This article first appeared in Today's Dallas Woman, Sept. 1998

Strike a Pose

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

When I talk to my patients about yoga, I am referring to a 5,000-year-old philosophy. Hatha yoga incorporates slow stretches, breathing and relaxation techniques which result in wonderful physical and emotional benefits.

The word yoga originally comes from the Greek term "yoke." In this definition, yoke means to connect.

When practiced a few minutes each day, Hatha yoga helps you connect with your body by helping you clear your mind and focus your attention inward.

The whole concept behind Hatha yoga is really pretty basic and some of those aerobic stretches you might see in the newspaper or at your health club are actually based on Hatha yoga stretches. The difference is that Hatha yoga stretches are referred to as "postures" that are performed slowly and gently rather than energetically and repetitively.

As a result, Hatha yoga is an ideal practice for almost everyone, no matter what physical shape they're in. Classes consist of many people with different fitness levels. Some students have neck and back problems, chronic headaches, shoulder or knee injuries.

Yoga is one of the best exercises for people with arthritis and heart disease. It is also highly recommened for pregnant women.

Regular practice of Hatha yoga involves very little equipment - all you need is a quiet place, about thirty minutes a day and comfortable clothing. But this minimal investment of time can bring a variety of benefits including flexibility, increased muscle tone, better posture, reduced PMS, fewer daily aches and pains, more inner peace and a better attitude toward life.

Some studies have also shown that Hatha yoga, practiced in conjunction with a low-fat diet and moderate exercise can actually reverse clogged arteries and coronary diseases.

The stretching and breathing performed in Hatha yoga helps improve circulation. This, in turn, provides regular nourishment to cells throughout your body. If your cells don't receive enough nourishment, they grow sick and die. As a result, you can frequently feel sick and tired. After even a week of practicing Hatha yoga, however, you may feel rejuvenated and stronger than you have in years.

Frequent computer users and desk sitters should know that Hatha yoga is outstanding for releasing physical tension, especially in the head, neck, shoulders and lower back. Doing some stretches at work for the neck, arms and lower back can help reduce aches and pains received while hunched over a keyboard.

In this day and age when people are frantically searching for fountains of youth in bottles and books, yoga keeps us looking young and radiant as we grow older. The combination of flexibility, cleansing breaths and inner serenity helps deter aging. I've seen 50, 60, and 70-year-olds in my classes who practice yoga regularly and they look and feel healthy.

When it comes to starting a yoga program, I suggest the following tips...

Icon Take it slow. You're not trying to win a marathon or an aerobics competition when practicing yoga.

Icon The whole point of the technique and philosophy is to enter and leave postures slowly and gently.

Icon Breathe slowly and frequently. Deep breathing in Hatha yoga helps you maintain focus while bringing more oxygen to your blood stream and muscles.

Icon Practice yoga regularly. Even if you only have enough time to do just a few postures a day, you'll still notice an overall increase in your health, flexibility, vitality and attitude toward life.

Icon Stretch as far as you can - and don't force it. Even if you've never done a stretch in your life and your flexibility is equivalent to that of a two-by-four, you can still benefit from Hatha yoga stretches.

Icon Do what you can to maintain comfort. For example, those who might suffer from low-back problems should perform floor postures with knees bent rather than legs straight out.

Icon If the idea of sitting cross-legged on the floor is an unpleasant one, feel free to use a chair. The lotus position isn't a requirement when it comes to "stretching it out" and receiving the incredible benefits of Hatha yoga.

Suzan J. Smith, D.C., is a chiropractor in Carrollton. She teaches yoga classes on a regular basis. She has released a yoga video for beginners and intermediates and a second yoga video for pregnant women.

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