Written by: Dr. Catherine Stallworth, MDSTRONG SILENT TYPE
A brief glimpse at the history ofyoga.
Say the word "yoga" and, for some, visions of a hip new exercise trend only suitable for theyoung, thin and flexible come to mind. Others picture Indian yogis chanting, meditating andliving a life of seclusion on a Himalayan mountaintop. But yoga is bigger than both of thesepreconceptions. Yoga is a practice that incorporates controlled breathing, meditation andphysical postures to calm the body and quiet the mind. It empowers individuals toward improvedhealth and well-being with an emphasis on healthy living, strength and flexibility. This makes itan ideal form of exercise for people of all ages and abilities. Better yet, it is cheap, easy andeffective.The practice of yoga developed on the subcontinent India and has been documented asearly as 3000 B.C.E. It has been used for its therapeutic benefits for thousands of years. Theword yoga comes from the same Sanskrit root as the word for yoke. It implies union in all itssignificances and dimensions and is often referred to as a practice that promotes physical,mental and spiritual integration. This mirrors the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definitionof health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely theabsence of illness or disease. Clinicians and scientific researchers have begun to recognize theconnection between yoga and health.Yoga originated as a spiritual and philosophical practice in India 5,000 years ago. Thephilosophical teachings were first introduced in the United States through the writings of RalphWaldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Throughout the 20th century, the practice slowlygained a wider audience and became recognized for its benefits in promoting health andwellness. Currently, 18 million people practice yoga in the U.S. As individuals find relief fromsuch common maladies as back pain,arthritis, anxiety andstressthrough the practice ofyoga, researchers have begun to study its effects on a wide range of illnesses.Most people discover the practice through the physical exercises (asanas) or by learning tocontrol thebreath(pranayama). However, yoga is much more comprehensive than simplymoving and breathing. In order to understand the health benefits of yoga, it is important tounderstand the philosophical roots and depth of the practice.There are eight aspects to the practice of yoga. The first two, the yamas and niyamas, areuniversal and individual moral restraints and guidelines. They provide guidelines for healthybehavior. The third limb, asana, represents the postures of yoga. These postures help developphysical strength and flexibility. Pranayama, or mindful breathing, is the fourth limb. Studies ofpranayama often focus on the reduction of stress and improvement of symptoms in pulmonarydisease. The fifth and sixth limbs, pratyhara and dharana, can be thought of as turning inwardand concentration. Dhyana, or meditation, is the seventh limb. Meditation has been studied in