Since 2001, the popularity of yoga in the USA has been on the constant rise. The number of people who practiced some form of yoga has grown from 4 million (in 2001) to 21 million (in 2012). While a great number of people benefit from their yoga practice, certain health problems associated with yoga have been brought to the attention of the vast masses.
Most of us never take a deep breath all day long. The most fundamental practice in yoga is the deep, belly breath through the nose. The diaphragm is a large muscle located just below the lungs that ideally should pull down the lungs during inspiration. This is why young children push their stomach out when sleeping or exercising. Adults need to do the same. To properly exhale, suck your belly button toward your spine to push the diaphragm up and empty all the air from your lungs. This process also brings nitric oxide—not nitrous oxide—from the back of the nose into your lungs, which dilates arteries to bring more oxygen into your body.
Yoga helps clean blood of waste material (through lymphatic stimulation), and trains us to loosen muscles and joints that are ignored in our day-to-day lives. Routines like sun salutation get the blood flowing as we warm up and free our body to experience the new stresses we will face. The practice also gets us to handle the weight of our body more effectively, which builds bone and muscle strength so we are more resilient to the frailty that afflicts many. This is why power yoga practitioners have great bodies.
Finally, yoga gets us to focus our minds on remote parts of our body—like tight joints and muscles—as we gently but firmly deepen into our poses. For people like me, meditation proves difficult because our mind wonders. But if we can concentrate on the tension in our hips as we empty our mind, then we are well on the way.