The Many Benefits of Yoga

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The Many Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient discipline that dates back thousands of years. It’s a complex practice that includes breathing exercises, meditation, and physical movement. It is perhaps best-known for the physical part of the practice, where you perform various yoga poses known as asanas.

Even though yoga has been around for millennia, it is more relevant than ever in the 21st century. According to recent statistics, over 55 million people around the world practice yoga in its many forms. The reason yoga resonates with so many people is due to the various benefits it brings.

Physical Benefits

Since yoga has migrated to the West, it has evolved into an active, physically challenging practice. More vigorous styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga or Rocket, have become the first choice of exercise for people trying to keep fit. Other styles, focused more on alignment or endurance, sculpt the body in a different way.

Below are just some of the physical benefits of yoga:

●     Flexibility. By design, many yoga poses stretch at least one muscle group. For example, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) stretches your hamstrings, calves, lower back, and spine. Practicing yoga regularly can significantly improve performance through the use of specific poses that target flexibility.

●     Joint mobility. As well as stretching muscles, yoga can increase mobility in the joints in a safe and reliable way. Consistent practice not only improves your range of motion but also strengthens the ligaments that support the joints.

●     Strength. Make no mistake – yoga is not solely focused on stretching! Holding yoga poses is not as easy as it looks. A well-balanced yoga practice strengthens every part of the body, including the core, which holds your body together.

●     Balance. There are many types of balance in yoga, from standing on one leg to balancing on your hands. Both the static and dynamic sequences teach yogis to find their footing, develop a sense of balance, and have superior spatial awareness.

Medical Benefits

As well as changing your appearance and physical performance, yoga literally changes you from the inside. Over the years, there have been multiple studies researching the relation between yoga and physical wellbeing.

Here are just a fraction of the medical benefits of yoga:

●     Lung capacity. Breathwork, or pranayama, is a significant part of yoga practice. The goal is to be in control of your breath so that you can use it to your benefit. Studies have shown that practicing yoga for an extended period of time improves vital capacity. Vital capacity is a measure of the maximum volume of air a person can expel. It is a critical component to physical wellbeing, especially for those who suffer from asthma, lung disease, or poor blood circulation.

●     Chronic conditions. For someone suffering from chronic pain, yoga may be the optimal type of physical activity. There is compelling evidence that yoga can help reduce symptoms of long-term migraines, different types of arthritis, fibromyalgia, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Moreover, yoga was proven to be a great remedy for chronic neck and back pain. Yoga is easily adaptable, which makes it more accessible compared to other forms of exercise. Depending on the extent of the chronic condition, yoga practice can be modified to include patients with different levels of ability.

●     Heart health. Certain types of yoga can serve as a form of cardio exercise. Standing still may look easy, but it will get your heart pumping. Consistent yoga practice has been linked to improved blood pressure, reduced levels of cholesterol, and lower risk of heart disease. Furthermore, breathing exercises and techniques are helpful in regulating blood flow to the brain.

●     Menstruation and menopause. Hormonal changes in the female body manifest as a variety of symptoms, from migraines and brain fog to painful period cramps and loss of bladder control. There is a growing amount of research that shows that yoga can be helpful in reducing symptoms brought on by menstruation or menopause. Practicing yoga helps women gain better control of their pelvic floor, which is often the epicenter of the symptoms. Additionally, certain yoga poses apply gentle pressure to the thyroid, thereby assisting in balancing hormone levels.

●     Pregnancy. Prenatal yoga differs from traditional yoga styles. It is heavily adapted to accommodate future mothers. The purpose of prenatal yoga is to prepare expectant parents for delivery, physically and mentally. It can also help them manage the physical changes they encounter throughout pregnancy.

●     Alcohol dependence. In 2014, a pilot study was conducted to examine the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunct treatment for alcohol dependence. It was definitively concluded that yoga serves as a great complementary treatment, alongside the traditional methods.

If you are planning to take up yoga specifically to help with a medical condition, the best thing to do is to consult your physician. They should be able to advise you of any limitations you should be aware of.

Mental Benefits

For some people, the mental benefits of yoga are so significant, they actually outweigh the physical and medical advantages. Among others, mental benefits of yoga include:

●     Stress relief. One of the most commonly known “side effects” of yoga is the reduction in stress levels. Stress is caused by cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. When cortisol levels are elevated, the body is essentially in a self-induced state of stress, even if there are no contributing factors. Constant stress can cause mental and physical tension, which results in depression and exhaustion. Research has shown that regular yoga practice helps to lower cortisol levels by a significant margin.

●     Depression. In addition to alleviating stress, yoga has been found to have an antidepressant effect. The physical yoga practice causes the body to release dopamine and serotonin, whilst lowering cortisol levels. Mindfulness and meditation, on the other hand, help to gain perspective and soothe the mind.

●     Anxiety. For years, yoga has been used as a tool to be more self-aware. Anxiety can leave you feeling like you have no control over your thoughts and feelings. Yoga practice, and especially breathing techniques, is a great way to combat anxiety disorders.

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