You know that yoga makes you feel good, but what exactly are the medical benefits behind this and how does it affect your mind and body?
Yoga has been practised for over 5000 years, starting in India initially for breathing and flexibility. It has since been adapted worldwide. It offers an unrivalled amount of health benefits compared to other forms of exercise and is recognised by the NHS. With numerous types of yoga available there is always a class to suit your health goals. Lets now look at the specifics and how you can get the most out of your class.
Increase Flexibility and Balance
Flexibility is the stretching and lengthening of tendons and ligaments which is important to make us agile. Along with improved balance and posture, it will help prevent injury to joints and your spine, which is even more important as we grow older. If you have poor flexibility and balance in later life you can be more at risk of bone fractures and back pain.
There is a common myth that you need to be flexible to do yoga, however it is quite the opposite! A popular reason to practice yoga is to improve flexibility- whether you are a complete newbie or seasoned gymnast. Even after one class you will feel suppler and this continues to increase the more you practice.
Each pose provides the opportunity to stretch different muscle groups and by doing counter poses you ensure your flexibility is balanced throughout your body.
Lose Weight and Strengthen
Lets be honest, anything that helps us keep in shape and tone up is welcomed with open arms. Yoga, like all exercise can cause you to work up a sweat and get your blood pumping. Specifically, power yoga is well known for combining a good work out with stretches, before rewarding you with relaxation. This often involves holding more intense poses and a faster flow, which results in burning more fat and building muscle tone.
We all know that it is healthier to lead an active lifestyle, but why exactly? Obesity has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. So just doing 1 more class a week or practising yoga daily at home can help you and your waist line.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
It has long been known that yoga does wonders for the mind. From breathing techniques to relaxation and meditation- yoga is about being mindful and present in the moment. Certain aspects of anxiety in particular have shown encouraging results, such as obsessive compulsive disorder as described in the British Medical Journal.
Most classes also encourage you not to judge yourself compared to others during the class and to focus on your own practice journey. This is a lovely metaphor that should really be applied to all aspects of life and enhances self-esteem. To help continue your relaxation outside the yoga class, and reduce stress and anxiety, listen to our free introduction to relaxation and meditation podcast.
Relieve Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects over 2 in 5 of us and many people find it hard to control even with continuous pain medication. So you might find it surprising that yoga can help this too. This is for three main reasons. Pain has been linked to mood and mental health so if yoga is helping to calm and reduce depression, then it can also reduce pain. Secondly, yoga calms the autonomic system reducing stress and therefore lowering levels of cortisol- the main stress hormone. Cortisol can cause inflammation if raised for significant periods of time. This in turn causes pain. Finally, yoga strengthens tendons and muscles around your joints meaning you are more supported and less likely to have pain or further injury. Studies have seen patients actually stop some of their pain medication after starting yoga due to such improvements.
The deep breathing and twists involved in a yoga session promote regular bowels and reduce that bloated feeling. This can help constipation and indigestion which leaves you feeling ready for the day. Good bowel health is an important part of a healthy lifestyle too.
With more and more people struggling to get to sleep with insomnia, there is no better time to start a bedtime yoga routine. As we have mentioned above yoga reduces stress levels and calms the mind- also critical for a good nights sleep. So even doing yoga earlier in the day can benefit you at bedtime. Gentle poses can be used at night along with good sleep hygiene (yes turning that phone off), to enhance this further, as described by the National Sleep Foundation.
Improve Memory and Focus
An American study found a significant difference in brain function after a 20 minute Hatha yoga class. The test concluded that compared to jogging, people were more able to concentrate, learn and retain information after a yoga session. They believe that this could be because yoga calms the mind and reduces distracting thoughts- two of the main things we battle in daily life.
Promote Cardiovascular Health and Fertility
Ok this is the big one. By being more physically active we improve the health of our heart and blood vessels which results in a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and even improves fertility! How exactly?
Exercise is known to induce multiple beneficial changes: reducing cholesterol, stabilising sugar levels (meaning there is less chance of developing type 2 diabetes) and reducing blood pressure. All these affects, (along with a reduced BMI and lower stress levels as we mentioned earlier) can improve the health of your heart and can improve your chances of conceiving which can be linked to obesity.
I hope this has inspired you to do some more yoga and continue your journey!
Yoga is the perfect way to enhance your wellbeing and by putting aside just 10 minutes a day to focus on yourself you can feel better and brighter. We can talk you through the relaxation process to minimise distraction and help you be more mindful in your practice.
Sign up for your free podcast now: 'Introduction to Relax and Meditate with Yoga Budi'.