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Yoga thought to date back to at least 3000 BC and has been practised in India to promote physical and spiritual health for millennia.

An ancient exercise for body and soul

Amber Fort woman performing yoga, rear view - Doctor Mosaraf Ali

Yoga was popularised in the West during the 1960s by a number of gurus, spiritual leaders and philosophers who promoted all things Indian. Their approach to life appealed hugely to many rock stars, like the Beatles and many celebrities as it contrasted starkly with the materialistic approach that predominated in the West at the time. For the West in general, however, yoga and meditation remained a mystery.

Rather than being mainstream activities, they were taught by gurus who advocated strict discipline and a complete change in lifestyle; many teachers promoted vegetarianism - which was quite radical a few decades ago! Most people however, couldn't see the point in twisting the body into strange animal like configurations.

The West thus interpreted yoga as a series of exercises and thought of it in much the same way as other forms of physical activities and gymnastics. What's more, many people worried it would take years to master the many complicated positions. But the fact is that yoga is a suitable form of exercise and relaxation for everyone of all ages and abilities and it is safe.

Over the last few decades yogic exercise has become increasingly popular. Thanks to the efforts of some celebrities, together with the modern preoccupation with fitness and stress management. Yoga has become a household name and is now an established form of physical exercise. Yet, in its original form, yoga is so much more than just a system of exercise. For those in the know, yoga is a whole way of life, encompassing diet, massage, relaxation and meditation.

It regulates your breathing, it increases your energy, helping to overcome fatigue, it stretches and activates most of the muscles in the body, even some involuntary ones, removing the lactic acid that forms ‘knots’ within them. It relieves aches and pains in the joints and alleviates spinal problems. It improves your posture, and the circulation of blood and lymph and cleanses the body. It even exercises the mind as it calms and de-stresses you. As well as being a great way to stay in shape, it also promotes the body's natural healing powers, and can be used by anyone to treat a wide range of health problems, both physical and emotional – hence the description “therapeutic”.

Illustrated Hatha Yoga Exercises

First it enhances breath control. Oxygen is essential to life. We can survive for a while without food or water, but not without air. We need oxygen to metabolise the food we eat and to create energy. On average, people breathe, 16 to 18 times a minute (although children may breathe slightly faster due to their higher metabolic activity). This is generally an involuntary process, meaning that most of the time you are not aware that you are doing it. Most of us breathe too shallowly and too fast, which can unfortunately result in major health problems.

There is a constant theme running through the philosophies of the major exercise routines of the world, typically yoga, Bates Method for the eyes, the Alexander Technique, Pilates, walking on uneven surfaces etc. They all build on the reconstitution of the control channels between brain and muscles in order to eliminate bad habits. In Hatha Yoga, breathing is linked to physical movements so as to involve the subconscious brain. This alerts the brain to the ideal postures adopted and makes those patterns part of everyday habits.

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