Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. Yoga began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century, with an explosion of interest in postural yoga in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West. As an ancient practice, yoga has been associated with cultural, religious and physical activity for more than 2,000 years. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj meaning “to yoke or join together.” Some take this to mean a union of mind and body. The eight limbs of yoga are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyhara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Yoga Breathing or Pranayama, is the foundation of the yoga practice. Pranayama is defined as the regulation of breath leading to an assimilation of mind and body. It begins with deepening our breathing with the three-part breath, then moves into more advanced breathing exercises. Pranayama also goes hand in hand with the Asana (steady, comfortable posture or the physical practice of yoga poses). There is no written record of the inventor of yoga. Yogis over the millennia have passed the discipline along to their students, and many different schools of yoga developed as the practice widened in global reach and acceptance. The postures that are now practiced in yoga classes were not originally a governing component of the yoga traditions in India. Yoga, in ancient times, was often referred to in terms of a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms and fruits. Each branch of yoga has unique characteristics and represents a specific approach to life. The six branches are: Hatha yoga- the physical and mental branch that involves Asana and Pranayama practice, preparing the body and mind. Raja yoga- the meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga,” Karma yoga- is the path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions, Bhakti yoga- is the path of devotion or a positive way to channel our emotions while cultivating acceptance and tolerance. Jnana yoga – or wisdom, is the path of the scholar and intellect through study. And Tantra yoga is the pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.
Studies suggest that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase our physical activity while enhancing strength, flexibility and balance. Yoga practice has also shown value in specific medical conditions. Scientists and medical doctors pursuing yoga-related research focus on its potential benefits as a technique for easing stress and managing chronic conditions or disabilities, as well as examining its potential to help avoid, heal, or alleviate specific conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, diabetes, and symptoms of menopause. Yoga is known for its ability to soothe tension and anxiety in the mind and body. But it can also have an impact on our exercise capacity. Studies have found that yoga has a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors: It helps lower blood pressure in those who hypertension. It’s likely that the yoga restores “baroreceptor sensitivity,” this helps our body sense imbalances in blood pressure and maintain stability. Other studies have found that yoga improves lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as patients with known coronary artery disease. It also lowered excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduced their need for medications. Yoga is now being included in numerous cardiac rehabilitation programs due to its cardiovascular and stress-relieving benefits.
Fitness was not traditionally a principal aim of yoga. Yoga has become popular as a form of exercise based on its focus to promote improved control of mind and body and to enhance quality of life. Its practitioners have avowed its ability to harmonize emotional, physical and spiritual health for years, however only recently has there been a push to validate these claims through research. So far, the results have been absolute, significant evidence of the wide-ranging benefits of yoga, both as a treatment and as a preemptive form of medicine and health care. Research suggests that a carefully tailored set of yoga poses may reduce lower back pain and improve function. Studies also suggest that a regular exercise routine that incorporates yoga may improve our quality of life by reducing stress and anxiety; lowering our heart rate and blood pressure; and helping us to relieve any anxiety, depression, and insomnia we may be suffering from, while improving our overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. Many who practice yoga do so to maintain mental health and well being, while improving physical fitness.
Yoga can help bring calm and mindfulness to our busy lives. It appears to modulate our stress response system by reducing our perceived stress and anxiety. In turn, decreasing physiological arousal, for example, reducing our heart rate, lowering our blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of our body’s ability to respond to stress more adaptably. Mindfulness refers to focusing our attention on what we are experiencing in the present moment without judging ourselves. Practicing yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness not just during the act, but also in other areas of our lives. Yoga develops inner awareness. It focuses our attention on our body’s capabilities at the existing moment. It helps develop breath and strength of concentration and physique. Researchers describe mindful eating as an unprejudiced awareness of the physical and emotional feelings coupled with eating. The number of minutes yoga is practiced per week can be associated with better mindful eating. Practicing yoga helps us be more aware of how our body feels. This heightened awareness can carry over to suppertime. Researchers found that patients who practice yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. Those who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practice yoga have a lower body mass index compared to those who don’t. Research attributes this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.
At Gourmet Services Inc. we know that automation, designed to facilitate our days and nights, brings a need to be connected at all times. In doing so, oddly, we become distracted from reflecting on our inner and outer self. The use of pharmaceuticals can ease some of our symptoms, however this methodology can also mean that we can carry on as normal with our busy lives, reducing our ability to monitor and focus on our health. At a time when technology and drugs dictate the way we live our lives, it’s inspirational that yoga not only endures, but that scientists and scholars are taking the time to explore exactly how this discipline can help us. Yoga, is an ancient practice and meditation, and for many of us, yoga can provide a retreat from our seemingly hectic and demanding lives.