By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
The practice of physical Yoga postures affects the human machine in very predictable ways. The Yoga asanas are thousands of years old. The poses have been practiced by countless individuals, over the course of five thousand years, because they work! Yoga poses use the physics of the human body to correct any misalignment, while increasing strength and flexibility.
The breathing exercises of Yoga (pranayama), even out the biochemistry of the brain, by balancing the endocrine system. Pranayama exercises also increase the physical capacity of the lungs. These breathing practices will ultimately help to lower blood pressure and support cardiovascular health.
The physical poses of Yoga (asanas) are based on the principles of physics. One aspect of physics is the use of levers and pulleys to accomplish a goal. A can opener is based on the principal of a lever. Yoga poses work on the same principle. The Yoga postures use the body’s own skeletal and muscular system, as a mechanical structure, to strengthen and elongate muscles.
The balancing asanas help one to maintain good bone density, because they are weight-bearing exercises. As we move more deeply into the postures, we are actually increasing the amount of force or weight on the body. With this increased force, the body adapts and gains more flexibility and strength.
For example, if you bend your knee more toward a ninety degree angle, instead of a forty-five degree angle, in any of the Warrior poses, you will increase your strength much more quickly, and dramatically, because you are increasing the force on the quadriceps muscles.
Depending on the present condition of your body, if you practice an inner rotation of your muscles and tendons, when performing a posture, you might correct any alignment anomalies. Over time, your body will become more open and comfortable when it is in correct alignment, instead of resetting itself to an incorrect alignment during the course of a day. This is one of the primary therapeutic tools of Hatha Yoga, using the poses themselves to heal from injury, while correcting any postural misalignment.
The pranayama exercises of Yoga are a very concrete, physical way to increase lung capacity, improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and balance the hormonal system. Pranayama exercises may seem to fall mostly into the meditative aspect of a Yoga practice.
Pranayama is tremendously helpful in preparing the mind to settle down to meditate. However, pranayama exercises are also great physical tools for enhancing our physical and mental health, through the physical manipulation of our breathing patterns. Physical Yoga also helps the body to remember to breathe deeply during times of increased stress, thereby increasing our overall cardiovascular endurance.
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