Practicing yoga has been shown to have a number of health benefits, ranging from increased strength and flexibility to reduced stress and anxiety levels.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word “yoga” derives from Sanskrit word yuj, meaning “to unite” or “to join.”
Dating back to ancient times in India, yoga has been practiced for more than 5000 years. It aims to bring the body and mind into sync with each other. This is accomplished through the three main components of yoga: postures, breathing, and meditation. It is thought that through the physical practice of doing poses and breathing, the yoga practitioner is enabled to then sit and meditate, allowing the mind and body to become “one.”
Today, yoga has become a popular form of exercise around the world, not just because of its physical and mental health benefits, but also of its efficacy in the management of some diseases.
Health Benefits of Yoga
1. Builds strength
Many yoga poses require you to bear your body weight which will allow you to build strength gradually. Standing poses, like high lunge, work the muscles in the lower body, and inversion poses, like downward dog, strengthen the upper body. Holding these poses over the course of several breaths helps build muscular strength.
2. Increases flexibility
In addition to strengthening your muscles, yoga also helps to increase your flexibility by stretching connective tissue around the joints. Whether you’re pretty bendy already or not, a few minutes a day practicing poses like the warrior or downward facing dog could make a big difference in your flexibility.
3. Improves posture
With increased flexibility and strength, better posture is achieved. Most yoga poses develop core strength. With a stronger core, you’re more likely to maintain proper line and balance through your head, neck, and spine. Yoga also increases your awareness which helps you notice more quickly when you’re slouching or slumping so you can adjust your posture.
4. Improves concentration and focus
The practice of yoga requires concentration and focus to your breath as you move through a sequence of poses. This process of observing your breath calms your mind and makes you more mentally relaxed. As a result, you’ll able to think sharper and have better concentration throughout the day.
5. Improves your balance
Practicing yoga can also help improve balance by strengthening your lower body, particularly your knees and ankles. Improved balance is especially important for the elderly, as it lowers the risk of falling.
There are many yoga poses which aid in improving balance. These include mountain pose (Tadasana), chair pose (Utkatasana), and tree pose (Vrikshasana).
Practicing these three poses on a regular basis can improve your balance and stability. It is important for seniors to pay attention to their body’s response so that they can make the necessary adjustments for their comfort.
6. Improves breathing
Yoga breathing exercises, also known as Pranayama, is a practice that focuses on controlling the breath through breathing exercises and techniques. Most forms of yoga incorporate these breathing exercises, and several studies have found that practicing yoga could help improve breathing.
A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that practicing pranayama improved lung function in patients with mild-to-moderate asthma .
Improving breathing can help build endurance, optimize performance and keep your respiratory healthy.
7. Improves blood circulation
A healthy blood circulation is vital for carrying nutrients and oxygen through the body, and improves your overall health.
Daily yoga practice can enhance blood flow through relaxation and movement that promotes increased oxygen to the body.
Inverted postures, such as headstands, increase blood flow by relaxing the sympathetic nervous system. As the muscles surrounding the sympathetic veins are relaxed, blood can flow through the body with ease.
Stretching poses, such as lunge or chair pose, can also improve blood circulation. When you stretch, it increases the blood flow to those sore muscles which facilitate healing.
8. Reduces stress
Yoga is well-known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, many studies have shown that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
One study evaluated the effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression .
Taking a few minutes before bedtime to do some relaxing yoga poses is a good way to get rid of the stress tension accumulated throughout the day and help in promoting a good night’s sleep.
9. Strengthens the immune system
Psychological stress can impact many systems in the body, including weakening the immune system. Since yoga is known to help reduce stress, it can help improve the body’s immunity as well.
A review of fifteen randomized controlled trials revealed that yoga can downregulate pro-inflammatory markers. That means that people doing yoga had lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as scoring better on immune cell counts and other markers of inflammation .
While the yoga programs that featured in this research varied in duration, most programs lasted between 8-12 weeks. This suggests that while yoga may indeed improve immune system function, it may also take some time, potentially years, to experience that benefit.
10. Reduces heart disease risk
Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. Several research have shown that doing yoga at least three times a week can lead to a decreased risk of high blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.
For instance, a study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that participants aged over 40 years who practiced yoga for five years had a lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t .