Yoga is a very ancient practice originating from India and designed to bring balance to one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions.
Yoga comprises eight aspects: yama - universal ethics, niyama - individual ethics, asana - physical postures, pranayama - breath control, pratyahara - control of the senses, dharana - concentration, dyana - meditation, and samadhi - bliss.
Basically, Yoga is a combination of three things; asanas,controlled breathing and meditation.
A growing body of research suggests yoga has multiple health benefits to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Yoga improves health through down regulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The HPA axis and SNS are triggered as a response to a physical or psychological demand (stressor), leading to a cascade of physiologic, behavioural, and psychological effects, primarily as a result of the release of cortisol and catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine).
This response leads to the mobilisation of energy needed to combat the stressor through the classic ‘‘fight or flight’’ syndrome.
Over time, the constant state of hyper vigilance resulting from repeated firing of the HPA axis and SNS can lead to deregulation of the system and ultimately diseases such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, depression, substance abuse, and cardiovascular disease.
Yoga significantly decreases heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Mentally, yoga provides effective therapy among depressed patients besides decreasing anxiety. Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness, relieves chronic stress patterns, relaxes the mind, centers attention and sharpens concentration.
Other major physical benefits of yoga includes; improving strength, flexibility and athletic performance. It also aids weight loss, increase muscle weight and tone and improves cardio-respiratory function.
Now let’s get to the fun part - how to set up your personal practice:
Time: Schedule depending on whether you are a morning or evening person. How long it takes also depends on your schedule, but 30 minutes a session is fine.
Accessories: Comfortable sportswear is good for a start but add yoga blocks, yoga balls, mats, exercise bars and foams.
Yoga types: They include; vinyasa, yin, bikram, ashtanga, Hatha and Kundalini. Research which type suits you. But here are some basic beginner asanas:
Tree pose: From a standing position, slowly shift your weight to your left leg and begin to raise your right foot off the floor. Bring your arms to your chest in a prayer position to form an inverted V.
Downward facing dog: Go on all fours with your hands a tiny bit in front of your shoulders and your knees directly below your hip. Then lift your knees from the floor, at first keeping your knees slightly bent and your heels lifted off the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Then push your thighs back and try to stretch your heels toward the floor. Pose for three more breaths, then lower back to all fours to come out of the pose.
Cat-cow pose: Begin on your hands and knees in table pose, with a neutral spine. As you inhale and move into cow pose, lift your sit bones upward, press your chest forward and allow your belly to sink.
There are other poses like wide legged forward fold, high and low lunge, high plank, Camel pose, Butterfly, cobra pose and child’s pose-which helps to stretch your back and muscles around your hips.
But if you are suffering from any major physical injuries or any chronic musculoskeletal disorders do not attempt yoga before consulting your doctor.
Nyandia Maina is a medical student at the University of Nairobi