The term "yoga" comes from a Sanskrit word meaning
"union." Yoga combines physical exercises, mental
meditation, and breathing techniques to strengthen the muscles and relieve
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years as a life philosophy to
join the individual self with what practitioners call the Divine,
Universal Spirit, or Cosmic Consciousness. However, very few individuals
in the United States as of 2004 practiced yoga in this way; rather, yoga
is performed as part of an
program to increase general health, reduce stress, improve flexibility
and muscle strength, and alleviate certain physical symptoms, such as
. Because yoga is a low-impact activity and can include gentle movements,
it is commonly used as part of physical therapy and rehabilitation of
Clinical and psychological studies have demonstrated that performing yoga
has the following benefits:
In addition to exercise and stress reduction, yoga is also used
therapeutically to help children and adolescents with medical conditions.
Yoga instructors experienced in adapting yoga postures for individuals
with special needs teach yoga to children and adolescents with
, seizure disorders,
spinal cord injury
, multiple sclerosis,
, Asperger's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD), psychiatric disorders, learning disabilities, and other
disabilities to help improve physical and mental functioning. Many
physicians may recommend yoga for patients with
, stress-related disorders, and depression. Growing interest in
alternative and complementary medicine has increased the popularity of
yoga in the United States and spurred research into its medical benefits.
Many hospitals offer alternative or integrative medicine centers that
include yoga classes.
Some yoga instructors have even pioneered yoga for infants and toddlers,
practiced with one or both parents. Yoga for infants and toddlers can
, ease digestive problems, facilitate neuromuscular development,
strengthen the immune system, deepen parent-child bonds, serve as an
outlet for creative
and self-expression, and reduce stress and
for both parents and children.
Yoga originated in ancient India and is considered one of the longest
surviving philosophical systems in the world. Some scholars have estimated
that yoga is as old as 5,000 years; artifacts detailing yoga postures have
been found in India from over 3000 B.C. A recent poll conducted by
found that 11 million Americans do yoga at least occasionally and 6
million perform it regularly.
Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced branch of yoga in the United
States, and it is a highly developed system of nearly 200 physical
postures, movements, and breathing techniques. The yoga philosophy
maintains that the breath is the most important facet of health, as the
breath is the largest source of "prana," or life force, and
hatha yoga uses "pranayama," which literally means the
science or control of breathing.
A typical hatha yoga routine consists of a sequence of physical poses,
called asanas, and the sequence is designed to work all parts of the body,
emphasis on making the spine supple and increasing circulation. Each
asana is named for a common thing it resembles, like the sun salutation,
cobra, locust, plough, bow, eagle, tree, and the head to knee pose, to
name a few. Poses named after animals are especially appealing to
children, and children's yoga programs focus on those poses that
mimic animals and trees. Each pose has steps for entering and exiting it,
and each posture requires proper form and alignment. A pose is held for
some time, depending on its level of difficulty and one's strength
and stamina, and the instructor cues participants when to inhale and
exhale at certain points in each posture, as breathing properly is a
fundamental aspect of yoga postures. Breathing should be deep and through
the nose. Mental concentration in each position is also very important,
which improves awareness, poise, and posture. During a yoga routine there
is often a position in which to perform meditation, called dyana, if deep
relaxation is one of the goals of the sequence.
Yoga routines can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two or more hours, with
one hour being a good time investment to perform a sequence of postures
and a meditation. For children, 30 minutes may be the maximum span of
attention for practicing yoga. Some yoga routines, depending on the
teacher and school, can be as strenuous as the most difficult workout,
especially those called ashtanga, or power, yoga. Other routines merely
stretch and align the body while the breath and heart rate are kept slow
and steady. Power yoga is only appropriate for children and adolescents
who have practiced yoga for some time, or who are engaged in advanced
athletic activities. Yoga achieves its best results when it is practiced
as a daily discipline, and yoga can be a life-long exercise routine,
offering deeper and more challenging positions as a practitioner becomes
more adept. The basic positions can increase a person's strength,
flexibility, and sense of well-being almost immediately, but it can take
years to perfect and deepen them, which is an appealing and stimulating
aspect of yoga for many.
Children and adolescents with injuries, medical conditions, or spinal
problems should consult a physician before beginning yoga. For children
with special needs, parents should find a yoga teacher who is properly
trained and experienced and can give children individual attention.
Certain yoga positions should not be performed by a person who has a
or is menstruating.
Children and adolescents who are beginners at yoga should always be
properly supervised, since injuries are possible, and some advanced yoga
postures, like the headstand and full lotus position, can be difficult and
require strength, flexibility, and gradual preparation. Proper form and
alignment should always be maintained during a stretch or posture, and the
stretch or posture should be stopped if pain,
, or excessive fatigue occurs.
While yoga can be used therapeutically to help alleviate certain symptoms
in children with various medical conditions, it is not a cure. A physician
should be consulted for standard medical treatment.
Injuries have been reported when yoga postures were performed without
proper form or concentration, or by attempting difficult positions without
working up to them gradually or having appropriate supervision. Beginners
sometimes report muscle soreness and fatigue after performing yoga, but
these side effects diminish with practice.
—A position or stance in yoga.
—The yoga term for meditation.
—A form of yoga using postures, breathing methods, and
—A practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object,
visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to
increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote
relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
—The yoga practice of breathing cirrectly and deeply.
Yogi (female, yogini)
—A trained yoga expert.
Yoga classes for children, adolescents, and teens are held at local
schools, community centers, fitness clubs, and YMCAs. In addition, yoga
videos for children are available online at
http://www.collagevideo.com. For children
who want to perform yoga at home, parental supervision is necessary.
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