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Yoga has recently seen a huge surge in popularity in the United States.  This rise has produced a lot of awareness of the health benefits.  It has also created an image of what yoga is like for those who have never tried it.  This image often embodies a young healthy girl doing difficult poses.  Such a portrayal is certain to turn away many would be yoga beginners.  In the case of yoga for people with chronic illness, it is necessary to overcome these stereotypes and gain an understanding of what yoga is and how it can help you.

The Benefits of Yoga

In ancient times, people practiced yoga to reach a higher consciousness.  The ultimate aim being to fully master the art of meditation to reach a state of union between mind, body and spirit.  Not everyone was or is able to reach a state of higher consciousness, and the practice itself became excepted as beneficial.  Today, yoga is open to all and can be tailored to suit each individuals capabilities.  

Yoga is not simply an exercise of stretching.  It is a philosophy that encompasses many aspects on how to achieve a calm mind and harness energy within the body.  There are many therapeutic effects that anyone can benefit from in practicing yoga despite, age, physical disability or overall disposition.  

The therapeutic benefits are especially useful in the modern age where people face increasing health challenges both physically and mentally.  Yoga has the ability to relax the mind and transport a person into a certain presence that allows focus and perspective on the fast paced world we now live in.  

Regular practice increases our awareness of our physical and mental states which allows us to better cope with everyday stress. An ongoing yoga practice enables the practitioner to be able to step back and assess our reactions and coping mechanisms.  There are enormous options available to individuals as far as the type of yoga classes best suited to their needs.  

As opposed to ancient times, today's yoga practice has evolved into an all-inclusive system where all types of people can participate.  The science of yoga deals with all aspects of the physical to the psychological, intellectual and emotional.  When yoga is practiced with consistency, it is able to draw out positive qualities and lessen defects.  

The science of yoga, with it's knowledge of anatomy, physiology, consciousness and conscience, is able to integrate body, mind, breathe and awareness.  The right type of yoga matched with the needs of the individual can help deal with every aspect of health and well-being.  For anyone to truly know the benefits of yoga, they must experience it.  There are no words that can ultimately convey an experience, therefore you must try it for yourself.  Once you do, you will find that the minds becomes tranquil and passive.  

The Right Type of Yoga for Someone with Health Issues

Although yoga is a spiritual science, it leads people to the experience of physical and emotional well-being.  For many would be practitioners however, the ability to decipher between the different types of yoga classes available can be daunting.  When referring to the physical practice of yoga as we are here, we are discussing what is called "Hatha" yoga. Hatha yoga is a blanket term used to describe any physical practice of yoga where you do different positions, called "asanas", in a class.  

There are many types of Hatha Yoga classes, some as old as the philosophy of yoga itself, and some newly established. The science of yoga does not outline or have the styles of hatha yoga classified in such a way as to provide you with a menu to choose from.  Usually when you look up a local yoga class, it will provide you with the "Type" of class and then give a "Description" of what you can expect.  To give you an example of some of the common "types" of classes you can expect to see, I have provided a list below:

  • Anusara     Therapeutic benefits, classes are usually tailored to individuals.
  • Ashtanga    Strenous pose sequences requiring a certain physical ability.
  • Bikram     Hot yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees,  basic postures, it's not hard, but it is HOT! 
  • Hatha     Some classes use the blanket term of "Hatha" to describe a class.  You have to read their definition.  
  • Iyengar     Therpeutic in phylosophy, employing the use of props.  Appropriate for all ages and abilities. 
  • Jivamukti     A physical, limit-pushing practice that also integrates traditional spiritual elements. 
  • Kripalu     Is a three-part practice that teaches you to get to know, accept, and learn from your body. 
  • Kundalini     The practice of kundalini yoga features constantly moving, invigorating poses. 
  • Restorative     Less work, more relaxation.  Using strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, and soothing lavender eye pillows to help you sink into deep relaxation. 
  • Sivananda     An unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same 12 basic asanas.
  • Vinyasa / Power      An active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system.
  • Yin     A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues. 

There is a Sanskrit word called Ahimsa, which is commonly translated to mean non-harming or non-violence, sometimes even compassion, both towards oneself and towards others.  When beginning a yoga practice, it is important to practice ahimsa with yourself.  Your aim is not to impress nor should you become frustrated with your self or abilities.  Choosing the appropriate class as a person who has a chronic illness will help you to practice ahimsa.  

From the list above, the classes styles that would be best suited for someone with a chronic illness would be:  Anusara, Hatha, Iyengar, Kripalu, Kundalini, Restorative, Sivananda and Yin Yoga.  Of course, you will still need to read the class description, alert the teacher to your health issues before class ( teachers are extremely open, accepting and helpful when you tell them your issues), and know your personal limits during class despite what everyone else may be able to do.  In other words, be mindful of yourself and your health.  

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