This week I picked up Time Magazine's "The Science of Exercise" special issue, as it promised to illuminate the most recent discoveries in movement and health. It is interesting to think about what this means for the future of yoga practice. I recognize that yoga is traditionally not an exercise regime, but it has become quite physical over the past 100 years, to the point that it now fills the fitness quota in many people's lives.
Exercise Will Become More Individualized and Prescriptive
As the medical community recognizes the preventive value of exercise, it will be recommended more to patients of all ages, both to combat disease and to prevent it. Physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, many forms of cancer and several mental disorders like depression. In the future, each person will be assigned or "prescribed" a different exercise regime based on their health, ability and needs.
This is not unlike the method of prescriptive yoga that has been in India for hundreds of years. "Young and old," wrote Bishnu Ghosh in 1930, "there is a different exercise for each of you--an experienced trainer can only rightly select them."
Lifting Weights Is Important For Strength and Health
Muscular strength and bone density are two important factors in keeping us healthy and pain-free. Weak muscles lead to imbalance, injury and painful joints. Keeping our bodies strong, especially around the spine, hips, knees and shoulders reduces the risk of injury as we age. Keeping the bones strong is also important, reducing the likelihood of breaks. Both of these things are improved by lifting weights. Thus, weightlifting should be a regular activity for pretty much everyone.
Yoga exercises increase strength to a certain degree, using the bodyweight as resistance. More often, though, yoga practices are focused on flexibility at the expense of stability and strength. Our overall health will be better served if we focus at least part of our physical practice on strength. Flexibility is useful when it restores functional range of motion to stiff joints, but it can also be detrimental when pushed too far. A balanced practice of flexibility and strength, even including weight lifting, will be more effective in keeping us healthy in the long term.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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