In order to maintain a healthy body one important element that should be included daily is light to moderate exercise. Being active and not sedentary can not only prolong your life, but can reduce the risks of chronic health problems, and help you to have a better quality of life.
One form of exercise that helps to support the body’s natural desire for balance and healing is yoga. There are many different styles of yoga that will suit people who are at all different levels of fitness. No matter whether you are choosing a more intense form of yoga such as Bikram (hot yoga) or a more soothing and relaxing form such as Restorative yoga, you can expect health benefits from most styles.
Here are 10 ways yoga benefits your health:
Increased mobility and flexibility
Increased flexibility is one of the first benefits that people who are new to yoga tend to experience. Often when people start a yoga practice, simple moves such as touching the toes are nearly impossible to do. But with each class, the muscles loosen. Typically within a few classes, most people find that touching the toes becomes much easier to do. As the body loosens, it allows for increased mobility. Mobility is ease and freedom of movement and this ease and freedom is vital to health and to maintain independence in life, so it is even more important than flexibility.
Improved muscle tone
A regular yoga practice strengthens muscles by using the weight of the body. As you hold a yoga pose, the muscles involved in providing stability and support for the pose will be strengthened. Although, you can see improved muscle tone from the majority of yoga styles, Vinyasa or Power yoga may offer greater toning benefits. These classes are more intense yoga styles, so if you are a beginner, be sure to begin with a less intense style, such as Hatha which can help you to perfect your form before attempting more advanced styles. Toning muscles with yoga provides a longer and leaner toned look, and not the bulkier toned muscles which come from strength training.
As noted above, yoga helps to strengthen muscles, including those that get weakened by lack of use and poor posture. Most people spend a large portion of their day sitting at a desk, behind a computer screen, or with their faces looking down at a smartphone. This creates muscle fatigue, and takes a toll on the spine, causing compression of the nerves. If continued, poor posture can lead to chronic health complaints beyond just pain. Yoga begins to strengthen core support muscles that have been weakened due to bad posture resulting in an improvement.
Improved bone health
Weight bearing exercises such as yoga, force your body to work against gravity. These types of exercise are actually known to strengthen your bones and improve overall bone health. Therefore, a regular yoga practice can help keep your bones healthy. One area of the body that is most susceptible to fractures are the arms. But two poses..the upward and downward facing dog are particularly effective at strengthening the bones in the arms and can help prevent fractures.
Practicing yoga helps to shut off the body’s stress response. For many people, chronic stress heightens cortisol levels, but yoga can help to bring those levels down. The deep breathing practice that is a part of yoga provides some of the benefits as it helps to lower blood pressure, and can lower heart rate. Tensing and then releasing different muscles in the body while holding different poses also helps the muscles to relax. Because of this, many people who practice yoga find that minor aches and pains that are connected to holding tension in the body, begin to disappear.
A study has found that consistent practice of yoga helps to reduce depression and anxiety by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA. One study compared the change in mood and anxiety in those practicing yoga for three hours a week, compared to those who walked for the same length of time. Those who practiced yoga noted a significant boost in their mood and a marked decrease in anxiety and depression, compared to those who walked.
Lowers blood sugar
Unlike more intense forms of exercise which can actually cause a spike in blood sugar levels, yoga lowers blood sugar levels. It does this by lowering cortisol and adrenaline which in a stress response, trigger a blood sugar spike by prompting the liver to release glucose to prepare the body to either fight or flee. Yoga stops the stress response and lowers these hormones, lowering blood sugar as well. This makes yoga a beneficial form of exercise for those who are diabetic and pre-diabetic.
Sleeping well is vital to good health and those who practice yoga regularly typically experience an improvement in sleep. This is due to the production of serotonin that happens while doing yoga. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us to fall asleep. Combine the creation of seratonin and melatonin with a lowering of cortisol, adrenaline and an overall reduction in stress and tension in the body, and it will be much easier to catch those z’s.
Boosts immune system
Yoga can actually help to ward off colds, flu and other viruses. First, stress is known to compromise the functioning of the immune system, and as stress is lessened through yoga, the immune system strengthens and it’s easier to fight off germs. The second way that yoga boost the immune system is through moving lymph. A healthy lymphatic system is vital to keeping bacteria and viruses from setting up house in our bodies, and the deep breathing and movement of yoga cause the lymphatic system to move, filtering out toxins from the body. Releasing toxins from the body removes stress from the immune system, allowing function to improve.
Practicing yoga regularly can help to benefit digestion in a few ways. By improving posture, it can help to overcome digestive issues that are caused by compression of the stomach and other internal organs. The twisting and turning found in many of the different yoga poses can actually help to stimulate a sluggish liver which can detoxify the body and ultimately improve digestion. Deep rhythmic breathing can also act as a form of internal massage to the stomach and intestines which helps to move everything along and improve digestion.
Yoga has far reaching health benefits for those who take up a regular practice. If you are new to yoga, be sure to start with more gentle forms so that you can learn proper form in each of the poses before you attempt to do a more intense form of yoga. Be sure to research the different styles available so that you can find one that is right for you.
Once you do, you will be on your way to experience the great health benefits too!