Yoga means harness, yoke, unity. In its purest form it is meditative movement and discipline with the purpose of harnessing prana (energy) to chit (consciousness).The goal of yoga practice is tranquility and spiritual awakening.
Yoga is so good for children…they are already so flexible and limber, but teaching them yoga not only benefits their bodies but helps their focus, attention, concentration and it builds self esteem and self-respect. This recent article in Parents.com discusses the hesitance some families have with yoga since they feel it may have Hindu religious undertones and goes on to explain that although yoga originated thousands of years ago in India and is one of the most popular mind-body therapies in the world, it is a universal and secular practice. http://www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/the-benefits-of-yoga-for-kids/
There have been some great studies done in schools too…one was in inner city Brooklyn where 4th and 5th graders reported fewer negative behaviors in response to stress after 2 weeks of yoga practice than those who participated in other after-school activities…just 2 weeks of yoga! http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=berger+2009+yoga. And when yoga was introduced as part of PE class in a US high school, the students reported feeling less stressed and added benefits to their psychosocial well being. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22343481
For the last 5 years each Friday morning I have attended a wonderful yoga class with a wonderful yoga teacher Emily. An anecdotal report of one person’s journey with yoga is great to hear about but is there really evidence to back this up as a mind-body therapy…in fact there is. Research on yoga, particularly in academic settings, is expanding. The National Institute of Health currently lists over 40 research trials in the United States and Canada recruiting for studies including the effects of yoga in patients with hypertension, stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, cystic fibrosis, asthma, depression and chronic pain in medical institutions such as MD Anderson, Brigham Young University, National Cancer Institute, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, McGill University, John Hopkins University, Wake Forest University, and University of California-Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
A majority of published studies on the clinical effects of yoga have shown significant benefits from 30 to 60 minutes of practice 3 or more times a week for a span of 1- 12 weeks showing that frequency trumps duration of practice. The practice of yoga has been shown to decrease stress via down regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). Studies show that yoga decreases stress hormones and inflammation in the body. These changes lead to slower, deeper respiration, decrease in resting heart rate and decreased blood pressure. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=ross+2010+yoga.
Many of us get defined by the diseases that we are told that we have. That was me 5 years ago…I was labeled with fibromyalgia, irritable bowel disease, migraines. I thought I would have to co-exist with these diseases for the rest of my life. Instead I have slowly but surely let go of many physical and mental blocks..I am no yoga champion, in fact I find it very challenging at times..but I know that it is about more than just knowing how to hold a pretzel pose…becoming more flexible and adaptable in my attitude, thoughts and choices has translated into more flexible joints, a flexible gut and a flexible mind.