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10 HEALTH BENEFITS OF YOGA

Author - Surya Lanka

A little known fact is that Yoga and Ayurveda have a symbiotic relationship – referred to as ‘sister sciences’ that originated hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Used together, these two complementary practices can have a profound impact on our general health and vitality.

Derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuji”, Yoga is an ancient practice that promotes the union of mind and body. Millions of people across the globe are waking up to the benefits of Yoga – both physical and mental. Here are 10 reasons why!


Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). Image courtesy of The Yoga Collective.
IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY

One of the more obvious – and one of the first you will notice – benefits of the regular practice of Yoga is the increase in flexibility. Stretching and moving in ways other than what you are used to will bring a greater range of motion to tighter areas, such as your hips, Hamstrings, back, sides and shoulders. 

This can be seen across all levels of ability, from beginners to advanced levels. At the beginning you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, let alone do advanced poses such as Tittibhasana or Chakrasana, however with regular practice you will feel a loosening of the muscles. Regular practice of Asanas such as Virabhadrasana and Svanasana will leave even beginners feeling much more flexible than they did before. 

Inflexibility can cause multiple problems for tour bodies. For example, tight hips can strain the knee joints, and tight Hamstrings can lead to the flattening of the Lumbar spine. In general flexibility reduces as we get older, therefore Yoga is a great way to delay this process.

IMPROVES YOUR POSTURE

Yoga is a great way to counteract the negative effects of sitting at a desk for large amounts of time. A number of Asanas (collectively referred to as ‘Heart Openers’) are great in order to correct a hunched back and shoulders. This category of Asanas include Dhanurasana, Bhujangasana, Gomukhasana and Ustrasana.

Regular practice of Yoga helps in improving your posture, and alleviates issues caused by an a weak posture such as back and neck pain, poor circulation, constricted nerves, issues associated with poor digestion and curvature of the spine.


Kumbhakasana (The Plank Pose). Image courtesy of The Yoga Collective.
IMPROVES MUSCLE STRENGTH

An increase in strength is very evident in more physical forms of Yoga such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga. However even the less physical forms such as Hatha and Iyengar improve muscle strength.  Many Asanas – such as Vrikshasana (balancing on one leg), Kumbhakasana (arms, legs, shoulders and abs simultaneously) and Svanasana (supporting yourself with your arms) – require balancing your own bodyweight in ways which are new to the body. This will force these muscles to adapt by increasing their strength.

Stronger muscles helps in preventing a number of ailments such as Arthritis and Back pain. The added benefit is the increase in strength does not come at the cost of decreasing your flexibility, which is the case for many other forms of exercise such as lifting weights.

IMPROVES JOINT HEALTH

Unlike a lot of more strenuous forms of exercise, the movements associated with Yoga are low impact which is great for improving your joints without injuring them. Each time you practice Yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. As pointed out earlier, by strengthening the muscles around the joints, it also helps to lessen the load put on the joints.

This makes Yoga great for people suffering from Arthritis, who often see an improvement in mobility and pain through gentle, low impact Yoga.


Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). Image courtesy of Lessons.com
IMPROVES HEART HEALTH

From pumping blood throughout the body to supplying organs and muscles with the nutrients they need to function, the heart plays a vital role in our body. We literally cannot survive without it! Therefore having a healthy heart is of utmost importance. Yoga has been found to reduce a number of risk factors associated with Heart disease. 


Relaxation exercises help improve blood circulation, particularly in your hands and feet. It helps in getting more Oxygen to your cells, which function better with the increased levels of Oxygen. It also helps in reducing the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood, which reduces the risks of Heart attacks and Strokes.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15255625/)  concluded that the practice of Yoga helped in lowering Blood Pressure and improved the efficiency of the Cardiovascular system. Since High Blood Pressure is a major cause of Heart Attacks and Strokes, it is great for people who are more susceptible to such diseases.

Yoga also benefits people who have high blood sugar. It lowers low-density Lipoprotein (LDL, which is usually referred to as ‘Bad’ Cholesterol), and increases High Density Lipoprotein (HDL, often referred to as ‘Good’ Cholesterol). Together with lowering Cortisol and Adrenaline levels, this is great for people who have Diabetes.

ENABLES YOU TO BREATHE BETTER

Pranayama (Yogic breathing techniques) is an essential part of any Yoga practice. It encourages you to slow your breath and to breathe deeply and fully – from the bottom of your stomach to the top of your lungs.

This helps to increase your lung function, including Lung capacity and Tidal volume, which can greatly benefit people who suffer from Lung diseases, Asthma and Heart problems. Being able to take fewer breaths of larger volume increases exercise capacity and oxygen saturation, which is also of great benefit to people who do other forms of exercise such as athletes.


Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana (High Lunge). Image courtesy of Rishikul Yoga Shala.
REDUCES STRESS

These studies have shown that the regular practice of Yoga has a positive effect in reducing Stress and promoting relaxation. This is primarily due to its ability to decrease the secretion of Cortisol – the hormone commonly associated with Stress.

Physical activity in general is known to reduce stress, but this is particularly true of Yoga due to its emphasis on concentration and breathing techniques. It encourages you to relax, slow your breath and focus on the present. This helps you to learn not to dwell on past events. The same is true of meditative exercises associated with Yoga, which help immensely in calming the mind.  

IMPROVES SLEEP QUALITY

Yoga provides a safe haven from the hustle and bustle of modern life, where people tend to tax their internal system too heavily. Restorative Asanas, Pranayama, Savasana and Meditation encourage Pratayahara (The ‘The conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses’) which is a form of relaxation for the nervous system.

Studies have also shown that Yoga has a positive effect on the secretion of Melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep. As pointed out earlier, Yoga has been known to alleviate Stress, anxiety and pain – all common contributors associated with Insomnia.


Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2). Image courtesy of lessons.com
INCREASES CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS

As mentioned earlier an important component of Yoga is focusing on the present and disengaging from your thoughts – a lot of emphasis is given to concentrating on your breathing. This enables you to calm your mind and be more mentally relaxed. The resultant mental stability enables you to concentrate better, retain information better and increases your ability to absorb information better. 

ENCOURAGES YOU TO BE MINDFUL

Yoga and mindfulness are interwoven. It reduces the fluctuations of the mind, and slows down the mental loop of negative feelings and thoughts, such as anger, fear, regret, vengeance and frustration. It encourages you to bring your mind to the present, through focusing intensely on each and every Asana, and its accompanying senses, thoughts and emotions. 

Being Mindful will enable you to be calm, relaxed, less stressed and less anxious – common causes of ailments such as Migraines, Insomnia, Eczema, High Blood Pressure and Heart Attacks. Yogis believe that quietening the mind enables you to live a happier, longer life.

 

For information on our Yoga retreats at Surya Lanka, please click on the highlighted link.


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