Yoga as exercise is a modern exercise practice influenced by hatha yoga. It involves holding stretches as a kind of low-impact physical exercise, and is often used for therapeutic purposes. Yoga in this sense often occurs in a class and may involve meditation, imagery, breath work and music.
Yoga has roots in India. The foundational text for yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yoga came to the attention of the western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Hindu philosophy. The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of yoga to a western audience was Swami Vivekananda, who toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s.
Nearly all types of hatha yoga practices include asana, pranayama and savasana. The physical asanas of hatha yoga have a tradition that goes back to at least the 15th century, but they were not widely practiced in India prior to the early 20th century.
The more classical approaches of hatha yoga, such as iyengar yoga, move at a more deliberate pace, emphasize proper alignment and execution and hold asanas for a longer time. They aim to gradually improve flexibility, balance, and strength. Other approaches, such as Ashtanga or power yoga, shift between asanas quickly and energetically. Contemporary approaches to yoga invite students to become their own authority in yoga practice by offering principle-based approaches to yoga that can be applied to any form.
Much of the research on hatha yoga has been in the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias. Hatha yoga does not have specific and standardization regarding its practice. A study suggested for creation of supported practices that could be distributed and applied for use in clinical practice.
Yoga is a core component of the Mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Drawing from recent research on the mental and physical benefits of practicing yoga, positive psychologists have begun to look deeper into the possibilities of utilizing yoga to improve life for people even in the absence of disease.
A 2010 literature review of the research on the use of hatha yoga for treating depression said that preliminary research suggested that it may be effective in the management of depression, but "although the results from these trials are encouraging, they should be viewed as very preliminary because the trials, as a group, suffered from substantial methodological limitations."
A 2015 systematic review on the effect of yoga on mood and the brain concluded that "yoga is associated with biological changes in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol or cytokine levels." The same review also points to a lack of research in this field and recommends more methodological rigor be applied to future clinical trials to solidify these conclusions.
There is some evidence that exercise programs may help people with dementia perform their daily activities. There has been no found benefit to treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There is some evidence supporting yoga as an alternative treatment for insomnia, however it is not of good quality and it is not clear whether yoga works any better than general relaxation.
There is evidence that hatha yoga may be effective in the management of chronic, but not acute, low back pain. Only weak evidence exists to support the use of hatha yoga as a complementary therapy for helping people with rheumatic diseases, and little is known of the safety of such use.
Although some evidence exists to suggest yoga might help people with high blood pressure, overall this evidence is too weak for any recommendation to be made, and little is known of the safety implications of such an approach. There is no evidence of benefit in treatment of epilepsy or menopause-related symptoms. Practice of yoga has no effect on the underlying mechanisms of cancer.
Although relatively safe, yoga is not risk free. Sensible precautions can usefully be taken – for example beginners should avoid advanced moves, yoga should not be combined with psychoactive drug use, and competitive yoga should be avoided. A small percentage of yoga practitioners each year suffer physical injuries analogous to sports injuries. The practice of yoga has been cited as a cause of hyperextension or rotation of the neck, which may be a precipitating factor in cervical artery dissection.
While not every branch or school of yoga includes meditation in its technical repertoire, most do.
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