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Yoga Cultivates Calm

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a method of exercise that combines breathing techniques, meditation, certain poses and postures, strength-building exercises, and flexibility exercises for physical health and psychological well being. Exercise yoga is based on a Hindu theistic philosophy that emphasizes inner peace through control of and liberation from the body, mind, will, and external objects. When translated from Sanskrit, the term yoga means yoke or unite,1 which likely refers to the relationship between mind and body.

The most popular form of exercise yoga in the United States is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga emphasizes breathing techniques, stretching, and muscle-strengthening exercises that offer benefits similar to that of moderate exercise.2 Comprehensive Hatha yoga focuses on meditation as well as spiritual and ethical philosophies and practices to help achieve inner peace.3

Although people have practiced yoga for thousands of years in India and other parts of the East, it has only become popular in the United States and Europe in the last several decades. The large number (approximately 15 million) of Americans who practice yoga in one of its many formshighlights the likelihood that many people are enjoying yoga on its own or in combination with other exercise routines and activity to achieve, improve, and maintain their physical and mental health.

Yoga Benefits

Although the data are inconclusive, trends suggest yoga has significant positive effects in helping treat and manage a variety of conditions and diseases, including anxiety, depression, stress, asthma, diabetes, pain, cancer treatment side effects, weight problems, cardiovascular problems, and musculoskeletal problems.3

Common Yoga Methods

  • Hatha yoga emphasizes:5
    • The slow practice of yoga postures (asanas) for structured physical exertion to increase flexibility
      and build strength
    • Controlled breathing (pranayama) to enhance relaxation, concentration, and awareness
    • Healthy dietary practices such as eating moderate amounts of fresh, simple, nourishing, and soothing foods from whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables
    • Purification processes (shatkriyas) for cleansing the nasal passages (neti), digestive tract and stomach (dhauti), and colon (basti). Shatkriyas also involve abdominal exercises (nauli) for greater awareness and energy to the asanas, blinkless gazing (trataka) to clear the mind of thoughts, and deep breathing (kapalabhati) to cleanse the cranial sinuses with short, forceful exhalations

The lotus position (or padmasana), which involves crossing the feet to rest on opposite thighs, is a common asana in Hatha yoga. 

  • Iyengar yoga,6 a form of Hatha yoga, emphasizes:
    • Spinal and overall body alignment for good posture through a progression of poses (asanas), beginning with simple poses and progressing to complex poses that help develop and unify the body, mind, and spirit
    • Controlled breathing (pranayama) to enhance relaxation, concentration, and awareness
    • Strength, stability, and mobility through the use of props, including belts, blocks, and blankets
      to help achieve correct postures/positions and minimize the risk of strain and injury
    • Deep relaxation (savasana) at the end of each session to release body and mind
      for profound rest and inner peace

Iyengar yoga can be safe and effective for almost all people regardless of age, weight, physical condition, and fitness level.

  • Sudarshan kriya yoga (SKY)emphasizes:
    • Sequential, controlled breathing (pranayama) in slow, medium, and fast cycles that focuses on each breath to help relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and stress-related physical illnesses and conditions through
      • Consciously feeling the breath as it touches the throat (ujjayi) through a slow-breathing technique using 2 to 4 breaths per minute that paces airflow through a timed, rhythmic, prolonged cycle
        to instill physical and mental calm and focus
      • Rapidly inhaling and forcefully exhaling ~ 30 breaths (bhastrika) per minute to invigorate and release
        the body and mind
      • Repeating (chanting) the sound ohm 3 times with prolonged, rhythmic exhalation


According to the National Institutes of Health, yoga is usually considered a safe, low-impact form exercise when it is practiced with a well-trained instructor. Side effects and injuries from yoga are usually minimal; however, certain medical conditions, including glaucoma, high blood pressure, sciatica, pregnancy, and joint problems might neccessitate modified yoga poses.8

As with any exercise program,
talk with your doctor first before starting yoga.


1. Yoga. Merriam Webster Dictionary. m-w.com. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yoga. Accessed July 1, 2013.
2. Raub JA. Psychophysiologic effects of hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary functions: a literature review. J Altern Complement Med. 2002:8(6);797-812.
3. Smith JA, Greer T, Sheets T, Watson S. Is there more to yoga than exercise? Alt Ther. 2011: 17(3);22-29.
4. 2008 Yoga in America Study. Yoga Journal. 2008;93. http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reportinfo.asp?report_id=836593&t=o&cat_id=#. Accessed July 1, 2013.
5. Encyclopedia Brittanica. Hatha yoga. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/256851/Hatha-Yoga. Accessed July 1, 2013.
6. Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States. Iyengar yoga. http://iynaus.org/iyengar-yoga. Accessed July 1, 2013.
7. Zope SA, Zope RA. Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health. Int J Yoga. 2013; 6(1): 4–10. Accessed July 1, 2013.
8. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Yoga for health. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm. Accessed July 1, 2013.