I began studying yoga through the Bikram method and I suspect that the incredible proliferation of Bikram's studios, due to the combination of repeated poses, evident physical 'results', and the sense of 'cleansing' that comes from sweating for 90 minutes, has served to bring an enormous number of Americans to yoga.
I practiced Bikram for about 5 years before I was brave enough to try other types of yoga. I have since practiced Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga, Anusara, Astanga and bits of pieces of other types of yoga.
Without a doubt, yoga is now a channel for my energy and emotions. The original purpose of yoga: to prepare the physical body for meditation, resonates with me at every class. I now find that the physical exercise component of yoga practice is the side benefit - the primary benefits include stilling my mind and allowing me to put all the 'issues' of every day life into their appropriate context; and refocusing my concerns on things that are most important, such as how to better love my husband, children and those around me.
I believe that many physical 'practices' can provide these opportunities for restoration and balance. In my experience, many professional athletes find this result in their daily practice as well. I know I did when I studied ballet for 12 years. I suspect Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps find the same thing in the practice of their sports.
The incredible beauty of yoga is its accessibility. As I have heard many say, "if you can breathe, you can do yoga". It's available to everyone. And unlike any other available form of exercise, yoga expands the physical body in a way that opens skeleton, muscles and cells to positions that are completely foreign to most of us in our every day lives; and then, by its very nature, it redirects our brains in ways that almost no other practice, physical or otherwise, does. This, I believe, is why it is helpful for so many.
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