Article by Emily Taggart
You may think that yoga is a recent exercise craze, but in fact, this practice has been around for centuries. Experts have found yoga poses carved in stone that date back as early as 3000 B.C. However, that’s just what the physical evidence supports; in fact, scholars estimate that yoga has been around since what was literally the Stone Age.
You can see, then, that yoga has been used for its benefits almost since the beginning of time. The ancients had it right, too. Yoga’s proponents don’t just rave about its exercise benefits. Instead, it’s a holistic approach to body or mind and spirit wellness that keeps everything in balance and therefore healthy — and attractive, too.
The premise is that yoga focuses on the whole body as a structure. In addition, though, the mind and spirit are also incorporated, so that the three come together. Rather than focusing on overt strength or “muscle building” as other traditional exercises do (like weightlifting), yoga focuses on balance and flexibility as well as strength. It incorporates all three. Some yoga masters, in fact, state that those who have done traditional exercise programs like weightlifting are in fact very challenged by yoga because they don’t normally focus on balance or flexibility — nor do they focus on mind and spirit, either. Therefore, yoga is a holistic practice that makes you healthy, balanced, peaceful — and strong — by concentrating on the poses and incorporating other changes into your life as well.
Yoga’s history began with the Vedic period, where rituals and ceremonies were used to break free of the mind’s limitations; this is also the core of Hinduism.
The Vedic period was followed by the Pre-Classical Yoga period, and among the things it introduced were the Upanishad scriptures, which further the Vedic teachings. This was followed by the Classical period, which introduced to the Yoga Sutra, the first attempt to standardize yoga practices.
Finally, this was followed by the Postclassical Yoga period, today’s modern yoga. This practice focuses on living in the moment, proper relaxation and exercise, good nutrition, proper breathing, positive thinking, and meditation.
Yoga as exercise
What makes yoga today so successful as an exercise practice is its focus on core muscles. Because many of the “asanas” or poses specifically focus on core muscles, it also helps improve posture, which “opens up” the body and makes it easier to breathe, stand, and simply improve “flow.”
Yoga has always focused on “perfect alignment,” in which the spine returns to its natural positioning over time, as yoga is practiced. Because of yoga’s focus, relaxation must actually be achieved at the same time as the asanas are being performed, which can actually be a challenge to those who have only done traditional exercise. Nonetheless, this “relaxation and focus” is key to yoga’s benefits, and teach students concentration; as poses continue, focus can intensify to a meditative state.
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