Yoga is both a form of exercise and an approach to mediation, with some people treating yoga as a spiritual practice. Yoga comes in many shapes and sizes, and yoga practitioners – many of whom call themselves yogis – embrace a wide range of philosophies.
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Yoga originated in India, and continues to incorporate elements of Eastern spirituality. Though researchers aren't exactly sure how yoga started, they believe it dates back at least to the fifth century BCE. The practice of yoga didn't make its way to the United States until the 1970s, though, and since that time has seen an incredible surge in popularity. One recent study found that about 20 million Americans regularly practice yoga, with 25% of the population trying it at least once.
Because yoga is practiced by many people from many walks of life, it can be hard to pin down a single definition. For some, yoga is simply a route to physical fitness and reduced muscle pain. Others rely on yoga to relax, and still others take their yoga practice very seriously, treating it as a spiritual or even religious pursuit.
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Numerous types of yoga exist. Some are drawn directly from Indian yoga traditions, while others are more Americanized adaptations that deviate dramatically from the “original” yoga. All types of yoga, though, share one thing in common: a focus on slowly moving the body into specific predetermined positions while controlling your breathing and maintaining a safe posture. Some of the best known types of yoga include:
As yoga's popularity has increased, the emphasis on purity – remaining true to the original yoga, or to a specific brand of yoga -- has dramatically decreased. Practically speaking, many beginner yoga classes blend elements of numerous types of yoga, and may also incorporate the instructor's preferences and philosophy. The key is not so much to choose a specific type of yoga, but rather to locate a class where you feel comfortable and that matches your skill level.
Yoga Journal is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the practice of yoga. You can view examples of poses on their site by following this link.
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At first blush, it might not seem like there's much connection between yoga and recovering from addiction. But research points strongly toward the ability of yoga to help people recover from a host of ailments, including both addiction and mental illness. Yoga is such a powerful weapon in the fight against addiction that many doctors now recommend yoga to their patients, and a wide variety of rehab centers – and not just those that embrace holistic medicine or spiritual practices – offer yoga courses.
Research suggests that yoga can help combat chronic pain, making it appealing to addicts coping with muscle aches and the generally poor health that addiction can yield. Some yoga practitioners claim that yoga can help flush toxins such as drugs and alcohol from your body, but research on this claim is mixed at best.
MRI studies of the brain have shown that people's brains look different both during and after a yoga session. The way you spend your time can, over time, alter your brain, so this should not come as a shock. What is interesting, though, is that people who practice yoga report fewer drug and alcohol cravings and a lower rate of relapse. Researchers aren't sure why this is, but a number of mechanisms may be in play:
Yoga is a low-risk activity. You'll never be forced into a pose, and beginner classes move very slowly, building steadily upon basic skills. If you want to try a new physical activity, then, yoga is one of the safest ways to do so, and it may even help you chart a course to lasting sobriety.
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