Mad About Yoga

Relieve stress, soothe pain, feel better -- and perhaps seek enlightenment.

By FamilyTime


Without question, yoga makes you feel better. After a session, you are both energized and relaxed. You walk taller and straighter, aches and pains seem less pronounced, and, if you're lucky, you experience some inner peace.

Americans are signing up for yoga in droves. Classes are proliferating and books and videos are popular. Is it for you?

What is Yoga?
Yoga means "union" in Sanskrit. A 5,000 year-old psycho-physical discipline developed in India, yoga's goal is union with the absolute, or divine consciousness, the Brahman, or with the transcendent self, the Atman.

All yoga is a means to achieving this ultimate goal. But not everyone who practices yoga reaches the goal. In fact, most of us never get close. This is acceptable, because as yogi teachers say, the process is important. Yoga is not a religion.

Most people who practice yoga do it to feel better, achieve mental clarity, control stress, and gain greater self understanding. They make it part of a regular program of healthful eating, exercise, and relaxation.

What Are the Benefits?
Those who practice yoga believe it touches nearly every part of life. They sleep better, think more clearly, experience less stress, and feel stronger in every way.

Yoga helps with balance, flexibility, and muscle strength.

It also has been credited with soothing chronic pain and reducing the intensity and frequency of migraines.

Some women say it alleviates symptoms of PMS and menopause. Others find it a good way to stay fit during pregnancy.

As with any form of excercise, yoga should not be attempted before you check with your doctor.

How Does Yoga Work?
Yoga is a series of breathing exercises called "pranayama" and physical postures called "asanas." The third element is meditation.

Yoga sessions usually last for 60 to 90 minutes, although daily practitioners may only spend 30 minutes.

The classes are an integration of breathing, stretching, and relaxation (or meditation). This may not sound strenuous, but when done correctly, yoga will make you more flexible, tone muscles, and help you slim down.

How Do I Begin?
Look for a yoga teacher or center in your area. You can also buy books, audio tapes, and videos that teach you how to practice yoga at home.

Yoga advocates feel finding a good teacher is the best way to go. The teacher will show you how to practice yoga so that it's right for you and will work with you as you progress.

Visit the teacher and/or center before signing up. Ask about the instructor's credentials, how long he or she has practiced yoga, what they expect you will get from their classes, and how much personal attention you will get.

Talk to the teacher about your personal limitations. Not everyone should perform every asana.

Be sure to inquire about schedules and fees. This is a time commitment and you don't want to make it lightly.

Make sure you feel comfortable at the yoga center. Look around to see what others are wearing, how they seem to respond to the teacher and each other. Would you like to join them?

Once you learn some basic yoga techniques, you can augment the classes at home with books and videos.

Although you may not seek it, when you begin, you might also find inner tranquility or embark on a spiritual journey you were not expecting to take.