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The Everything Yoga Book: Improve your Strength, Flexibility, and Sense of Well-Being

The Everything Yoga Book: Improve your Strength, Flexibility, and Sense of Well-Being

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The Everything Yoga Book: Improve your Strength, Flexibility, and Sense of Well-Being

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Lançado em:
Dec 15, 2011


Everything - but everything - you ever wanted to know about yoga. Designed for beginners, The Everything Yoga Book - written by a noted instructor - is the ideal aid to reducing stress, getting into shape, or just feeling good. With easy-to-follow instructions and hundreds of photographs of poses, readers are given everything they need to get started and to incorporate yoga into their daily lives.
Lançado em:
Dec 15, 2011

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The Everything Yoga Book - Cynthia Worby



Yoga has been around for 5,000 years—and for a very good reason: It works. In the past decade, yoga has become increasingly popular in the United States and has entered the mainstream of public consciousness. Celebrities like Madonna, Sting, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Christy Turlington are seriously involved in yoga and praise its benefits highly. Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire hour-long TV show to yoga, in which Rodney Yee, world-renowned and highly recognized yoga teacher, taught yoga to the studio audience; and model, Christy Turlington, herself an avid yogi, discussed her love of yoga and presented her line of yoga clothing called Nuala.

Newspaper and magazine articles on yoga abound. Time magazine devoted its April 16, 2001, cover story to yoga. Health clubs include yoga classes on their schedules and health insurance companies are reimbursing patients for yoga therapy. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are more patient visits to alternative health care practitioners than to traditional western physicians and allied professionals.

It certainly seems as if everyone is talking about yoga these days—or trying it. Time magazine says that fifteen million Americans are doing some form of yoga as part of their fitness regimen (twice as many as five years ago). Yoga Journal recently estimated that one in thirteen Americans had either tried or was thinking of trying yoga.

As a yoga teacher and student, I have observed the broad spectrum of people who are inquiring about yoga and taking classes. Yoga is no longer just for people from the ‘60s generation, who burned incense, chanted, and wore baggy pants. And it is certainly not a fad! Writers, artists, teachers, housewives, stockbrokers, film producers, college students, lawyers, architects, retired folks, carpenters, and plumbers are all doing yoga.

So, what is all the fuss about and what can yoga do for you? Yoga can help you look and feel great, open and strengthen your body, quiet and focus your mind, relieve tension, increase your self-knowledge and awareness, improve your quality of life, and change how you see the world. It has a profound and lasting effect on how you treat yourself and others. Time spent doing yoga is an opportunity to reconnect intimately with yourself on many levels and to give yourself your complete attention. When was the last time you did that? By practicing yoga you can rejuvenate, care for, and nurture yourself at the deepest levels, resulting in greater reservoirs of compassion and tolerance for other people and a positive impact on your relationships. Most importantly, you will develop a better relationship with yourself.

You will experience longer periods of calm and clarity. All those minor, daily annoyances, emotional ups and downs, and responsibilities will be brought into a broader perspective, which allows them to come and go without becoming overly attached to you. You will begin to understand what is most life-affirming, beneficial, lasting, and important to you.

The Everything® Yoga Book is a general introduction that has a style, language, and format that’s easy to read and follow. The language of yoga is Sanskrit, an ancient and beautiful language. Sanskrit, with the English translation, will be used throughout the book, when appropriate. Please do not be intimidated by Sanskrit. It is a phonetic language, which sounds just as it is spelled, unlike our crazy English language. Of course, the Sanskrit alphabet is different from ours. But don’t worry—I only include the English translation in this book. When you read the Sanskrit name of a pose, say it out loud, just as it is written, and you will be speaking Sanskrit!

The book contains information about what yoga is, its history and philosophy, the different styles of yoga, the health benefits of yoga, what you need to get started, yoga poses to practice, relaxation and meditation practices, yoga for specific needs, as well as yoga resources. The description of poses includes photographs illustrating the postures, as well as any useful modifications to the postures. Before you practice the postures, look at the pictures and read the description of how to do the poses, the ways to practice, and any contraindications. It is my wish that this book will educate and motivate you to include yoga in your daily life.


What Yoga Is

Although yoga has been around for thousands of years, many people still aren’t quite sure what it is. If you count yourself in this group, you’re not alone. This chapter spells out exactly what yoga is—dispelling myths and reaffirming hunches along the way.

An Ancient Art and Science

Yoga is an ancient art and science from India, originally designed to strengthen and align the body and quiet and focus the mind for meditation. It has been successfully adapted to the needs and lifestyles of Westerners. Yoga is a teaching that is strongly grounded in physiological reality. Your experience of the world greatly depends upon the health of your nervous system, which is impacted by the environment, heredity, and the foods you eat. The practices of yoga strengthen and purify the nervous system so we can most clearly perceive and interact in the world in a conscious and positive manner.

Most of the yoga practiced in the West is what is known as Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga works with postures (known as asana), breathing techniques (known as pranayama), conscious relaxation (known as pratyahara and dharana), and meditation (known as dhyana).

The Uniting of Body, Mind, and Spirit

The word yoga means, literally, to yoke or join. In the practice of yoga, we join and integrate the mind, body, and spirit into one aligned and cohesive unit. The body is the gross manifestation of spirit. Working with the body through yoga connects you with spirit, while unraveling the emotional, physical, and mental knots that bind you and blind you from your true nature. This process allows your essence to shine through and illuminate your entire being. It is a catalyst enabling you to grow in whatever way is natural and self-affirming.

Yoga is one of the oldest holistic health-care systems in existence, focusing on both the mind and the body. In the Western world, most people live in their heads more than in their bodies. The educational system is focused on book learning; many jobs are either cerebral or entirely physical (few incorporate both). And Western medicine focuses almost solely on the physical aspect of health, neglecting the emotional and spiritual aspects that yoga attends to.

Through the practice of yoga postures and breath work, you can reconnect your body and mind and discover your spirit. You can become whole and regain an intimate knowledge of your real Self (not the little self with needs and wants that gnaw at you all day long). Yoga is the art of listening to all parts of your Self.

This ancient practice is a spiritual discipline with a code of ethics toward yourself and others. It is not a religion. It is a system for discovering and developing the true Self, an ancient method of psychotherapy (before there was one) and a potent self-evolutionary tool. In the classic text, Yoga Sutra, the spiritual path of yoga is laid out like a roadmap with discussion of the mental, physical, and psychological benefits and roadblocks along the way.

Each person has between 50,000 and 75,000 thoughts a day, and out of those thoughts at least 50,000 of them will be the same thoughts as he or she had yesterday. If you don’t clean out the old thoughts to make room for the creation of new thoughts, it is difficult to process life’s events, learn from them, and progress.

A Language

Learning yoga is like learning a new language for your body and mind. Everyone knows that a language cannot be learned overnight. Yoga is a discipline that must be practiced, refined, and experienced. It is an experiential science in which you analyze your thoughts and actions. This is why yoga is described as a practice—you have to practice it to gain experience and self-knowledge from your efforts. It is a process that unfolds over time with trial and error and one that cannot be rushed. Yoga helps develop patience and persistence.

Your body and mind are your laboratories of experimentation where useful patterns of thought and movement can develop and replace habitual patterns that are no longer appropriate. Frequently people begin yoga as a result of stress, inflexibility, poor posture, or a condition that requires care.

A Powerful, Holistic, and Transformational Tool

Yoga is also a powerful, holistic, transformational tool that calms and focuses the mind and develops innate intelligence and awareness. The postures, breath awareness, and relaxation techniques develop your natural intuitive intelligence, and help your mind to focus on one thing at a time instead of jumping around like a hyper monkey. When the mind is focused, the nervous, circulatory, and respiratory systems respond by slowing down. The body and mind start to relax. You feel calmer, think more clearly, and feel centered and grounded. Over time, the mind and the intelligence are able to spread throughout the body, focusing on many points at one time. This is meditation.

As the mind quiets, the body opens to release unnecessary tension and long-held emotions. The emotions become balanced and moderate. The body develops balanced strength, and with strength comes flexibility and a stable core. You experience emotional equanimity and poise, like a tree that sways in the breeze but always come back to center. Life will always have its sunny days and stormy, windy times, but yoga creates a strong foundation with which you can endure life’s unpredictable weather.

The yoga postures, known as asanas, have a very powerful effect on all systems of the body. Each asana is linked with the breath, which contains the life force or universal energy known as prana. Every inhalation brings prana and oxygen to all the cells in the body, and every exhalation releases toxins and waste.

A Therapeutic Tool

Yoga is also a therapeutic tool. Many ailments and disorders can be relieved by specific postures and breathing practices under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher. Often, people are amazed to find their backaches, headaches, and joint pain can disappear with regular practice. People with cancer, cardiac problems, and multiple sclerosis can experience relief of some symptoms and develop the ability to relax more fully and cope with stress.

Something Everyone Can Do

Everyone can do yoga regardless of age, size, flexibility, or health. Many people unfamiliar with yoga think that they have to be like a Gumby toy—able to touch their toes to their nose—but this is not true. Yoga is the great equalizer. Two people can walk into a yoga class, one very flexible with no strength and the other stiff (too strong) with little flexibility. The same poses done by these individuals will tighten up the overly flexible person and loosen the stiff person. Overweight people, pregnant women, and older people can practice yoga and receive its benefits. There are many types of yoga suitable for anyone and poses can always be modified to fit an individual’s needs.

A Way to Have Fun

Yoga may sound like a lot of hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. Learning to move your body in new ways can make you feel very playful, like being a kid again! Going upside down in an inverted posture, such as a handstand, can be mood elevating. Backbends are exhilarating and liberating. Although unfamiliar positions might bring up fears or feelings of I can’t do that, once those feelings are conquered, feelings of mastery and accomplishment predominate, and you feel free, limitless, and able to do anything! Yoga is all about exploration and being open to new ways of being. So, find a class that fits you and have fun!

You may be eager to achieve the perfect pose and correct bad postural habits. But it took a lifetime to get you where you are today. One yoga class won’t change all that. In yoga, the journey is more important than the destination—and it’s also a lot more interesting!


What Yoga Can Do for You

People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years because they get something out of it. In this chapter, you’ll discover what that something is. When you practice yoga yourself, you’ll see these benefits firsthand.

Renewed Energy

The yoga postures, known as asanas, bend the spine in many different ways:

•   Forward

•   Backward

•   Side to side

•   Twisting from one side to the other

Moving the spine in this way keeps the spine supple and healthy and nourishes the entire nervous system. The asanas release tension and blocked energy; lengthen and strengthen muscles; and tone, stimulate, and massage the internal organs. As a result, the muscles and organs are bathed in blood, nutrients, and prana. Every cell is rejuvenated and cleansed. Respiration, cardiac functioning, circulation, nervous system functioning, elimination, and mental clarity improve. Fatigue and stress are reduced.

Next time you’re feeling unhappily unattached, steal a look at the person on the sticky mat next to you. You could be looking at a potential partner who may share your love of yoga and philosophy of life. Just keep in mind that yoga should be an inner-directed experience. The most important thing is finding truth and happiness within yourself.

Energy to Age Gracefully

Yoga postures are anti-aging and anti-gravity—they reduce the sagging of organs and muscles due to aging and gravity’s constant pull. The saying You’re as young as your spine is absolutely true. Regular practice of yoga postures maintains the suppleness and youth of the spine. The postures also develop coordination and balance—essential as one ages, for preventing falls. They improve posture and increase knowledge of body mechanics.

As people grow older, as life slows down a bit and as their responsibilities change, the desire to go inward and contemplate life grows. The system of yoga provides a wonderful framework for that inward search and growth. Conscious relaxation and meditation are time-tested tools for contemplation and inner wisdom.

Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D., pathologist and yoga therapist, says that regular practice of Hatha Yoga can help maintain or restore muscle strength and adaptability, circulatory and respiratory efficiency, bone strength, sensitivity to insulin, normal bowel function, immune function, your ability to respond well to challenges and stress, and healthy lipid and cholesterol metabolism, among other things.

Staying Fit

Yoga is a wonderful way to get into shape. The postures tone organs and develop long, lean muscles. The practice of forward bends, back bends, lateral poses, twists, and inversions balances and works every muscle, bone, joint, and organ in the body. Weight-bearing yoga poses, crucial for healthy bones, provide one of the best exercise systems known to man. Flexibility and strength of the muscles and range of motion in the joints greatly increase. Stamina and endurance also improve.

Improved Circulation

Yoga postures promote better circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body. Inversions such as the headstand and shoulderstand reverse the flow of gravity, improving the blood supply to the lungs and brain and giving the legs and heart a rest. Pressure of the abdominal cavity against the diaphragm exercises the diaphragm and heart muscles. Inversions promote better quality of sleep, because they relax the sympathetic nervous system, enabling the relaxation response to kick in.

Twists wring out the body like a wet towel, squeezing, massaging, and stimulating the organs and muscles; bringing in fresh blood and nutrients; and releasing toxins and wastes. They also reduce spinal, hip, and groin problems.

Forward bends rinse, squeeze, and flush the abdominal organs, encouraging proper digestion and elimination, and stretch and tone the organs in the back of the body. They quiet the mind and encourage introspection. The kidneys and adrenals are soothed by forward bends, relieving fatigue and renewing energy.

Backbends squeeze the kidneys and adrenal glands and stretch and tone the organs in the front of the body. The lungs and heart are opened, bringing more breath and circulation throughout the body.

The heart is exercised by the different postures with many similar benefits as aerobic exercise—with one important exception: Through yoga postures, the heart is not stressed as it is in aerobic activities such as running or spinning. The heart receives the actions of the various postures (through toning, stimulating, and massaging actions).

In a recent study reported by Yoga Journal, a group of people who walked twenty minutes a day three times a week were compared to a group of yoga practitioners who did standing poses twenty minutes a day, three times a week. Guess who received the greater cardiovascular benefit? The yogis did!

Yoga Benefits for Women

Yoga is fabulous for women of all ages. Many of the poses are terrific for the health of the reproductive organs. It is therapeutic for menstrual, perimenopausal, and menopausal symptoms. A relaxing menstruation practice focuses on resting the abdominal area and emphasizes supported seated forward bends, wide-legged poses, and basic supported backbends, which help lessen backache, cramping, fatigue, and excessive bleeding. Perimenopausal and menopausal women frequently experience mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, hot flashes, redistribution of body fat, and irregular bleeding. An appropriate yoga practice can alleviate and reduce many of these symptoms. (See Chapter 21 for the menstruation and perimenopausal/menopausal sequences.)

Yoga Benefits for Men

In general, men have dense, bulky, tight muscles. Yoga postures can go a long way toward loosening and lengthening those knotty muscles. As men approach middle age, many experience prostate problems. Practicing a variety of postures, particularly forward bends and poses that open the pelvis and hips, is preventive health for the prostate glands and the lymph glands. (The lymphatic system, which circulates lymph fluid, picks up and eliminates waste throughout the body, greatly benefits from yoga postures and breathing exercises. The lymphatic system does not move on its own. It has to be pumped by the muscles.)

Relieving Chronic Ailments and Reducing Stress

Common chronic ailments—such as arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, asthma, heart disease, addictions (many twelve-step programs have incorporated Hatha Yoga into their programs with good results), back problems, knee injuries, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, mild depression, sinus problems, and headaches (to name just a few!)—can be relieved through regular Hatha Yoga practice.

Yoga for cancer patients emphasizes stress management utilizing awareness, centering, and breathing techniques; gentle movement; deep relaxation; and meditation. Yoga is being used as a successful healing modality in conjunction with other therapies at highly respected cancer retreats such as Commonweal in Bolinas, California, and Smith Farm in Hallowood, Maryland. These yoga techniques help cancer patients cope with the stress of the disease and with the effects of their treatment such as fatigue, nausea, flu-like symptoms, and chemotherapy induced menopause.

People with multiple sclerosis have found yoga to be extremely beneficial in maintaining muscle, tone, strength, and flexibility. Yoga also helps restore a sense of control over their lives and enhances their overall quality of life.

Yoga Helps You Relax

Specific breathing techniques called pranayama control the breath and, ultimately, the mind. Pranayama invigorates the entire body-mind system. The respiratory and nervous systems are calmed and strengthened, and all the cells receive the life force and nutrients from the breath. The practice of pranayama, when done correctly is said to have many curative benefits. The body’s vital energy is balanced and replenished. Fatigue is lessened. The mind and the emotions experience calmness and quietness.

Conscious relaxation techniques systematically guide you into a state of deep relaxation. As the noisy chatter of your mind recedes, your body is able to let go and release muscular tension. As your body lets go, the breath rate slows and deepens, so the respiratory system is allowed to rest. Slow, deep breathing encourages relaxation and calmness just as a quick, shallow breath invites anxiety and action.

As the breath rate slows down, the heart beat responds and also becomes slower. This positively affects the entire circulatory system and rests the heart, allowing it to rejuvenate. The sympathetic nervous system, always ready to gear up for action, gets the message that it is okay to relax, and then the parasympathetic nervous system initiates the relaxation response.

The endocrine glands, responsible for much of your emotional and physical well-being, receive the message to relax. (In this stress-driven society, the adrenal glands in particular become overused and depleted.)

This deep relaxation goes to the very core of decreasing fatigue and unraveling you from the inside out like a knotted ball of twine. You emerge from this experience full of energy, as if you’ve just returned from a mini-vacation from your stressful life.

Inner Fulfillment

Meditation, a part of yoga, is a powerful tool for reducing tension and stress and for bringing you back in touch with your true self and your inner reality. In meditation, you sit and watch the workings of the mind as an impassionate observer. Through meditation you observe the fluctuations of the mind and realize the preciousness of the present moment. The events of the past and the future loosen their grip on you and everyday concerns take a back seat as you focus on yourself. The frenetic pace of life slows down and becomes manageable, even peaceful. What seemed so earth-shattering just minutes ago is now put into perspective. You become aware of thought patterns and the vacillation of emotions.

In meditation, the innate intelligence and awareness of the individual is awakened. New thoughts and ways of being emerge. (The body is also learning new patterns of movement through yoga postures.) What people perceive as the mind permeates every cell in the body, and does not simply reside in the head. Through meditation, the mind-body system is unified and the individual is one step closer to the realization of oneness and unity with all other beings, known as unitive consciousness.

This is a material world, where external achievement and the accumulation of wealth in the form of money and possessions are the main measure of success and the American Dream. Greed and excessive consumption is rampant. Computers and television passively entertain and isolate. Immediate gratification appears to be at our fingertips. Unfortunately, this route leads to alienation from the real, internal self, with the resultant feelings of emptiness and apathy. The practice of Hatha Yoga can help fill this void by offering a path to inner fulfillment and spirituality.

Disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, overeating, over-exercising, and abuse of credit cards, alcohol, and drugs are desperate, unconscious, and unsuccessful attempts to fill the void caused by this unbalanced lifestyle. External rewards are only temporary fixes that do not feed the need for connection to yourself and the common good.

Self-Esteem and Body Image

Hatha Yoga helps develop positive self-esteem, body image, and a more comfortable and realistic view of yourself. This is sorely needed in a world in which you are incessantly bombarded by media images of thin, beautiful, air-brushed models and celebrities (truly the impossible dream for most Americans).

The practice of yoga creates physical, mental, and emotional confidence and stability. The body becomes stronger and more agile. The mind begins to listen to the needs of the body and cultivates a mind-body relationship. Self-esteem and confidence grow. The inner voice is awakened. Understanding of your emotions deepens. The need to stuff emotions out of consciousness through overeating, or to be in control by starving the body, diminishes. As you listen internally, you begin responding to appropriate internal cues and eating nutritious foods when you’re hungry, contributing positively to your overall health.

Can yoga help me lose weight?

Yes, but probably not in the way you’d expect. It’s not the poses themselves that help you lose weight. It’s the attitude you develop from the practice of yoga. Yoga allows you to relax, enjoy, and begin to eat in a controlled way that is natural and self-regulating.

Improved Posture

Hatha Yoga improves your posture in daily life. Yoga students frequently comment that, as a result of doing yoga, they become increasingly aware of their posture and correct it during daily activities outside of class. Better physical alignment and posture is visually appealing and also says a lot about a person, but the effects go much deeper.

A person with rounded shoulders will have trouble breathing fully because the chest is collapsed. This is also the posture of a depressed, overwhelmed person, who may have neck discomfort because the neck’s natural curve has changed as a result of poor postural habits. Someone with a sway back (an exaggerated lower back curve) may experience low back pain as a result of a forward tilting pelvis and shortened, tight lower-back muscles, and possibly suffer from compression in the lower back.

When the body is in good alignment, the bones stack up properly from the feet up. If the femur (thigh) bones insert properly into the pelvis, the hips will be level with each other and create a balanced sacrum, crucial to the alignment and health of the spine. The sacrum is the fulcrum upon which the spine rests.

Many people experience chronic back pain as a result of sacrum dysfunction. A balanced spine arising out of the pelvis will ensure that the torso is well supported and free to bend in all directions. When the bones insert properly into the joints, the muscles can fall into place and work in a balanced, coordinated manner, and the organs will have enough space to function optimally.

A physically aligned body promotes mental, emotional, and spiritual alignment and clarity. For example, how many times have you had a headache, neck ache, or backache and found it impossible to concentrate or think? Didn’t you become irritable and short-tempered? Yoga helps prevent that.

Increased Bone Density

A recent study, conducted by Professor Steven A. Hawkins and faculty yoga teacher Bee Beckman of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at California State University, worked with eighteen women from eighteen to sixty-five years of age who had no former yoga experience. Half of the group participated in two yoga classes a week and also practiced by themselves three times a week. Some of the required poses practiced were triangle, half moon, extended side angle, and warriors I and II. The women in the control group had to continue their normal level of activity throughout the study.

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  • (4/5)
    Excellent book for any beginner and intermediate yogi or yogini.