When the warm, romantic fireplaces of winter finally go out and the heat of summer arrives, many of us run outside and do active things we haven’t done in eight or nine months: walk, bike, water ski, and play baseball. . It’s no wonder physical therapists’ offices are so busy in the summer months.

Fortunately, we have our yoga practice that becomes vital during these busy months. By keeping our bodies flexible and strong, we are more likely to enjoy ourselves and much less likely to get hurt while hiking the annual Mount Rainier hike, swinging that golf club, or playing with the kids in the family cabin. The purpose of yoga is to make all parts of our body work harmoniously so that we function in the best way and do not hurt ourselves. After all, most injuries are caused by pushing your muscles and joints to do what they are not ready to do! Therefore, more yoga means more preparation.

One of our instructors, John Davie, was asked last summer if he would like to climb Mount Rainier. The plan was to hike up to Camp Muir (approximately 10,000 feet high) and return in one day. Although John had never walked in his life, he agreed. John and his friends got in and then ran down. In the Paradise parking lot, John did 30 minutes of yoga before driving home. The next day, he did not experience any sore muscles, not even the calf muscles, with the exception of a sore muscle in his butt that he had fallen on while running down the mountain.

Tough, tight muscles disrupt blood flow and thus prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching cells. Yoga releases these muscles and that is why millions have embraced yoga. Most of us have chronically tight hamstrings as a result of years of sitting. However, when we try to stretch these muscles in a conventional way before running or walking, we run the risk of straining or injuring our lower back. Yoga has a wonderful poseSupta Pandangustasana) that releases the hamstring muscles without putting the lower back at risk. In fact, on the contrary, this pose relieves lower back pain! This pose is particularly valuable for cyclists and hikers and others who strain and harden their hamstrings. Similarly, Yoga has safe and strengthening stretches for all muscles in the body.

Unlike normal exercise, yoga tones not only the musculoskeletal system but also the internal organs and the nervous system. Our nervous system allows us to feel and get in touch with the deepest aspects of ourselves. Therefore, our happiness depends on the health of our nervous system, as it forms the connection between the mind and the body. Yoga provides a complete workout without agitating our nerves and instead nurtures and calms them. This explains the key difference between fitness and health. Fitness is how we look on the outside, our appearance, the shape. Fitness is mostly superficial and is rarely an indicator of inner peace. Health has to do with the interior, the functioning of our bodies and our ability to defend ourselves from disease and live a happy and fulfilling life. The healthier we are, the more relaxed and peaceful we feel, the brighter and more lucid our mind is and the more stable our emotions. We rarely get angry or upset and feel a vital balance between effort and satisfaction. Fortunately, yoga is geared towards overall health, not mere fitness.

© Aadil Palkhivala 2008

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