for brand new beginners)
• Flash cards, showing correct posture alignment and describing benefits.
• A Yoga belt, to help with deep stretching.
• A candle, incense and incense holder to help create sacred space.

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Om Yoga in a Box: Intermediate Level
Cyndi Lee

OM Yoga in a Box, Intermediate level, contains everything you need to practice flowing, vinyasa-style yoga:
• 2 Compact Discs: Disc 1 provides 70 minutes of yoga instruction on 4 tracts. Tracks can be programmed and shuffled to create a variety of classes. Disc2 is an all-music CD, perfect for yoga practice or relaxation.
• 20-page Instructional booklet
• 75 Flash cards
• 6-ft Yoga belt
• Tea Candle

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