When you think about it, we're all natural-born yoga practitioners. As babies, we were able to pull our toes up to our ears and laugh ourselves silly…then we aged.
As an adult, I never considered myself a candidate for yoga. I have the body shape that goes screaming from a leotard…I have fat cells as old as my children…and, to me, vegetarianism is an excuse to eat bread.
Walking, hiking and playing tennis were my main forms of fitness, until I experienced foot problems a few years ago. That's when my doctor insisted that I temporarily avoid those activities. After several months of boredom, I grew desperate to exercise. I discovered yoga and decided to give it a try.
I began to practice hatha yoga, which relies on specific postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. I quickly learned that yoga can increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.
When practiced regularly, yoga also improves muscle tone and sustains a healthy body metabolism, which helps to regulate weight. And contrary to popular belief, while the teaching of yoga does advocate proper eating, it does not require that you be a vegetarian.
After months of practicing yoga, I returned to the tennis court feeling physically and mentally stronger. I was thrilled to find greater flexibility in my back, shoulders and injury-prone joints.
I continue to practice yoga at least twice a week, but I consider it to be part of my daily life because I've come to realize that yoga is not something you do, it is something you live.
Yoga is based on an ancient Hindu philosophy that dates back more than 5,000 years, making it one of the world's oldest exercise systems.
In a yoga class, you are taught different body poses. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to force your body into pretzel-like shapes for a good yoga workout. There are modifications to every pose, allowing everyone the opportunity to practice yoga—regardless of age or fitness level.
You will find that your body grows stronger, more toned and more flexible as you move from one pose to another. Yoga teaches you to focus on breathing while you hold the various poses. This concentration on deep breathing has a calming effect, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Not only have yoga's breathing techniques improved my tennis game, but they are very calming when I'm in the dentist's chair, stuck in traffic or in other potentially stressful situations.
I find myself doing yoga poses throughout the day. After spending hours at my computer, I stretch my stiff shoulders and arms. When I need a boost of energy, I do energizing poses. When I am feeling exhausted at the end of the day, I do restorative poses.
Many people who practice yoga for exercise are perfectly happy with benefiting from a toned-up body. But yoga offers much more. It creates a sense of overall well-being in the mind and spirit as well as the body.
In fact, doctors are increasingly exploring the idea of incorporating yoga into patient recovery programs. Patients being treated for serious illnesses have reported a sense of calmness and a better ability to cope and recover due to yoga's focus on stretching the limits of the body and mind.