“I bow to you.” That’s the literal translation of the Sanskrit word, Namaste. Often said with palms held together vertically in front of the heart, the words and gesture are a sign of surrender and respect acknowledging the soul in one another. Although, no words are necessary. The gesture with a bow alone signifies Namaste.
When practicing yoga, the instructor initiates Namaste at the beginning, and at least, the end of class as a show of gratitude to the students and teachers before him or her. The students respond in kind connecting with everyone in the room and the world around us.
Yoga is a relatively safe, non-aerobic form of exercise that’s been practiced for more than 5,000 years. Also a Sanskrit word, yoga means to join, unite, or attach. Most Westernized classes focus on physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. Some also include a spiritual aspect, but this is found more often in private yoga centers than public gyms and health clubs.
Yoga is highly beneficial to well-being. It’s believed to reduce pain and inflammation from arthritis. While practicing yoga, chemicals known as endorphins increase helping to eliminate pain sensors and lower cortisol levels which boosts immunity.
The deep breathing and poses draw in higher levels of oxygen which improves blood flow and assists the healing and health of every organ and system in the body. Yoga helps lower blood pressure by calming the mind reducing stress and anxiety.
Nearly all poses build core strength and deep abdominal muscles as well as improves balance, flexibility, range of motion, and posture. And an added benefit is that it improves sleep quality and duration. Some exercises are said to slow or even reverse the aging process.
There are several styles of yoga with varying degrees of intensity. Hatha, the most common, combines a series of basic movements with breathing. In Vinyasa the poses flow smoothly from one to another. Power yoga is more intense to build muscle. Ashtanga uses a series of poses combined with a special breathing technique. Bikram, or hot yoga, uses 26 challenging poses performed in high temperatures. And Iyengar utilizes blocks, straps and chairs to help align the body with movements.
Some caution should be taken with all forms of exercise. Consult your physician if you have severe osteoporosis, high or low blood pressure, ear or spine problems, or are pregnant. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the most common yoga injuries involve over-stretching and strain from repetition to the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees.
I attend a class at a hospital health club that is quite gentle. Our instructor, Al, reminds us that if a pose hurts, we shouldn’t do it. We are to modify as needed for a comfortable stretch. One thing I know for sure is that I always feel better afterwards.