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Discover the practice of yoga and how it helps the mind and body.

Yoga helps still the mind in preparation for meditation. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Yoga helps still the mind in preparation for meditation.

Yoga is a group of practices and techniques that combines physical and meditative activities into one integrated ritual. It is regarded by dedicated practitioners, called yogis, as a way of life, but anyone can benefit from the strengthening, stretching and calming effects of yoga.

About Yoga

For more than 5,000 years, the techniques of yoga have been practiced by people seeking enlightenment, self-awareness and well-being. The beginnings of yoga are obscured in a prewriting past in the East; one of the earliest known texts describing yoga was written between 200 B.C. and 500 A.D. by a scholar named Patanjali. In his writings, he describes the eight limbs, or ashtangas, of Classical Yoga, which are principles that yogis follow. These include restraint, observance, physical exercise, breathing techniques, meditation preparation, concentration, meditation and realization.

There are many different types of yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Raja, Jnana, Bhakti, Tantra and others. What is commonly known and practiced in the United States is usually Hatha yoga, from ha, for sun, and tha, for moon. This yoga practice incorporates yoga postures (asanas) with breathing and meditation to achieve a union of the mind, body and spirit.

Iyengar Yoga

Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar during the 20th century, this form of Hatha yoga treats internal and structural imbalances. Iyengar yoga employs a number of props to aid in achieving and maintaining difficult yoga positions. This form of yoga tends to move slowly, hold poses longer and focus on alignment.

Ashtanga Yoga (Power Yoga)

Based on a flow of movement and guided by the breath, Ashtanga yoga is a favorite among athletes. The poses are difficult, and the continuous flowing from one pose to another builds stamina along with strength and flexibility. The name Ashtanga literally translates to eight-limbed; thus, this yoga follows the tenets outlined in the ancient Patanjali text.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot room, which is kept at 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. In this style of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury, 26 poses are performed in a prescribed sequence. Due to its requirement for extreme physicality, Bikram yoga is not recommended for beginners or those who aren't in excellent condition.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga is a style of Hatha yoga as well one of the independent approaches to yoga. Yogi Bhajan created the Hatha style of Kundalini Yoga, which incorporates breath control, chanting and meditation, with the physical poses to enable practitioners to merge with their universal selves. This type of yoga purports to balance the nervous and glandular systems and teach individuals to be in control of their thoughts and feelings.

There are many other forms of yoga that can be practiced, but these are the primary practices found in health clubs, yoga studios and park districts throughout the United States. Enthusiasts endorse yoga as a spiritual form of exercise that can reduce stress and enlighten the mind while it tones the body.

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