Food Matters: Open up your mind and body to the world of yoga

By Chuck NewcombJanuary 27, 2012 

If you thought yoga was only for skinny hippies who sit and contemplate their navel while listening to sitar music, think again.

Yoga offers something for everyone.

Yoga dates back more than 5,000 years, with origins in northern India. Yoga masters began to travel to the west in the late 1800s. In 1947, a yoga studio opened in Hollywood and, go figure, hatha yoga spread throughout the United States. The practice became popular during the counterculture movement of the 1960s, with "hippies" embracing aspects of Eastern teaching and philosophy as they searched for ways to distance themselves from the "establishment" and traditional American values.

More recently, yoga in the United States has been more for exercise than a spiritual quest for enlightenment.

In its purer form, yoga represents a complete system of social, physical, mental and spiritual development. The eight aspects of the practice of traditional yoga include: self-restraint; commitment to practice; integration of the mind and body through physical activity; regulation of breathing; abstraction of the senses; concentration; meditation; and blissful awareness or super-consciousness.

Yoga positions for beginners are not the same as those used by experienced practitioners. Yoga for beginners starts with simple moves that most people, young and old, are able to do without difficulty. Music should be soothing and relaxing. A basic yoga session should consist of the following:

A Warmup session includes simple, basic moves.

Standing poses align the feet and the body, and aid digestion and blood circulation.

Sitting poses usually focus on the breath. They help shape the buttocks and legs and improve vitality and flexibility in the spine.

Twists relieve backaches and increase flexibility in the shoulders.

Supine and prone poses release tension in the abdomen and increase the spine's mobility.

Balance poses help develop coordination and increase stamina, strength, grace and agility. They also help improve concentration.

Backbends release tension in the front body and shoulders.

Finishing poses consist of cooling-down exercises.

Some examples of poses:

Mountain pose: Stand tall with your arms by your sides. Breathe gently and deeply.

Extended mountain pose: Interlock fingers and extend hands toward the ceiling as you slowly lift your heels off the floor and come up on to your toes. Give yourself time to become balanced, then breathe.

Other simple yoga exercises include the half dog pose, wide leg bent knee with dog and cat tilts and the warrior pose. These are simple and easy to master.

There are lots of fun and instructional demonstrations on the Web. The viral guys might like Yoga4dudes while basic or advanced yoga workouts can be found at numerous other locations on the Web.

Chuck Newcomb, MS, RD, CDE is a consulting registered dietitian providing medical nutrition therapy services for Memorial Hospital Los Banos. He has a masters of science in clinical nutrition from New York University. E-mail questions to the attention of ChuckRD at: MHALosBanos@SutterHealth.org or on his website MySmartRD.com.

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