Yoga, an Ancient Exercise Powerhouse

by: Laurie Roth-Donnell, Master Herbalist and Holistic Health Practitioner

Hippocrates understood that no medicine could match the body’s capacity to revitalize and regenerate itself. Yoga, a 6,000-year-old system of self-improvement exercise originated in India, quickly spread throughout China and is now surging in popularity in the United States. The heart of yoga philosophy lies in the belief that a self-fulfilled person is a healthy person, free from disease caused by stress and unhealthy living habits. Studies have shown that anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis can reap the benefits of improved physical tone, strength, mental stability and calmness. Yoga enables one to naturally manage stress and anxiety through the execution of a series of poses and movements. These poses are designed to enhance natural wellness by stimulating the flow of oxygen, blood, and lymph fluid, while toning muscles, increasing flexibility, endurance and concentration.

Yoga practice begins with the intention of opening the respiratory system, using the entire abdomen and diaphragm to breath. Most of us have shallow breath, which results in less oxygen in the blood, lowering energy, performance, and vitality. Yoga builds ease in control of breath, relaxing the body and quieting the mind, reducing stress and enhancing relaxation. Breath integrates numerous aspects of life: your environment, your respiratory tract, your nervous system, your mind, and every cell in your body. When you learn to regulate your breath, you can enhance your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, all building blocks of a healthy vibrant life. Yoga practice improves your power to exhale, inhale, holding power, and power to relax. If one of these four essential parts of breath falls short, then “dis-ease” occurs. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, anger and irritation manifest, leading to more serious and harmful physical ailments. Taking a deep cleansing breath allows the body to relax and to regenerate on a cellular level.

“The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga” by Deepak Chopra and David Simon suggest, “The true purpose of yoga is to discover the aspect of your being that can never be lost. Your job may change, your relationships may change, your body may change, your beliefs may change, your desires may change, your ideas about your role in the world may change, but the essence of who you are is the continuity of awareness that has no beginning or end. Your thoughts, beliefs, expectations, goals, and experiences may come and go, but the one who is having the experiences—the experience—remains.”

Yoga’s most obvious outward benefit is that it enhances body tone and ease of movement while increasing range of movement throughout the muscular skeletal system. The leading cause of accelerated aging is fragility. Yoga will fortify, strengthen, and transform the body by engaging in stretching and strengthening postures, combined with rhythmic breathing and relaxation, all designed to activate the natural reflexes of internal muscles and tissues. Yoga postures strengthen organs, glands, and internal tissues while assisting in balancing hormones. Yoga helps your body to fight disease by increasing circulation, resulting in natural detoxification. Yoga also helps coordinate balance and stamina as we age. These skills must be challenged or they will diminish through inactivity. These techniques also develop concentration, inner stillness, perseverance, patience, objective self-awareness, and self-acceptance.

Yoga practice can reduce many types of pain. Back pain is a common ailment, and yoga opens the large hips joints, where knee and back pain often originate. Pain eases as the back’s muscle structure begins to gain strength and flexibility, allowing for greater ease in movement and improved posture, which results in more comfort when sitting or standing. Chronic headache symptoms can be reduced with yoga posture sequences designed to relieve tightness in the shoulder and neck areas, as tension ceases, blood flow increases to the brain, decreasing headache severity, length, or complete elimination of pain.

Regular yoga practice may also reduce the cravings for junk food. Yoga meditation coupled with an inclination towards a healthier diet, calms the nervous system and helps combat longterm digestive issues. Yoga stimulates the body’s elimination process (peristalsis): yoga assists the natural movement of food through the digestive system by increasing blood flow to the colon. Yoga is also a great sleep agent; simply engage in “before bed postures” designed to increase blood flow through the pineal gland, increasing the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone). The pineal gland also produces serotonin (the “mood” hormone) and certain postures bring oxygenated blood into the gland improving its function, while smoothing out emotional highs and lows.

Yoga is a simple, low impact exercise program that can be practiced at any age, in any location. The physical benefits of yoga are amazing. It stimulates the mind, and enhances intuition, insight, and creativity. If you can breathe and walk, you can practice yoga. I suggest speaking with your primary care physician about starting a 30-minute yoga practice (designed for beginners), three times a week. You will be amazed how quickly your body will positively respond to this exercise therapy.

PS… yoga has been known to improve one’s golf game!

“The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga” by Deepak Chopra and David Simon