3. physical exercises
4. breathing techniques
5. preparation for meditation
The focus of hatha yoga is typically concentrated on steps 3, 4, and 5, as follows:
The exercises are a series of prescribed postures. These poses stretch and strengthen muscles, improve posture and the flexibility of the skeletal system, and compress then relax organs and nerves. The intent is to increase the body's physical efficiency and overall health. Typically, each pose will be held for a set period of time, ranging from a few seconds to several minutes. Some postures may be repeated, while others will be performed just once. Many yoga exercises might seem like familiar stretches, while others will be much more complicated. To maintain physical balance and harmony among the muscle groups, the exercises will follow a set order. As you progress through the various postures, you'll move gently and smoothly, without any bouncing or jerking. There will be periods of rest after every few postures. From the simplest to the most difficult poses, the goal remains the same: to easily but thoroughly stretch all of the muscles in the body while gently contracting, releasing, and stimulating the internal organs.
Breathing is slow, deep, and controlled. Yoga breathing techniques are based on the belief that breath is the source of life in the body, and breath control is intended to improve the health and function of both body and mind. Shallow or hurried breathing is considered to have negative physical and mental consequences. During yoga practice you will focus on your breathing, and work through several breathing exercises. You may inhale during certain postures and exhale for others.
You prepare for meditation through the exercises and controlled breathing. Meditation supplements and reinforces the exercise and breathing disciplines, by relaxing the physical body and focusing the mind. The goal is to achieve a quiet, tranquil state of awareness, and the result is reduced stress and increased energy.
Yoga, like meditation, has traditionally been associated with Eastern religious practices. However, any spiritual aspects of yoga are strictly individual, do not require any specific beliefs or faiths, and do not interfere with a person's religious traditions or lack thereof. Yoga is suitable for adults of any age or physical condition, as its approach is non-strenuous in nature. There are even routines offering special techniques for those with health limitations due to illness, injury, obesity, or inactivity. However, yoga as practiced by adults is not always considered appropriate for children under age 16 as their bodies are still growing, and the effect of yoga exercises on the glandular and other bodily systems may interfere with their natural development (there are special yoga classes for children, and if you are considering this option I would urge you to find a good local instructor and ask their opinion). The more strenuous yoga exercises are not recommended for menstruating women, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.
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