Yoga is an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years. It originated in ancient India as one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophical traditions. The spiritual sense of the word “yoga” meant to unite the physical with the divine. In some translations, the word yoga meant “concentration”, or the “suppression of the activities of the mind”. Meditation was a means to be released from suffering, and gain inner peace and salvation.
Soon yoga was introduced to the Western world by yoga gurus, and the Western culture adapted the meaning of yoga, turning the focus in the 1980’s into more of an exercise than anything else. Today modern yoga consists of “asanas”, or postures and is considered a physical activity. It may contain breathing exercises and mantras. It turned into sort of a blend of gymnastics with postures. Modern yoga quickly spread throughout America and Europe, and later the rest of the world. Western modernized yoga turned its focus from purifications to fitness and relaxation.
Today yoga has developed into a multi-billion dollar business. We have yoga classes, the all too popular yoga pants and clothing trend, and books, equipment, and videos, to name a few things. Though yoga has drastically transformed throughout the centuries in different parts of the world, its health benefits remained. If you’ve been considering trying out yoga, now is a great time. Let’s discuss the 6 ways that yoga greatly benefits health, because after all yoga does more for the body than calm you and make you flexible.
1. Increases Muscle Strength and Tone
When people think of building muscle, they usually imagine machines and free weights. These things build muscle quickly and efficiently. But while muscle strength training normally focuses on one part of the body increasing its muscle tone, yoga tones muscles in balance all over your body. Sometimes all you really need, is your own body weight. Since yoga is about holding a pose in place for some time, it increases muscle endurance. Some of yoga’s poses uses body weight to tone muscles, while other poses strengthen the muscles.
For a few examples of poses that strengthen muscles, first there is the tree pose works all the muscles around the ankle, knee, and hip. The bridge pose strengthens legs, gluten, middle back, and core. The plank pose strengthens the core, and is an incredible upper body strength builder.
2. Increases Energy
How exactly does yoga increase energy? Well we’ve all heard of cortisol, it is the stress hormone. Even though we’d prefer to have less cortisol, low levels of it aren’t good for us either. Low levels of cortisol in our systems can lead to low blood pressure, GI issues, fatigue, and even reproductive problems.
Here is where yoga comes in. If your cortisol levels are too high, doing yoga will lower them, and if they are too low, yoga will increase them. Yoga balances our cortisol, and gives our body energy.
The back- bending yoga poses are also thought to increase your energy. When we do these poses, we stretch our spines and chests, which give us that energetic boost.
3. Relieves Stress & Anxiety
Because yoga isn’t just stretching and posing, but combines stretches with controlled breathing and meditation, it is a stress reliever. Focusing on and controlling your breathing can calm your body and pull your thoughts away from stressful everyday life.
Studies suggest that doing yoga is physically and mentally beneficial, and that regularly practicing yoga can relieve stress and anxiety. In addition to stretching, you may incorporate meditation into yoga. Meditation is thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a certain amount of time in silence or while chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes. When you’re posing in yoga, you can close your eyes and focus on your breathing and body while wiping the other stressful thoughts away.
4. Improves Posture
A lot of us spend our workdays at a computer screen. Unfortunately, we may not even notice but our postures are suffering because of this. Studies show that yoga exercises help improve bad posture. Studies have even shown the reversal of hypekyphosis. Hyperkyphosis is an age related posture issue also known as “dowager’s hump”. For anyone that thinks posture is only an aesthetic issue is wrong and here’s why.
Your posture directly influences your spine alignment, and therefore your overall health. People with good posture and healthy, strong backs are happier and generally more confident and have more energy than those with poor posture. Poor posture has been shown to have correlation with depression and anxiety. If you struggle with back pain, improving your posture can help with relieving chronic back pain.
A hunched posture that is chronic creates shortness of breath and restricts breathing. The elderly who have poor posture and chronic hunches are at a 44% higher risk for higher death rates. The health of your entire body benefits from proper posture.
5. Increases Blood Flow & Aids in Heart Health
“A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health,” Says director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins. More and more cardiologists are recognizing that the benefits of yoga are real.
Yoga can help lower blood pressure, blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol and heart rate. In fact, one study showed that yoga classes twice per week reduced the instances of atrial fibrillation in patients with that condition! Worry and stress often times precede a cardiac event, so thanks to yoga’s stress relieving benefits, your heart benefits too.
6. Helps with Deeper Sleep
If you suffer from insomnia, you may have another reason to try yoga. Studies show that when individuals with insomnia practice yoga exercises daily they fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The elderly also reap benefits of yoga by sleeping better through the night and feeling better during the day. The majority of individuals who are undergoing cancer treatments suffer from insomnia, and studies have proven that cancer patients also see an improvement in their sleep patterns when they practice yoga exercises.
A few poses that aid in sleep are the following:
Legs Up The Wall- Lie on your back and place your legs on a wall so that you’re lying in an “L” shape. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
Corpse Pose- Lie on your back with arms on your sides, palms up, and legs straight ahead. Breathe slowly and focus on your breathing.
Lying Butterfly- Lie on your back and place the bottoms of your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides. Focus on your inhales and exhales.