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An introduction to Yoga

by Kamal Salar

Yoga has been part of Eastern religions for over three thousand years. While it still remains an important part of Hinduism and Buddhism, yoga has become a popular form of exercise. It first came to the United Sates in the 1830s, riding a tide of interest in alternative spirituality and Eastern philosophies. In the 1930s, the postures and stretches developed in India thousands of years ago would be adopted by vegetarians and others in the United States as a way to promote health.

Today, yoga has become a cultural phenomenon with books such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga and Yoga for Dummies initiate people who would otherwise be clueless about this ancient art form into its mysteries. Yoga involves a series of stretches and posters that help a practitioner achieve his or her goals.

History of Yoga

Despite yoga entering the West as a New Age alternative spiritual practice, there is nothing new about it. The techniques were first developed in India thousands of years ago. Pinpointing an exact date when it began is difficult as the practice can be traced to sacred texts called the Upanishads which were written sometime between 1,000-5,000 B.C.

It may be used as a form of exercise in the West today, but Yoga began as a deeply spiritual practice designed to help a person’s jive or finite self, get in touch with a person’s Brahman, his eternal self, according to the All About Spirituality page. A more objective source states that the earliest reference to the practice occurs on stone seals found in India that date back to 3,000 B.C. Historians believe that yoga was a common practice well before the information on the seals was committed to stone.

The history of yoga can be divided into four periods. The first era is the Vedic period. This period gets its name because scholars believe that the Vedas were written during this time, and it is when first accounts of yogis, ascetics who preferred to live alone in the woods of India, appear. The second era is referred to as the Pre-classical period. The Pre-classical period saw the emergence of the first scripture dedicated entirely to the practice of Yoga. The Buddha studied yoga as part of his meditative practices and yoga techniques became a part of Buddhism. The classical yoga period saw an attempt to define standardized yoga techniques and yogis produced additional works of scripture. The goal of yoga in the post classical period is not to gain oneness with the universe, but rather to live within the moment. Transcendental meditation, a related practice, came out of Post-Classical era schools.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga started out as spiritual practice and can still be pursued as such today. Other people become interested in Yoga because of its more tangible health benefits of a low-impact aerobic workout and increased flexibility. To fully understand the postures and what they mean, a purist should study the concepts and tenets behind the postures and the discipline itself, but many people who practice Yoga do it purely as part of an exercise program.

Studies have shown that people who practice yoga have reduced anxiety, lower blood pressures, are able to deal with stress better, are more physically fit, and their heart and lungs operate more efficiently. People who do yoga regularly can control their brain waves, pulse rate, metabolic rate, respiratory function, brain waves, blood pressure and skin resistance, according to Holistic Health Online

Because many people use yoga as a part of a spiritual practice, there are less tangible benefits to taking it up including being more at ease with themselves for those who believe in its tenets. Some Christians, like the one responsible for the Alternative Spirituality page referenced earlier, do not engage in it for theological reasons.

Starting Yoga

Many gyms and local YMCAs have begun to offer Yoga courses. Books, videos, and websites are a good place to start researching different schools, but only a yoga instructor can help a new student make sure he is doing the poses properly, but before a person starts any class a little research is required. The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga pages on About.com contain valuable advice for beginners and a proper etiquette guide.

That a practice that dates back a few millennia has developed different forms is not surprising. Before enrolling in a class, a potential student should research which forms will work the best for him. The next bit of advice is medical in nature and applies to starting any fitness program. See a doctor before starting any exercise routine. The likelihood that health problems will prevent a new student from learning yoga is low, but physical conditions do exist that might prevent an individual from going into certain postures.

Once a person has done research and consulted with a physician, the next step for a beginning Yoga student is to find a teacher that can guide the student through the learning process. Phone books, the Internet and word-of-mouth can help a person find a teacher, but attending a few classes will help a beginner to get a good idea of what to expect from a yoga class.

Whether a person takes up yoga as part of their physical fitness regimen, or stays true to its roots and uses it as a path to spiritual enlightenment, practicing Yoga has enriched the lives of many people for centuries. While finding a teacher is highly recommended, many people live in areas where teachers or scarce or non-existent. In cases where a teacher cannot be found because a student lives in a remote location, buying one of the many instructional videos, books or reading web sites on yoga can help him get started.. Unlike other, higher impact exercises which may have to be stopped after a person reaches an old age, yoga can be practiced throughout a person’s lifetime.





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