I used to be one of those people that only worked out if it involved serious, jolting cardiovascular movement, lifting heavy weights, and basically moving fast and sweating my butt off.
Then I was introduced to yoga, a practice that I knew helped a lot of people with back and muscle problems, which I was starting to experience both with age and with my continuing status as a “desk job” professional. The funny thing is, I did not start practicing yoga to actually get a “work out”, which I thought could only be obtained through my grueling sessions on the treadmill, eliptical machine, and recumbent bike.
Oh no, for me yoga was strictly a relaxation exercise, one designed to help stretch my muscles and soothe my busy mind. Little did I realize, I was getting an excellent workout with yoga, combined with all the benefits of a serious cardio workout, as was apparent upon waking up the next day to an invariably sore rump and tummy.
But it didn’t always “feel” like I was working out when I did yoga, especially the better I got at it. I wondered why this could be. Then I figured it out, with a little help from a yoga instructor. She said that as you begin to learn to use your breath through the practice of yoga breathing techniques, your muscles actually get more oxygen.
Lack of oxygen to the muscles builds up lactic acid within the muscles, which leads to our sore muscles after a serious workout. Oxygen also plays a vital role in managing stress. It has been found in numerous studies that one who is under stress has low blood oxygen levels, and this is due to the fact that they are not breathing properly through the stressful or anxiety inducing event.
This is why you will often find that you feel short of breath when you are going through a stressful situation, and this is also why asthmatics often have asthma attacks during highly stressful episodes, or when their emotions are on “high”.
This made perfect sense. Not only did yoga help to streamline my body, but it helped me learn to manage my breathing, and condition my body and mind to manage stress and anxiety through breathing with my body, not against it. You see, yoga is much more than a meditational or contortionist exercise. It actually transcends what we think of as exercise.
Yoga is a tool that we can use to manage stress, condition our mind and body to be more in touch with one another, and to also gain a sense of tranquility and well being.
Yoga practice ranges from a more active, moving practice called Ashtanga yoga or power yoga, to a more methodical, slower moving practice called Hatha yoga, which concentrates more on a slower, fluid movement and is geared toward those that may not have exercised in a while or who have back issues.
There is also another type, which I had the pleasure of participating in on my recent trip to northern California, called Bikram yoga, where you practice yoga poses ranging form beginner to advanced in a room heated to almost 100 degrees farenheit.
This type of yoga can be strenuous on the beginner, and is usually only recommended for those who are very fit or very well versed in the practice of yoga. I found the Bikram yoga to be challenging, but after I emerged from the room after the two hours of posing, I felt a sense of empowerment and clarity that continued on for the rest of the evening.
It is said that Bikram yoga may actually help rid the body of toxins through the sweat that is produced during the practice. And believe me, sweat you will. There was not a person in the room that had anything less than soaking wet clothes.
Since I’ve started regularly practicing yoga about three times a week, I find my stress levels are down, my back hurts me less while I am working at my desk, and my muscles have taken on a longer, leaner look.
I feel that I am more intuned with my breathing, and I use my breath now to get me through stressful situations that usually would leave me breathless and anxious. I have found yoga to be a true blessing to my life, and will be a lifetime devotee of this empowering and enriching practice.