YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE!

Whether young or old, regardless of one's physical condition, yoga has benefits for everyone. Too often we see pre-teens that cannot touch their toes. Young athletes with strong muscles for their sport of choice have limited flexibility in other areas. Middle age executives to soccer moms carrying around so much tension you can see it in their faces as well as bodies. And then there are the seniors. As we age, without making an effort, the body begins to lose muscle mass, ligaments and tendons lose elasticity, energy levels drop, mental focus weakens. Yoga has an answer for all of these conditions.

Our culture today has become more sedentary than ever before. With technology at our fingertips, from a very young age we sit in chairs hunched over computer and video screens of all types. Children today are less likely to go outside to run and play, becoming less in touch with their own bodies at an earlier and earlier age. Even physically active people rarely get balanced workouts to condition all parts of their bodies and minds. By pushing themselves, without regard to the whole self, the wear and tear on specific muscles and joints can lead to more problems as those bodies age. We see aging seniors bemoaning lost muscle tone, stiff joints, insomnia and mild depression, as well as myriad other physical and mental complaints. None of this has to happen. With a regular yoga practice any age can reap the benefits of a stronger, healthier body, a happier, more balanced disposition.

The physical practice of Hatha Yoga through asanas and pranayama can begin at any age. It all begins with the breath. Whether you are on the floor in a full lotus position or sitting up straight in a chair, by learning how to breathe more efficiently the lungs become healthier carrying fresh clean oxygen to the heart and expelling old, stale air. This increases circulation throughout the body providing nourishment to nerves and cells. The heart gets healthier and stronger. Training the body to breath more slowly and deeply helps reduce blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, eases tension and reduces stress. The increased oxygen relieves fatigue and improves concentration. By emptying the lungs more completely, toxins are removed more effectively thereby strengthening the immune system. Digestion is also greatly aided by this increase in oxygen. Sleep disorders often abate with this slower heart rate and better circulation.

By practicing slow, deep, complete breathing the benefits and improvement in overall health are bountiful. Less stress and tension, a stronger heart, improved mental processes, stronger immune system to fight disease, healthier blood pressure, more elevated mood. We have to breathe. If we stop breathing, we stop living so we might as well learn to breathe as effectively as possible. Everyone can do it and everyone can reap the benefits.

The physical aspects of a yoga practice through asanas go hand-in-hand with the breathing techniques of pranayama. By holding postures every muscle in the body can be lengthened and strengthened. Stretching each muscle group improves flexibility and reduces stiffness. It keeps joints, tendons and muscles limber. Because yoga is a weight-bearing exercise it improves bone density, a key consideration in keeping the aging process at bay. You gain endurance through a regular yoga practice. Some types of yoga provide a vigorous cardiovascular workout but that is not necessary to gain core strength and cardio conditioning. A basic Hatha practice combined with proper breath work conditions both the cardiovascular system and strengthens the core.

It is important to keep muscles strong. Our legs have to carry us through a lifetime of steps. Arms need to be able to reach and carry. Backs have to help support and keep us upright. Without keeping these muscles strong and flexible not only are we more prone to injury but even more importantly the quality of life is diminished with less ability to move comfortably.

Yoga is not about being able to stand on your head nor is it about sitting around chanting OM. Although both of those activities can be part of a yoga practice they aren't the essence of what you need to do to practice yoga. Can't stand on your head? Can't touch your toes? Can't arch up into wheel like a kid? Can't put your leg behind your head? Can't even sit on the floor in a cross legged position? None of these "can'ts" should prevent someone from doing yoga. None of these positions are what yoga is all about. All it takes to start to gain the benefits of a regular yoga practice is the willingness to begin. That beginning can be as simple as sitting in a chair and stretching out your arms. By holding on to something stationary and beginning to squat or lunge to work the legs. With time and consistency, muscles will begin to get longer and stronger.

As the body becomes stronger and looser the benefits become obvious, less stiffness and soreness, greater mobility. With those gains alone, one gains confidence and an improved mental attitude. It becomes easier to do things and therefore you want to do more. As flexibility increases you can go deeper into poses than you ever thought possible. Specific poses can bring specific benefits to different parts of the body. Whether strengthening backs or legs, stimulating the endocrine system or digestive organs, one can begin to bring focus to those areas that need the most attention.

Relaxation sounds easy, does hard. Most people today don't know how to fully relax. Learning this important function takes practice. As a regular part of a yoga practice you learn to first focus the mind. To hold postures takes mental focus, along with the breath and the physical effort. Stress ages the body inside and out. By first beginning to focus the mind you can then begin to learn to let go of the stress and tension that is so harmful to overall health.

When starting a yoga practice most people must overcome two basic faults as they perform the asanas- they hold the breath and they tense the muscles. With continued guidance and practice you learn that by breathing properly holding the postures actually become easier. From there one learns to focus the mind on where you are holding tension and with practice, you learn to let the tension release and sink deeper into the pose. This helps to train the body to relax.

Meditation should be a part of every yoga practice. Even if it is only the last few minutes of a Hatha class, the relaxation that comes while in savasana begins to condition the body and the mind to release. Everyone can lie on the floor and close their eyes. Can't lie flat on your back? Lie on your side, roll a blanket under your legs, sit with your back against a wall. Everyone can find a comfortable position to just be still for a few minutes. Everyone can find a few minutes, no matter how hectic the day, to just be still. Meditation, like all parts of yoga, takes practice. Being still is hard at first but as you learn to focus your mind and then let go, the feeling of refreshment that comes is so rewarding that it becomes a natural part of your life.

What else can you do that brings so much reward? In reviewing some of the words that describe the benefits of a regular yoga practice: feel better, stronger, healthier, more flexible, more peaceful, happier, calmer, improved posture, better balance, nothing else can provide so much.

Yoga can be practiced anywhere, any time. It takes no special equipment, no special place. It takes no special level of physical fitness or ability. It only takes a commitment to one's self. It means doing something for yourself, to improve the quality of your life. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery. There is no competition. It is only about doing what is right for your own body at any given moment. Yoga helps bring balance back to the body and the mind. This balance brings with it an overall improvement in well-being, an overall improvement to the quality of your life.

That is what yoga is all about and that is why YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE!