You may think that one of the only benefits of yoga is to impress your friends by balancing on your head, but besides getting you physically fit, yoga can heal your body and your mind. Yoga has evolved over thousands of years and what Westerners identify with and practice contains fundamental elements of focus, balanced body work, and finding inner peace. Due to its innate healing effects, yoga is now being studied more rigorously and taken more seriously by Western medicine as a legitimate therapeutic approach. Some of the benefits of yoga include:
There is the misconception that a person must already be flexible in order to benefit from yoga; however, that could not be further from the truth. Yoga is designed to improve flexibility, which means that you don’t have to start out like Gumby to benefit. You may not be able to do a back bend in your first class, but range of motion in the joints and elasticity in the muscles and tendons can be achieved with diligent and consistent practice. Increased flexibility can help to better posture, increase mobility and help to ease muscular pain and discomfort.
Build Muscle Strength
Yoga helps to improve muscular strength and muscular endurance. Many of the postures and movement sequences require use of body weight, which builds strength, and holding postures for a long duration of time builds muscular endurance. The great thing about yoga is that muscular strength is built simultaneously with flexibility, which makes strength gains functional. Musculature that is developed is not bulky, but lean, and full body strength and endurance improves functional capacity.
According to the American Institute of Stress is popularly described as, “Physical, mental, emotional strain or tension” or “The condition one feels when demands exceed personal and social resources able to be mobilized.” The stress response is not just perceptual. There is an actual physiological change during stress that can cause digestion problems, heart problems and more. Yoga practice triggers relaxation, which counters the stress response. So even if you can’t change your stressful circumstances, practicing yoga can promote the inner balance you may need to persevere through each day with inner tranquility that your mind and body deserve.
For centuries it was noticed that people who practiced yoga got sick less often than others. This concept of yoga as an immunity booster is now being more focused on in clinical studies. There was a study that compared yoga with running, cycling, jump rope and found that people who performed yoga had higher levels of antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body and improve function of the immune system.
The obesity epidemic is a huge public health concern and there have been many attempts to find treatments that are effective and help patients keep weight off long term. Yoga has been shown to help with weight loss. Although thousands of calories are not burned doing yoga, it is thought to improve the function of the liver, which is vital for detoxifying the body. Also yoga is thought to help treat hypothyroidism, which is an under active thyroid, which can be a cause for weight gain.
Pain Relief and Management
Yoga may help to decrease physical pain by loosening stiff muscles and promoting lengthened posture, which can reduce compression in the spine, improving back pain. Yoga has been also shown to reduce the degeneration and inflammation of the joints, which helps to reduce arthritic pain. Furthermore, in patients with chronic pain, yoga has been shown to improve pain tolerance. One study showed that people who practiced yoga, had more gray matter in regions in the brain associated with sensing pain.
The daily practice of yoga can help to modulate the hormones that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Better control over cycles of sleep can increase the duration of bouts of sleep and improve the quality of sleep. An adequate amount of sleep each night is important for overall health including attention, cognition, and immune function.
One of the greatest appeals of yoga is the practice of mental control. Practicing yoga and meditation a person can find inner tranquility. This can help people respond to stressful circumstances with more calmness and deal better with the emotions of anger, resentment, fear etc. Yoga breathing can also facilitate calmness and focus the mind, which may help control the emotions and bring a more positive outlook on life.
Early claims of the health benefits of yoga were anecdotal, now organized studies of yoga are being done, and since the field has grown organizations such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health are now sponsoring more studies to determine the safety of yoga as an alternate therapy. Conferences such as the International Association of Yoga Therapists have emerged to encourage collaboration among yoga researchers.