Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying its health benefits. The only way to be certain of all that yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see.
The potential health benefits of yoga are numerous and may include:
- With its quiet, precise movements, yoga draws your focus away from your busy, chaotic day and toward calm as you move your body through poses that require balance and concentration.
- Even beginners tend to feel less stressed and more relaxed after their first class. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant "mind chatter" that often underlies stress.
- Other yoga styles depend on deep breathing techniques to focus your mind on the breath. When this happens, your mind can become calm.
- Among yoga's anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters - dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine - creates a feeling of calm.
- Research shows that there is a boost in the neurotransmitter Gama Aminobutric Acid, which helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system as well as an increase in the hormone oxytocin, the “love hormone’ that's associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.
- Yoga can help you gain a better mind body connection. As this happens you will become more mindful of your body and how you feel and that will carry over to other areas of your life.
- If you're overweight or have an eating disorder, yoga may help you make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to gain control of your eating and drop those extra pounds.
- Perhaps one of the most studied areas of the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
- Yoga was a key component to the heart disease program designed by Dean Ornish, MD. This was the first program to partly reverse heart disease through lifestyle and diet rather than surgery.
- On a biochemical level, studies point to a possible anti-oxidant effect of yoga. And yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.
Increased Fitness & Strength
- As you learn and refine new poses, you may enjoy improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. This means you're less likely to injure yourself in other physical activities or in your day-to-day life.
- Some styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga and power yoga, are more vigorous than others. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. Other less vigorous styles of yoga, such as Iyengar yoga, which focuses on less movement and more precise alignment in poses, can provide strength and endurance benefits.
- Doesn’t it make sense that if you are not flexible you should stretch?
- When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a gymnast. That makes them worry that they're too old, unfit, or "tight" to do yoga. The truth is you're never too old to improve flexibility. The series of yoga poses called asanas work by safely stretching your muscles. In addition, yoga stimulates the synovial fluid in the joints helping to increase the range of motion. The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body.
- Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you will see benefits from your yoga practice often after the very first session.
- Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength. Almost every yoga pose requires you to utilize your abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you're more likely to sit and stand taller with a mindful attention to your posture.
- Another benefit of yoga is the increased body awareness. This heightened awareness tells you more quickly when you're slouching or slumping so you can adjust your posture.
- Because of the deep, mindful breathing that yoga involves, lung capacity often improves. This in turn can improve sports performance and endurance.
- Most forms of yoga emphasize deepening and lengthening your breath. This stimulates the relaxation response -- the opposite of the fight-or-flight adrenaline boost of the stress response.
Concentration & Mood
- Concentration and the ability to focus are common benefits you'll hear yoga students talk about. The same is true with mood. Nearly every yoga student will tell you they feel happier and more content after class.
- Researchers have begun exploring the effects of yoga on depression and the benefits that result from the yoga practice boosting oxygen levels to the brain.
Management of Chronic Health Conditions
- As yoga has become more popular in the West, medical researchers have begun studying the benefits of therapeutic yoga. This is also called integrative yoga therapy or IYT. It's used as an adjunct treatment for specific medical conditions, from clinical depression to heart disease.
- Yoga might help with a variety of health conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, common cold, back pain, headaches, depression, pain, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, and insomnia. Yoga also can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
See your health care provider before you begin yoga or any other fitness routine if you have any of the following conditions:
- Balance problems
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Certain eye conditions, including glaucoma
- Severe osteoporosis
- Artificial joints
You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take certain precautions such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. Regardless of your health status, start slowly and gently.
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