Practicing Yoga


As the twenty-first century nears, the ancient form of meditation and relaxation has reached new levels of popularity. The Yoga fever seems to be captivating everyone- from close friends to famous celebrities, namely Madonna, who has publicized herself as an avid Yoga practitioner. Inquiring minds seek answers and many expect miracles from Yoga. But as with any practiced skill, Yoga takes time and discipline to master.

Today there are a plethora of available adaptations of Yoga. Each differs slightly in school of thought and rituals; however, there is a basic formula that applies to all forms of Yoga. First is the breathing. Expert teacher Nadia Jenkins states, "Remember that your breath is a bridge between your body and your mind" ( ). The two components of breathing are inhaling and exhaling, respectively. When inhaling,

"softly contract the back of your throat between the base of your tongue and your collar bone. Start slowly ‘sipping’ air through contraction in your throat using it like a straw. Suction comes from the back of the throat, not from the nostrils. Keep your face, neck, and shoulders relaxed! Fill your lungs comfortably with air making them long and wide" ( ).

Exhaling is the opposite action, and both should be done at a comfortable and non-rushed pace. When exhaling, "use your abdominal diaphragm, rib cage, and the throat muscles to squeeze air out of the lungs like a syringe. Keep your face, neck, and shoulders relaxed! Be sure to empty your lungs completely before your next inhale."


The next component of practicing Yoga is to relax and stretch the muscles of the body. The most effective way to stretching is done by basing all movements on the spine. Various muscle groups, especially the lower back and abdominal region, perform contraction and retraction exercises. "Static muscular contraction will generate heat, which will loosen and unlock connective tissue, muscles, joints, and tendons preparing you for deep stretching. Sweat will help you detoxify your body" ( ). Poses and stretches vary in coordinance of the instructor or source. Props are often used to simplify the stretching procedure and allow for unusual positions to be attained. Lasater credits the props in aiding the stretching and bending exercises. "Restorative poses help relieve the effects of chronic stress in several ways. First, the use of props . . . provides a completely supportive environment for total relaxation" ( ). It is also very important that a yogi (one who practices Yoga) understands that he or she is not to strain to achieve certain levels of a position. This action may cause damage by straining the muscles and twisting the spine in an unpleasant manner. Any yogi should be careful not to push too hard. However, an effective pose, according to Roger Cole, Ph.D., can "dramatically alter hormone levels, thus reducing brain arousal, blood pressure, and fluid retention" ( ). Movement, in general, "reduces edema of the extremities," and "has a stimulating and calming effect on the nervous system" ( ).

The third and final aspect of Yoga exercises is soothing the mind.

"Pay attention to your body alignment. Keep your eyes on some small still object in front of you. Try to match the duration of your inhale with your exhale. Try to match the duration of your movement(s) with the duration of your breath. Notice how your body is staring to open and spine to elongate. Try to block everything around you, as you go deeper inside" ( ).

The sooner the mind can relax, the sooner the entire body is at ease, and through the movements of stretching and rhythmic breathing, stress may be relieved and released.



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