The Role That Yoga Can Play in Your Health and Wellness Program

The field of yoga is dynamic and exciting. From its original teachings, it has evolved into a rich system of practices that address the harmony and well-being of body, mind, and spirit. It comprises techniques and exercises that can be used to promote clarity of mind, fullness of breath, and soundness of body. From the relaxation benefits of meditation to the improved physical functioning of the musculoskeletal and circulatory systems imparted by the practice of yoga postures, yoga can form an essential part of your individualized health and wellness program. Yoga's reputation for relaxing, rejuvenating, and restoring body and soul are legendary and well earned. Whether you are looking for gentle relaxation or vigorous physical activity, there is a yoga style and practice to fit your needs.

Benefits of Yoga

Prime among yoga's many health benefits is its proven ability to help reduce stress. Experts maintain that up to 80 percent of all illness is caused by stress. The activities and stimuli of contemporary life are constantly triggering what scientists refer to as "the fight or flight" mechanism. This expression refers to the way in which we respond to stress. This response is involuntary, and includes an elevation in heart rate, blood pressure, and the creation of toxic chemicals in the body. Yoga helps to induce the opposite effects, in what Herbert Benson, M.D., termed "the relaxation response" in his groundbreaking book of the same title. Yoga can help to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and improve circulation to help remove toxic wastes from the body. This may in turn help boost the functioning of the immune system. Yoga is so effective at inducing the relaxation response that many prominent authorities recommend its use for reducing stress and promoting health, including Dean Ornish, M.D., and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. Indeed, much to the astonishment of Western scientists, accomplished yogis have demonstrated that they can exert conscious control of heart rate, blood pressure, and even the circulation of the blood.

In addition to its ability to help reduce stress, yoga has many other benefits for a man's health. One of the primary aims of the physical practices of yoga is to help improve the alignment and flexibility of the spine. This is encouraging news for the 70 million Americans who are estimated to seek help for back problems each year. Yoga can help promote overall fitness by both stretching and toning virtually all the muscles in the body. Yoga exercises can help increase range of motion in joints and help protect muscles from being injured during sports and athletic activities. They can also help to lengthen and restore muscles after exercise.

Yoga postures can help improve circulation and eliminate toxic waste substances from the body. They can help promote optimum functioning of the internal organs by helping to massage and tone them. Yoga postures can help open the area of the pelvis and organs of reproduction that are housed there. Yoga practices can help bring increased circulation, muscular control, and awareness to a man's sexual region, thus promoting enhanced sexual enjoyment.

The breathing practices of yoga can help improve lung capacity and posture, and harmonize body and mind. The meditation practices of yoga can help still the mind and bring about greater inner clarity, peace of mind, and self-understanding and acceptance. This can help lead to greater emotional awareness and stability. For those men seeking spiritual enlightenment, yoga has a variety of techniques that can help support and guide you on your path.

Yoga can form a cornerstone of your ongoing health maintenance program. As more and more men are discovering, it is increasingly important for them to take charge of their own physical fitness and healthcare. The physical postures of yoga can offer a refreshing alternative to high-impact cardiovascular and strenuous bodybuilding practices, an especially attractive option for a population that is increasingly aging. Yoga also offers a man the opportunity to become much more aware of his own body. Through the mindfulness and awareness that yoga engenders, a man has the opportunity of listening more carefully to his body so that he might detect pain, discomfort, and other warning signs early enough to take preventative action before illness or disease sets in.

In addition to its overall health benefits, yoga can be of special value to men, in particular, by helping them to contact their inner resources. As many top yoga teachers underscore, today's man is often caught up in the pressures of work and conforming to society's perceived expectations. This can result in a man's armoring himself and losing touch with his inner self. Yoga practice can provide a man with the opportunity to reconnect with himself and to accept himself just as he is—not as he feels he is "supposed" to be. Through a sustained yoga practice, a man can experience the priceless benefits of peace and happiness that can accompany self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Cautions for Yoga

Yoga encompasses a wide variety of practices, from physical postures to meditation. Every man should be able to find a yoga practice suitable to his needs. However, the physical postures of yoga can place specific demands on a man's body. The following are some common, but by no means exhaustive, cautions to consider for anyone when approaching a practice of yoga. Anyone with a history of high blood pressure or any other cardiovascular disorders; glaucoma or other eye problems; recent surgeries or injuries; particular neck, back, or vertebral disk problems; or any joint problems, particularly in the areas of the knees and shoulders, should consult with a physician as some yoga practices may be inadvisable. In addition, for any female readers of this book, special precautions may be appropriate for pregnant or menstruating women. And any individual—man or woman—who has any particular concern should consult with his or her physician before embarking on a practice of yoga.

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