Yoga for mind and body

Lucas Merritt-Stewart, 7, participates in a kids’ yoga session last month at Kingston’s Mudita Yoga Center. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Lucas Merritt-Stewart, 7, participates in a kids’ yoga session last month at Kingston’s Mudita Yoga Center. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Are you stressed out? Is your back in knots? Still your mind and relax your body with a 5,000-year-old practice that about 13.5 million of us do on a regular basis. Yoga is a combination of controlled breathing and poses (postures or asanas) that work on flexibility and strength, putting controlled pressure on parts of the body systems to improve health. Meditation is a part as well.

Stress is responsible for a multitude of mental and physical ills. An activity that can ease it, while also lowering blood pressure and heart rate, is a good idea. Yoga is also claimed to improve concentration, memory and focus, according to studies at the University of Wisconsin. It may help not only the stressed among us, but also the arthritic and those with bad posture, headaches, overweight, depression and insomnia. Proponents say yoga lifts the mood and improves flexibility and limberness, along with balance, strength and range of motion.

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For most of my youth, the word “yoga” brought to mind for me an image of my mother lying head downwards on a slanted board, a pose I’m not sure is part of yoga. But that’s what she said she was doing.

This ancient practice had a boom in our culture in the 1960s and 1970s, accompanying a cultural fascination with Eastern ways. Though many people think that yoga comes from Hinduism, it was actually on the scene many centuries before that religion. Although the practice of Hinduism incorporates some yoga, the yoga was first, and is not a religion itself. There is proof of the existence of yoga in the form of postures pictured on stone carvings in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and northwest India dating from 3,000 BCE.

Classical yoga has eight steps that include restraint and observance. Modern Western yoga usually focuses on three of them: postures, breathing and meditation. Over the years yoga has evolved and changed. Over a hundred different styles have emerged. There is a kind of yoga for everyone. Area schools offer a large variety, such as vinyasa, kundalini, ashtanga, iyengar, svaroopa, bakhti, hot, and chair-sitting yoga. You can now even practice the latest trend, naked yoga, in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Austin.

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