Yoga Helps Ease Stress

Yoga is the most prominent form of the mind-body health movement, which includes tai chi, qigong and other meditative forms of exercise.  The practice of yoga should integrate every aspect of human existence. While many of of the modern practitioners focus on the physical asanas, others believe that yoga is an all-encompassing way of life and a path to bliss.

Considering yoga's lofty goals, it's delightfully simple and can be done anywhere, anytime. Taken to its extreme, yoga encompasses everything from a moral code and dietary practices to deep meditation. Most commonly, though, it's a combination of asanas, pranayama (breathing exercises) and some meditation.

Yoga can be an effective and relatively inexpensive exercise for relive from stress in our busy world. It is also a wonderful way to get fit and flexible.

The Most Popular Yoga - Hatha Yoga

There are actually several branches of yoga, including bhakti, the yoga of devotion, and jnana, the yoga of knowledge. The most widely practiced branch in North America, the one typically offered at gyms and exercise studios, is hatha yoga, which is physical yoga.

But there also are different styles of hatha yoga, from the exercise-intense power yoga to the gentle chair poses used in svaroopa yoga.

Many of the instructors offer integral yoga, which involves stretching and bending into various positions called asanas, as well as breathing exercises and deep relaxation. By practicing and learning asanas, students can gain flexibility, strength, stamina and improved circulation.

Integral yoga is not religious, but it does offer an introspective, spiritual component that you won't find in most exercise programs.

A typical adult class lasts 1 hour. First, the students center themselves through breathing, then come together as a group with a collective om. They do a quick series of cardiovascular movements, an hour of stretching and 20 minutes of relaxation while lying on their backs.

The relaxation period gives students a chance to turn inward. Some people are making lists in their head. Some people are asleep. Some people are just in a really great space, where they're conscious of what's going on in the room, and yet at the same time, completely and unequivocally out.

Lesser Known Yoga Videos

With hundred of yoga videos on the market, you can imagine the diversity among them.  There is everything from nude yoga to postnatal yoga.

Healing Yoga for Common Conditions
This video promises to improve circulation, promote weight loss and manage the symptoms of diabetes and high cholesterol. Without a medical study it's hard to say if it can really deliver, but the hosts, Lisa and Charles Matkin, come with good credentials.

They have taught therapeutic yoga programs at Beth Israel Hospital in New York and New York Presbyterian Medical Center, working with physicians in using yoga to help people with chronic injuries and illnesses.

The 35-minute video is designed to help you increase your metabolism, according to the Matkins. The couple begin the workout with Lisa demonstrating the moves next to a pool with an ocean in the background while Charles does the voice-over, then they switch, then switch again. Both have soothing voices and good form.

The workout is divided into three sections. The first deals with learning to control your breath. It's a pretty basic segment, teaching you breathing techniques and stretching out the body.

The second is for strength, and involves poses that are a bit more difficult, such as the warrior and downward-facing dog poses.

In the third section, you work on releasing tension and relaxation.

This is a good video for all fitness levels. The moves are explained well, as are the benefits and purposes of yoga. None of the poses is very difficult, and the instructors give you modifications to make the moves easier.

Power Strength Yoga for Beginners

Though the title says for beginners, don't believe a word of it. This video takes you through a vigorous set of poses collectively called the Sun Salutation (which you learn in another video, Power Yoga Stamina for Beginners).

Then, with the mountains of Maui as a backdrop, instructor Rodney Yee takes you through a series of very difficult poses including the pendulum, where you balance your entire body off the floor with the strength of your arms, and others that require a good deal of upper-body strength.

The workout takes only 20 minutes, but you work hard in those 20 minutes. It's the only yoga video of those reviewed here in which your heart rate gets close to an aerobic rate.

Yee has a great, soothing voice and perfect form, but he never really offers an explanation of the poses or an easier way to do them. Nor does he offer any help in how to build up to them. That said, if you have the upper-body strength, this is an amazing - and fast - way to get in a strength workout without having to go to the gym.

A Little History of Yoga

Today’s society is much faster paced that ever before and as a result people have more stress and problems which can lead to health problems.  There are more concerns with toxicity in the food we eat and the air we breathe.  Millions of Americans today live a sedentary lifestyle, which is associated with obesity.

Yoga which was developed over 5,000 years ago in India encompasses spiritual beliefs, physical techniques, and scholarly philosophy.

There is a growing trend to practicing Yoga for many different reasons, which include attaining the yoga body or physique, relaxation and peace of mind, or to prevent injury and ailments.  Americans mainly practice Hatha Yoga, which focuses on postures and stretching the body.

Yoga, which is derived from the sacred Sanskrit language of India is a way or path to transcendence and liberation from the self and the ego by purifying the mind and body.  Practicing yoga leads to a union with the mind and body or the individual and universal consciousness.

Yoga predates all other religions and has influenced and inspired many other traditions and philosophies.  Yoga is better understood as a union of the physical, physiological, mental, emotional, and intellectual bodies, which leads to a purposeful and balanced life.

There is simply no other discipline quite like yoga because it utilized the body, mind and spirit, all in one practice.  Yoga is indeed a spiritual path that is based on ancient sacred philosophy, but one does not need to make an ethical decision when practicing yoga, rather finding your own path is wholly accepted.

The secrets of yoga are inwardness, concentration, and purification of mind and body with cleansing thoughts and food. Indian philosophy states that within man is the spirit that is the center of everything.

Instant 10-minute Yoga

If you find you are dragging yourself out of bed on Monday mornings exhausted before you've even begun the week or you can't enjoy your evenings because work drains you of every ounce of energy, then finding ten minutes a day for some yoga just might be the answer.

You can boost your energy levels and balance your body with ten minutes of dynamic yoga.  Its simplicity and almost instantaneous benefits have made an alternative exercise. Normally known for its relaxation benefits, dynamic yoga can boost your energy levels in just 10 minutes.

It includes some of the most basic yoga postures. You can try each of them individually, or in succession, but none of them should be rushed and you should feel the benefits after just ten minutes.

The deep stretches and graceful movements help to unblock energy, improve muscle tone and increase your general stamina. When practised regularly, say enthusiasts, you will experience improved energy levels, greater sexual vitality and better self-discipline. In the long-term, the breathing and body exercises will help detoxify your mind of tension and strain, creating calm and an inner peace.

Yoga Exercises

Yoga exercises help strengthen the body and make it more flexible and also calms the mind and gives you more energy. Playing sports or doing strenuous exercises uses up energy.

Slow and steady motion is the key to going into or coming out of a pose. You hold a yoga pose for several seconds or even minutes and give attention to full, quiet breath. You should always relax into the poses.

You gently place your body into a yoga pose and if done correctly there should be little chance of injury or muscle stress. A particular asana is not repeated dozens of times, nor are you ever encouraged to push yourself too much. A yoga session is about balance.

People of all ages can practice yoga. They are easily modified to meet any need and physical condition. A skilled teacher can adapt most asanas by using chairs, cushions, even a wall or other props. If something seems really impossible for you to do then don't do the pose. You can always come back to that pose when you are stronger or more flexible.

The Seven Chakras

Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning spinning wheel.  These are a system of seven energy centers located along the spine.  Each chakra corresponds to an area of the body, a set of behavioral characteristics and stages of spiritual growth.

Practicing yoga and focusing your energies during different postures can help you to align your chakras and get all the wheels spinning in the same direction and speed.  Understanding how to fine tune and control your chakras through yoga and meditation can help bring balance and peace to your mind, body and spirit.

There are seven chakras, each associated with a different part of the body along the spine from the perineum to the crown of your head.  Each chakra is associated with a particular body location, a color, a central emotional/behavioral issue, as well as many other personal aspects including identity, goals, rights, etc.

The seven chakras are:  Muladhara- base of the spine; Svadhisthana- abdomen, genitals, lower back/hip; Manipura- solar plexus; Anahata- heart area; Visshudha- throat; Ajna- brow; Sahasrara- top of head, cerebral cortex.

Through the movements and postures of yoga, you can learn to focus your concentration and energy to and from the various chakras in your body.  This can allow you to compensate for areas that may be out of synch with the rest of your body or not active at all.

By balancing the energy among all seven of the chakras, balance can be achieved.  This spiritual energy is known as Kundalini energy.  In its dormant state, it can be visualized as a coiled up snake resting at the base of your spine, the Muladhara chakra.

Since the chakras act as valves or pumps regulating the flow of energy through your system, controlled and purposeful movements such as yoga can be extremely beneficial in realigning your chakras in a way that can cause great benefits to you in your physical and emotional well being.

Basic Sitting Postures

JANU SIRSASANA:
Correct foot placement
Sit up straight with legs evenly extended in front. Bend the right leg at the knee and place the foot so that the heel is in the right groin and the front of the foot touches the left thigh. Turn the foot so that the bottom of the foot is facing upward and press the knee back to form an obtuse angle with the body. This position will be difficult at first; don't force it. Put a folded blanket under the knee and also under the hips. Gradually the knee will move farther back. Just keep the foot correctly positioned.

Correct, perfect posture
Having positioned the foot and knee correctly, stretch the left leg out, keeping the leg firmly on the mat. Settle the heel firmly and stretch the toes up. (The heel should pull gently away from the ankle.) Now inhale and bend forward over the straight leg, catching the foot with both hands if possible. Beginners should bend only as far as they can without rounding the back. When this posture is done correctly and completely, the body will roll forward over the extended leg, absolutely flat from the tail bone to the head. Stay there breathing normally for as long as you can. Inhale, release the handhold, come up smoothly, straighten the bent leg and relax. Repeat on other side.

Wrong posture
The heel is not positioned against its own thigh. The knee has not been pushed back as far as possible to form an obtuse angle. The back is humped and curved because the pelvis is jammed and unable to lift properly. Instead of a smooth, complete stretching of the spine, the lumbar is over-stretched and the rest of the spine constricted. The left leg is not flat on the floor.

TRIANG MUKHAIPADA PASCHIMOTTANASANA:
Sitting, forward-bending pose over one leg
This posture generally follows the previous one. Sit with your legs stretched in front. Bend the right leg so that the right foot is near the right hip. The toes should point back. The right calf presses against the right thigh. The body will tilt in this position so put a small folded towel under the left buttock to keep the hips level and the forward stretch even and extended. Hold the left foot with both hands, inhale and bend forward, keeping both knees together as you stretch forward over the straight leg. Many students will find it difficult in this position to even take hold of the foot of the outstretched leg. Do not despair. Just hold the knee, shin or ankle, and sit, breathing deeply, in whichever position represents your best extension. If the back is tight and the spine inflexible, this will take time. Release the hold and straighten the bent leg. Repeat on the other side.

Astanga Vinyasa Yoga

Astanga, or sometimes spelled ashtanga Yoga is actually taught today by a man named Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, in Mysore, India.  He has brought astanga yoga to the west about 25 years ago and still teaches today at 91 years of age.

Astanga yoga began with the rediscovery of the ancient manuscript Yoga Korunta.  It describes a unique system of Hatha yoga as practiced and created by the ancient sage Vamana Rishi.  It is believed to be the original asana practiced intended by Patanjali.

The Yoga Korunta emphasizes vinyasa, or breath-synchronized movement, where one practices a posture with specific breathing patterns associated with it.  This breathing technique is called ujayyi pranayama, or the victorious breath, and it is a process that produces intense internal heat and a profuse sweat that purifies and detoxifies the muscles and organs.  This also releases beneficial hormones and nutrients, and is usually massaged back into the body.  The breath ensures efficient circulation of blood.  The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body and a calm mind.

There is a proper sequence to follow when practicing Astanga yoga.  One must graduate from one sequence of postures to move onto the next.  The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and aligns the body, purifying it so that toxins do not block. The Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels, allowing energy to pass through easily. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D (Sthira Bhaga) integrate the grace and stamina of the practice, which calls for intense flexibility.

It is best to find a trained and knowledgeable teacher to assist you through this discipline.  It is an intense practice that is rigorous, six days a week. You are guaranteed to find inner peace and fulfillment with each breath you take.

Salute to the Sun Yoga Pose

One of the all-around yoga exercises is the 12-step salute to the sun. Do it once or twice when you get up in the morning to help relieve stiffness and invigorate the body. Multiple repetitions at night will help you to relax; insomniacs often find that six to 12 rounds help them fall asleep.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart, palms together, thumbs against your chest.
  2. Inhale deeply while slowly raising your hands over your head, and bend back as far as possible, while tightening your buttocks. Hold for three seconds. 
  3. Slowly exhale and bend forward, keeping your knees straight, until your fingers touch the floor outside your feet. (If you can't touch the floor, go as close as you can.) Bring your head in toward your knees. 
  4. Slowly inhale, bend your knees, and if your fingertips aren't outside your feet on the floor, place them there. Slide your right foot back as far as you can go, with the right knee an inch or so off the floor, (a lunge position). Now look up as high as possible, arching your back. 
  5. Before exhaling again, slide your left foot back until it is beside the right one, and with your weight supported on your palms and toes, straighten both legs so that your body forms a flat plane. Make sure your stomach is pulled in. 
  6. Slowly exhale, bend both knees to the floor, bend with your hips in the air, lower your chest and forehead to the floor. 
  7. Now inhale slowly and look up, bending your head back, then raising it, followed by your upper chest, then lower chest. Your lower body - from the navel down - should be on the floor, and your elbows should be slightly bent. Hold for three to five seconds. 
  8. Exhale slowly and raise your hips until your feet and palms are flat on the floor and your arms and legs are straight in an inverted V position. 
  9. Inhale slowly and bring your right foot forward as in position 4. The foot should be flat on the floor between your fingertips. The left leg should be almost straight behind you, with its knee slightly off the floor. Raise your head, look up, and arch your back. 
  10. Slowly exhale and bring your left foot forward next to your right one. Straighten your legs and stand, trying to keep your fingertips on the floor, and try to touch your head to your knees as in position 3. 
  11. Slowly inhale, raise your arms up and stretch back as in position 2. Don't forget to tighten your buttocks. Hold for three seconds. 
  12. Slowly exhale, lowering your arms to your sides. Relax. Repeat the series.

Kundalini Yoga

The word Kundalini is a familiar one to all students of Yoga, as it is well known as the power, in the form of a coiled serpent, residing in Muladhara Chakra, the first of the seven Chakras, the other six being Svadhishthana, Manipuraka, A  nahata, Visuddha, Ajna and Sahasrara, in order.

Less is historically known of the Agamas than the Vedas, because the latter provide descriptive poem-pictures of Vedic life. The original Agamas are twenty-eight in number. They are called Saiva Agamas as they focus on establishing a relationship with and ultimately realizing the Supreme Being Siva. They carry names like Vira, Hero. Siddha, Perfected and Swayambhuva, naturally revealed.

The Agamas are divided into four parts called padas, lessons. The first two padas - Chariya good conduct, and Kriya, external worship,- include all the details of personal home life, house planning, town planning, personal worship in temples, the architectural plans for temples and sculpture as well as the intricacies of temple puja. The final two padas - Yoga, internalized worship and union, and Jnana, enlightened wisdom, – vividly describe the processes and stages of kundalini yoga, and the Cod-like plateaus of consciousness reached when Sivahood is attained. In the actual texts, the padas are ordered with jnana first, yoga second, then kriya and chariya - unfurling from a God-state to a human state.

The Agamas contain tens of thousands of verses, much more prolific than the Vedas. Though the Vedas stayed strictly in Sanskrit, the Agamas proliferated across India and oilier countries through many languages. But they fared poorly over the millennia, particularly the Yoga and Jnana Padas - so high and powerful. The custodian Saiva priests neglected them. Many padas of entire Agamas were lost or destroyed.

Dynamic Yoga – Exercise 3 & 4

Pose of the Moon: (Shashankasa)
Sit on your knees with palms on thighs. Close eyes and relax, but keep spine and head straight.

Inhale deeply and lift arms above head, keeping them straight and shoulder-width apart. As you breathe out, bend forward from the hips, keeping arms and head in a straight line.

Hands and forehead should eventually rest on the floor in front of your knees. Bend your elbows, so that arms are fully relaxed and hold for five seconds.

Then breathe in and slowly raise arms and body back to the upright position.

Exhale and return your palms to the top of your thighs. Repeat 3-5 times.

Mountain Pose: (Parvatasana)
Strengthens nerves and muscles in the arms and legs, and stimulates the circulation in the upper spine.

Kneel on raised heels and stretch your arms forward so your forehead is on the floor. Breathe deeply and relax for a few seconds. Raise yourself on to your hands and knees, keeping your toes tucked under and your back flat.

Inhale and push up onto your toes. Raise your buttocks and lower your head between your arms. Your back and legs should form two sides of a triangle.

Exhale, rest your feet on the floor and try to touch the floor with the top of your head. Hold the position for 10 seconds.

How to Start Practicing Yoga

You can get audio or video tapes that give breathing instruction and teach relaxation techniques at health food stores, bookstores, and online.

It's probably fine to learn breath and relaxation from a tape or book, but don't try the yoga exercises without a skilled teacher. He or she can make corrections, caution you when necessary, and help you to adapt poses.

It will be worth it to you to spend a little time finding an instructor who is right for you. Your friends, family members or a health care professional may be able to recommend a yoga instructor. Get referrals for a yoga instructor as you would for any professional you might wish to consult.

Yoga instructors aren't required to be certified, but many are, through many different programs. Ask prospective teachers if they are certified. A certified teacher isn't necessarily better than someone who isn't certified, but it's something to consider.

Yoga is fun, healthy, and calming. It's a wise way handed down over several thousands of years. There is little danger in yoga, and even a little progress brings with it freedom and peace of mind.

Although most people can exercise safely, exercise involves some risks. To shift the benefit-to-risk ratio in your favor, take these precautions:

Have a medical exam before you begin your exercise program, including an exercise test with EKG monitoring, especially if you have cardiovascular disease, you are over 35, you have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, you smoke, or you have a family history of heart disease.

Discuss with your doctor any unusual symptoms that you experience during or after exercise such as discomfort in your chest, neck, jaw, or arms; nausea, dizziness, fainting, or excessive shortness of breath; or short-term changes in vision.

If you have diabetes-related complications, check with your healthcare team about special precautions. Consider exercising in a medically supervised program, at least initially, if you have peripheral vascular disease, retinopathy, autonomic neuropathy, or kidney problems.

Learn how to prevent and treat low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). If you take oral agents or insulin, monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercise.

Always warm up and cool down. Don't exercise outdoors when the weather is too hot and humid, or too cold.

Dynamic Yoga – Exercise 1 & 2

Swaying Palm Tree Pose: (Tiryaka Tadasana)
Streamlines the waist and develops balance. Stand with feet 8 inch apart and fix eyes on a point directly in front of you.

 Interlock fingers and turn palms outward. Inhale deeply as you raise arms over your head. As you breathe out, bend from your waist to your left side, taking care not to reach forwards or backwards. Hold for a few seconds, then inhale deeply and slowly return to the upright position. Repeat 5 times to each side.
Cat Stretch Pose: (Marjari-asana)
Kneel and lean forward to place hands on floor below your shoulders, fingers facing forward, hands in line with knees. Arms and thighs should be at right angles to the floor; knees may be slightly separated.

Inhale deeply, raise head and drop spine so your back is concave. Fill your lungs and hold for three seconds. As you exhale, lower your head and stretch your spine upwards. At the end of the breath, pull in your buttocks, contract stomach muscles and place head between arms. Repeat 5 times.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is an ancient hindu exercise of working with the human nervous system. Because it releases tension and endows one with renewed energy, far too many 20th century people, yoga teachers included, have come to look upon the venerable Indian physical science as solely an exercise for health and vitality of mind and body.

It is that, but it is also much more. Hatha yoga practices are more spiritual than physical and more subtle with an understanding of ways to relieve stress or limber up the body.

The sages who developed hatha yoga designed it as a way to gain conscious control of our life energies, a way to go within, to harmonize the external so the innermost Self could be encountered. To them, it was about states of consciousness, about living a divine life, and it was a preparation for meditation.

As you perform the asanas, concentrate on feeling the energies. Sensitize yourself to knowing when the body has been in each position long enough then shift smoothly into the next asana. It's like a dance, a deliberate, fluid dance. During all postures, inhale using the diaphragm, not the chest muscles. Do not stretch unduly or force the body. Relax into the poses. Don't worry if you can't perform them all perfectly. In time, you will find the body becoming more flexible and supple. Free the mind of thoughts and tensions. You will be more aware, more alive, more serene.

While there are many more complex hatha yoga routines, the twenty-four asanas of Hatha Yoga provide a balanced system for daily use. For the simple purpose of quieting the mind in preparation for meditation, this is all you will ever need. For best results, hatha yoga should be taught by a qualified teacher. These instructions and drawings are meant only as a rudimentary aid. For more elaborate regimens, inquire at a recognized school specializing in hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga has a spiritual purpose; to balance physical and physic energies in preparation for meditation. It is not only meant to make us young, beautiful or creative, but to aid us in quieting the mind, body and emotions that we may awaken enlightened consciousness and know the Self within.

Basic Yoga Postures and their Variations

The Cobra: Do this in easy stages. Lie down, face prone, legs tightly together and stretched back, forehead on the floor. Put your hands, palm down, just under your shoulders. Inhale and raise your head, pressing your neck back, now use your hands to push your trunk up until you are bending in a beautiful arc from your lower spine to the back of your neck. You need go no further than this.

However, if you are supple enough, you can now straighten your arms completely, bend the legs at the knees and drop your head back to touch your feet. Even if your head goes nowhere near your feet, drop it back as far as possible and hold the posture with deep breathing. Come out of the posture very slowly, returning to the face prone posture. Relax with your head to one side. Repeat.

The Bow: This is also an extreme version of the simple bow. It is surprising how many children can do it immediately. Take it, once again, in easy stages. Lie face prone on your mat. If you are very slim have a nice thick, padded mat for this one. Inhale and bend your knees up. Stretch back with your arms and catch hold of your ankles, keeping fingers and thumbs all together on the outside. Inhale and at the same time raise your head and chest, pulling at your ankles and lifting knees and thighs off the floor. Breathe normally, trying to kick up your legs higher and lifting your head up. You are now bent like a bow, balancing the weight of your body on your abdomen. You can stop right here but if you can still stretch further, then slide your hands down your legs, lift them higher, keep the knees together and pull back as much as you can. Hold for a few normal deep breaths, then relax back to the face-prone position, head to one side.

The Shooting Bow: In Sanskrit this is known as Akarna Dhanurasana and one leg is drawn up like a shooting bow. Sit with both legs stretched out in front and back straight. Reach forward with both hands and clasp your feet, catching the right foot with the left hand and the left foot with the right hand. Inhale, bend the left knee and pull the foot across the body, close to your chest, pointing the elbow up and twisting the body slightly to the right. The left hand stays firm and tight, holding the right foot. Hold posture with normal breathing, release slowly, and relax. Repeat on other side. In the beginning it is enough to hold the bent left leg with the right hand. When this is easy, stretch down and hold the left foot with the right hand. Continue to pull on the left foot, lifting it higher on each exhalation.

Yoga Equipment

Yoga can be a challenging discipline for beginning to the advanced person.  The asanas, or postures are slow and steady and are not meant to be painful, but this does not mean that they are not challenging.  Never extend yourself to cause discomfort.  With practice, you should see yourself relaxing into the stretches with ease.

Nevertheless, for beginners there are a few tips when practicing yoga.  Release all thoughts, good or bad before you begin.  Turn off your phone and don’t answer the door, you need peace and quiet.  Make sure you take a warm, relaxing shower and that you wear comfortable clothes that will allow you to stretch easily.  You can use aromatherapy that will relax and help to clear you thoughts. You will want to purchase a yoga mat so you can rest on the pad and not slip and slide on the floor.  Make sure your shoes and socks are off and if you have long hair is should be pulled back of your face.  Turn the lights low (or you can do it in the sunlight), whatever suits you.  You may want to play some relaxing music of nature, perhaps the beach.  You may need belts or ropes that are used to grab your legs and pull them into a better stretch. Blocks are used to prop yourself up and sit better or for standing postures.

Without the prop support, you may not be able to attain some postures.  Just remember that although the postures are important, performing them absolutely perfectly is not the goal.  Yoga is not just an exercise; it includes the mind in the action.  These tools make it easier for you as a beginner in yoga, but you will find that eventually you will not need them.

Cure for Modern Day Stresses

Yoga is a 3,000-year-old, Hindu discipline of mind and body that became known in Western society with the hippie generation of the Sixties and early Seventies. Its image as a mystic practice is disappearing as fast as the stressful aspects of the 21st century are appearing.

As an effective method of stress management, yoga is spreading into the business world, the helping professions, nursing and old age homes, and is used in the treatment of alcoholics, hyperactive children and youngsters with learning disabilities. Yoga centers are getting stiff competition from adult education classes of community colleges, boards of education and parks and recreation departments.

The meaning of yoga is union of the body, mind and spirit with truth. There are many kinds of yoga to study, and there can be endless years of practice for the willing student.

Hatha Yoga is among the most popular forms in the west. It emphasizes the practice of postures, which stretch and strengthen the body, help develop a sense of balance and flexibility, as well as body awareness and mental concentration. All forms of yoga incorporate the practice of proper breathing techniques for relaxation, to rest the mind from its constant chatter, to experience an internal calm, and to energize and purify the body.

As stress levels in society reach new heights, Raja Yoga, the yoga of meditation, is growing in popularity in Western society, while others, such as Krya Yoga, the yoga of cleansing, and Mantra Yoga, the yoga of chanting, not surprisingly, have little appeal for newcomers.

Stretching and toning, though beneficial, aren't the primary reasons people turn to yoga. Newcomers are hoping that yoga will provide them with a means for handling stress and diffusing tension. The difference between exercise and yoga is that yoga has a meditative quality.

A lot of people are exercising for the psychological benefits and trying many of the Eastern activities, like yoga and tai chi. Yoga seems to have a calming effect on people.

And the techniques work on children as well as adults. When your children are quarreling, ask them to stop what they're doing, raise their arms over their heads, lean forward and breathe deeply to help diffuse their anger. It will helps them calm down and just might help you too.

Ten Minute Yoga

Whether you might be staying home with a new baby or working too many hours at the office, anytime is a good time for yoga. You can do yoga stretches and postures in bed or even while driving to work.

Hundreds of fitness seekers use their lunch hour to squeeze in exercise and take off extra pounds.

I occasionally use my lunch hour for Yoga, said John Ray White, 35, who works at the Arkansas attorney general's office. Downward facing dog and sun salutation are two of the postures she practices every day.

Practicing yoga in the middle of day some people think is the break that they need to face the afternoon, said Ray. 

Lunch-hour fitness routines become more popular in warm weather.

Kick Back Log-on Pose

Interlace your fingers behind your head. Relax your elbows and shoulders. Smile, breathe and stretch your elbows back. Let the tightness release slowly.

E-mail Meditation

While reading your e-mail, remember to breathe slowly and focus your attention on your breath. Make the out-breath two times longer than the in-breath. This will immediately calm you.

Photocopier Stretch

Place your hands on the edge of the copier. Stand back with feet apart. Drop your head and chest. Breathe and relax your shoulders.

Close-the-deal Warrior Pose

Raise your arms to the side with fingers pointed. Take a big step to the side, with your right foot out and knee bent, your left foot planted, left leg straight. Keep the upper body straight and strong, shoulders relaxed. Relax into the stretch -- don't hold your breath. Return to a standing position, switch sides and repeat.

Relaxing with Yoga

You don't need to fall into the stress mode of life. You can use breath to relax, rather than stress, your mind and body. Yoga helps you to relearn that natural state that your body and mind want to be in: relaxation.

Deep breathing is both calming and energizing. The energy you feel from a few minutes of careful breathe is not nervous or hyper, but that calm, steady energy we all need. Slow, steady, and quiet breathing gives a message to your nervous system: Be calm.

Whole books have been written on yoga breathing. Here is one 5-minute Breath Break. (Read through the instructions several times before you try the practice.)

1. Sit with your spine as straight as possible. Use a chair if necessary but don't slump into it. Feet flat on the floor with knees directly over the center of your feet. Use a book or cushion under your feet if they do not rest comfortably on the floor. Hands are on the tops of your legs.

2. Close your eyes gently and let them rest behind closed lids.

3. Think about your ribs, at the front, back, and at the sides of your body. Your lungs are behind those ribs.

4. Feel your lungs filling up, your ribs expanding out and up. Feel your lungs emptying, your ribs coming back down and in. Don't push the breath.

5. The first few times you do this, do it for 2 to 3 minutes, then do it for up to 5 to 10 minutes. At first, set aside a time at least once a day to do this. When you learn how good it makes you feel, you'll want to do it at other times as well.

Just as one stressful situation goes into your next challenge, relaxing for a few minutes every day gradually carries over into the rest of your daily life and activities.

A Little History of Yoga

Yoga began in India 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and means, to join or integrate, or simply union. Yoga started, as far as we know, as part of India's philosophical system, but not everyone practiced yoga, and it has never been a religion.

About 5 million people in the United States do some yoga. Dance and stretching exercise classes usually have parts and pieces that come directly from yoga. If you ever go to a physical therapist, he or she may give you therapeutic exercises that are yoga postures.

There are several types of yoga. The yoga you may have seen on TV or taught at your local Y or an adult education class is called hatha yoga, or physical yoga. Sometimes it's known as the yoga for health. You may also find yoga being taught in a hospital or medical setting. Many health professionals today feel yoga can be part of a treatment plan.

Hatha yoga has three parts: a series of exercises or movements called asana (poses or postures in English), breathing techniques of all kinds, and relaxation.