For those who think 'yoga' is what Jon Belushi yells over and over in "Animal House," I have some disappointing news: it's not. For those who have a desire to be more in-touch with their bodies while building a strong mental foundation, please read on, for Webb the Fitness Guy has come to speak on the benefits of yoga.
An ancient Indian discipline for the mind, body and spirit, yoga has been practiced for millennia, dating back to the early Indus Valley civilizations. It began as a way to experience a higher state of consciousness, and that goal holds true to this day for practicing yogis (people who practice...wait for it...yoga!). There are books devoted to this ancient practice, and what I'll provide here is only the most rudimentary of overviews.
While yoga is heavily practiced in meditative practices such as Hinduism and Buddhism, fitness enthusiasts such as myself practice yoga to relieve stress, breathe deeply, and just to take a break from the busy city streets known as life. The basics of yoga involve meditating, stretching and breathing. Controlling how your mind perceives things, or mental strength, combined with controlling how your body contorts, or physical strength, mixed with controlling your inhalations and exhalations, or mental/physical strength, form the baseboards of yoga. On those baseboards, you can increase mental toughness, create new body positions and take deeper breaths.
The goals of yogis vary, from relieving stress, to keeping limber, to utilizing it as a main form of exercise, to achieving a higher mental state. Asanas, or body postures involving the way a yogi is sitting, are what practicing yogi seek to master, with asana positions ranging from the Downward Dog to the Prayer Pose. Sometimes asanas are even used as an alternate form of medicine, with the belief that all pain can be linked to the mind, and strengthening the mind and the body through yoga will heal your ailments.
The reception of yoga in our Western culture has been exceptional. If you decide to undertake it, however, I would recommend talking with your physician to see if you are healthy enough for what some have called the hardest thing they've ever put their body through. Making sure your instructor is established and/or professionally licensed is also recommended; while many do practice yoga, it is easy to get hurt if you are not properly trained.
Look for future articles with detailed yoga positions, branches of yoga, and breathing techniques.
Enjoy and be safe, yogis!