Turbaned gurus, sing-song mantras and bodily contortions . . . the promise of true enlightenment and omphaloskepsis (contemplation of the naval) completes the cliche.
But dont knock yoga till youve tried it, and then only with respect.
Yoga means to bind together -- variously joining sun and moon, left and right, male and female, and any number of yins and yangs -- through ascetic techniques of meditation and exercise. The goal is physical and mental balance.
Indian Hatha yoga is best known to Westerners. Double-jointedness isnt a prerequisite, but the classic lotus position, cross-legged on the floor, soles-up on the inner thigh, either comes naturally or doesnt.
Then there are more magical/mystical varieties of yoga for which people quit jobs and polite society and retreat to the Himalayas. But not everyone follows a spiritual guide beyond the Beltway; theyd rather take up the discipline at a local ashram or the Y.
Committed practitioners claim yoga leads to intuitive awareness, spiritual harmony, perfect concentration. Others use it to lose weight or quit smoking. Some just like the lift they get from yoga asanas (positions) better than breaking into a sweat with pushups.
In any case, it cant hurt, if done in moderation and with proper guidance.
You dont need to fall into the stress mode of life. You can use breath to relax, rather than stress, your mind and body. Yoga helps you to relearn that natural state that your body and mind want to be in: relaxation.
Deep breathing is both calming and energizing. The energy you feel from a few minutes of careful breathe is not nervous or hyper, but that calm, steady energy we all need.
Slow, steady, and quiet breathing gives a message to your nervous system: Be calm.
Whole books have been written on yoga breathing. Here is one 5-minute Breath Break. (Read through the instructions several times before you try the practice.
1. Sit with your spine as straight as possible. Use a chair if necessary but dont slump into it. Feet flat on the floor with knees directly over the center of your feet. Use a book or cushion under your feet if they do not rest comfortably on the floor. Hands are on the tops of your legs.
2. Close your eyes gently and let them rest behind closed lids.
Think about your ribs, at the front, back, and at the sides of your body. Your lungs are behind those ribs.
4. Feel your lungs filling up, your ribs expanding out and up.
Feel your lungs emptying, your ribs coming back down and in. Dont push the breath.
5. The first few times you do this, do it for 2 to 3 minutes, then do it for up to 5 to 10 minutes.
At first, set aside a time at least once a day to do this. When you learn how good it makes you feel, youll want to do it at other times as well.
Just as one stressful situation goes into your next challenge, relaxing for a few minutes every day gradually carries over into the rest of your daily life and activities.
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