The Athlete

Yoga: 5,000 years and counting

Yoga as a form of meditation cropped up on the Indian subcontinent more than 5,000 years ago. This holistic art form encourages the yoga practitioner to find inner peace and to use deep breathing and stretching techniques to live a more centered life. Yoga has become an extremely popular form of fitness over the past decade in the United States, having begun to move beyond stereotypes of it as a longhaired, granola-eating, hippie activity. Yoga now can be found in almost all mainstream gyms as well as more non-traditional fitness arenas.

One of the most basic benefits of yoga is its stress reduction ability. By forcing the participant to concentrate on holding him or herself in unique position, yoga allows for focused breathing. Many people who do yoga may lose sight of the chaos of their lives – traffic, children, jobs, etc. – and can focus on the task at hand, helping to reduce their stress load. Yoga also improves the flexibility of its adherents by forcing them to begin to control their muscles and also to use muscles not used in everyday activities. Many people who do yoga can bend their bodies and hold themselves in seemingly odd positions, but it permits them to gain greater flexibility.

The increase in flexibility leads to better circulation. Because yoga-goers are using more of their muscles and in different ways, they are able to improve their overall circulation. This benefit is one even mainstream doctors find convincing about yoga because improved circulation leads to overall better fitness.

One of the most central qualities of most Eastern ideologies, but one not often understood by Western adherents, is that practices like yoga are about balance. Thus, by beginning the practice of yoga with learning the foundational techniques and moving to advanced positions, people who practice yoga increase their strength. There are probably few strength trainers who would point to yoga as a good class for their trainees to take, but doing yoga consistently over a few months will help with strength. By standing on one leg, propping up with an arm, and employing other yoga techniques, the yoga adherent will build muscle mass that over time, he or she will see manifest itself in improved strength.