Yoga will help you improve your strength and flexibility and help you feel relaxed and calm. Aerobic exercise often leaves you feeling invigorated and alert and may keep you awake if taken too near to bedtime. A combination exercise that will improve your cardiovascular fitness, keep you strong and flexible and help you relax is the ideal combination to improve sleep quality.
Yoga classes are widely available and many people claim they are able to fall asleep easier and have a better night's sleep when they practise yoga. Yoga is not just a form of exercise but a holistic practice that creates harmony between the mind body and spirit. It can be practiced at any age and many people develop a lifetime commitment to yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Most classes concentrate on learning the yoga poses that will keep the body healthy and some breathing and relaxation techniques that will help you stay calm.
A little knowledge of the philosophy behind yoga will help you get the most out of your practice.
The Indian sage Patanjali conceived the eight limbs of yoga around 200 BC. His system of yoga describes the eight stages that will lead to the ultimate union of mind, body and soul:
Yamas are the moral codes that dictate how to respond and relate to other people and the environment. It teaches students how to respect themselves and others and to be non competitive and learn how to 'let go'.
Niyamas are the rules associated with cleansing and how to achieve spiritual purification.
Asanas are the poses that will help keep the body healthy. The aim of the asanas is gain flexibility, strength and stamina that will enable the student to sit comfortably for long periods during meditation.
Pranayama is the breathing practice that teaches control of the breath. By controlling the breath you are able to influence and 'still' the mind and learn how to relax.
Pratyahara teaches concentration. The mind will wander aimlessly from thought to thought without control. By being aware of what is happening with the mind, you are able to concentrate on the reality of the moment. By drawing inwards you become aware of the calm and serenity that exists within the mind and body and become less influenced by possessions and external aspirations.
Dharana is the art of focusing. When you are able to maintain concentration for long periods the mind enters into stillness, undisturbed by stray thoughts and external disturbances.
Dhyana is meditation when thought and sensation are completely suspended and the mind and body enter into stillness.
Samadhi is the culmination of the eight limbs - the ultimate union - an indescribable 'union' between mind, body and spirit.
Most yoga classes teach the yoga asanas (poses) and relaxation techniques that will help you learn how to relax. Some classes are more physically demanding and others will concentrate on gentler forms of movement and how to use the breath. Yoga is often used to help with back pain and other joint problems, as well as those suffering from stress and other health problems.
Meditation, Pranayama (breathing practice) and yoga philosophy are often taught separately. Courses, workshops and retreats covering all aspects are widely available.
Yoga is ideally learnt in a class with a qualified teacher. However, there are a large number of books and DVDs available that provide information on the different styles that are available.