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Yoga is a well-known natural therapy in the West, where many people view it as a form of gentle exercise that consists of body postures and breathing techniques with perhaps some meditation thrown in. However, in its purest Hindi form yoga is in fact a way of being that controls all aspects of life. The father of yoga, Patanjali, describes stages to enlightenment, starting with ethical guidelines that include eating habits and personal hygiene, progressing through postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), to meditation, and eventually withdrawal to the supreme level of pure consciousness (akin to nirvana in Buddhism).

As with some of the ancient Chinese therapies yoga is said to influence the flow of prana (qi, life energy) through nadis (meridians, energy channels) that cross at chakras (the body’s energy centres). A chakra can be associated with a specific mantra such as the most sacred manta “OM”, which represents the original sound of the universe. The flow of energy in the subtle or astral body equates to electrical impulses, neurological pathways, and nerve centres and organs when talking about the physical body.

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There are many different types of yoga, the most commonly practised in the west being Hatha yoga. Hatha means “balance” and focuses on balancing mind and body. Asanas are designed to benefit both mind and body, and are performed slowly coordinated with breathing. Other examples of yoga types are Bikram (vigorous), Iyengar (uses props), Jnana (yoga of self-knowledge), Sivananda, and Tantra (the body is your temple!).

The easiest way of learning yoga is to join a class, preferably given by a qualified teacher, however once you have mastered the asanas and pranayama it can be very therapeutic to practice alone. A popular series of asanas is “The Salute to the Sun”, which was traditionally practised facing the rising and setting sun. It comprises of 12 asanas that should flow into each other and synchronise with correct breathing patterns. It is an excellent way to warm up at the beginning of a yoga routine.

Conventional medical opinion agrees that yoga is a good exercise regime and/or relaxation technique. Such is its acceptance that it has been incorporated into a number of healthcare programmes, and most doctors feel that its benefits should be investigated further relating to medical complaints.

Yoga for exercise and relaxation

Examples of conditions where Yoga can be useful are:

  • Stress, fatigue, depression.
  • Headaches and migraines.
  • Circulatory disorders.
  • Asthma and bronchitis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Digestive disorders.
  • Back pain.
  • Menstrual problems including PMS.
  • Improving mobility and flexibility.

The following recommended books are a good place to start:

Yoga for You by Tara Fraser

Learn Yoga DVD by Louise Sear

Your Yoga Body DVD - Instructor Vimla

The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures (Paperback) by Christina Brown

Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond by Francoise Freedman

Yoga Pretzels: 50 Fun Yoga Activities for Kids and Grownups by Tara Guber

See our full range of Holistic Therapy books in the Further Exploration section.

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