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What is Yoga?
Yoga has become a media darling, emblazoned by the star wattage of celebrities like Madonna, Sting, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Penelope Cruz. Make no mistake, however. Yoga is not just another fitness fad propelled by Hollywood stardom.
If you have ever taken a really great yoga class, or simply practiced yoga regularly over a period of time, you have likely experienced first hand why yoga has become so popular. Yoga has tremendous potential for improving our mental and physical health, and even our emotional balance and spiritual well-being.
There are many branches of yoga, but in the West, yoga largely refers to Hatha yoga, i.e. the physical postures (yoga asanas) and yogic breathing techniques (pranayama), which are the main focus of most people's yoga practice. The yoga postures and yoga breathing techniques of Hatha yoga purify and strengthen the body to increase the flow of vital energy, or prana, and still the constant chatter of the mind.
Yoga asanas have become popular for many reasons. Yoga postures help increase body awareness, and in this way offer a welcome alternative to the mindless, repetitive movements of many workout styles. Yoga is very user-friendly; the strengthening effects of yoga asanas are achieved gently and gradually, without pushing or forcing.
Further, as therapy yoga performs wonders, the long, slow stretches of yoga postures induce a sense of relaxation and well-being throughout the practice. Often, what keeps people coming back to yoga again and again is the peace they experience at the end of a yoga class and the enhanced well-being they enjoy in the days that follow. Yoga asanas also are therapeutic in that they help realign mind and body and invite greater life force and vitality into your life.
When practiced in the right way-with attentiveness, awareness and without strain, pushing, or forcing, yoga postures create extraordinary therapeutic effects on many levels. Yoga is one of the most complete and sophisticated systems of physical refinement ever known to humanity. While yoga didn't start out as therapy, any long-term practitioner can attest that yoga as therapy not only enhances the health of our body, but augments our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being as well.
Whether used for fitness or as therapy, yoga, ultimately, is about transformation and growth. People who engage in a regular yoga asanas practice, more often than not, find a natural shift of their outlook on life and a deepening in their perception of who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Whether you come to yoga for fitness or use yoga as therapy, yoga will make you look at life in a deeper, calmer way; it will open your eyes to things you have not experienced before and make you look at familiar things in new ways.
While many people come to yoga for relief with a health problem, many people find that yoga therapy offers them more than relief from depression, anxiety, help managing an eating disorder, or relief from stress. People who practice yoga continue to do so, because they find that yoga has helped them develop a new and deeper appreciation of life, and a greater joy and happiness.