Yoga is an ancient discipline and form of both exercise and meditation. It helps to improve flexibility, strength and breathing. These, in turn, will enhance both mental and physical well being. Yoga is all about understanding different postures. The postures are series of movements that have been observed to increase flexibility and strength. The most important thing is to also have a deep focus on breathing.
It is believed that yoga first started some 5,000 years ago in India and many countries across the Asian continent have similar forms of exercise. Today, yoga is very common and can be practiced in health clubs, leisure centers, hospitals, schools and clinics. Many scientific studies have looked into the benefits of yoga and it seems that it is indeed something that people should consider taking part in. Let’s review some of these benefits.
Yoga for Flexibility and Strength
There are many different forms of yoga, with some focusing more on relaxation and others emphasizing movement. Nevertheless, all of them are designed to enhance breathing, flexibility and muscle strength. Studies have shown that, after just eight weeks of yoga, people’s flexibility has increased by 35%. In terms of strength, all asanas (yoga poses) are able to enhance this, but some are more effective than others.
Many of the poses, such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. Poses that strengthen the lower back include upward dog and the chair pose.
Yoga Prevents Breakdown of Cartilage and Joints
The fact that yoga improves flexibility and strength is well known. Additionally, it stands to reason that people with a strong, flexible body will also pay more attention to their posture. While researchers have not been surprised by this, they have been amazed by the notable positive effects of yoga on joint and cartilage health.
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up.
It seems, therefore, that by the sheer fact of using joints and cartilage, and pushing them to their extremes, people are actually experiencing great health benefits. While simple, everyday movement does also encourage movement in joints and cartilage, these movements are often slightly limited. This means that the same benefits cannot be obtained with everyday activities. Because of the increased flexibility and strength that comes with yoga, people are able to push themselves further than ever before.
Yoga Helps with Anxiety and Depression
This is another thing that has fascinated scientists for some time now. The positive influences on the body of yoga are well documented and can easily be measured. This means that if a suggestion of a new health benefit is mentioned, it is reasonably easy to find out whether there is truly a correlation between the exercise and the effects. Meanwhile, yoga also has tremendous mental health benefits, and these are currently being studied in greater detail.
Studies have taken place to assess systematically and meta-analyze the effectiveness of yoga for depression. A 9-week course of yoga in veterans observed significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Mental health functioning scores were also improved, but pain intensity and physical health functionality did not show improvements.
It is believed that these results have been made possible because yoga helps to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in our brain. Cortisol, and other stress effects, can increase feelings of physical pain and can lead to depression and anxiety. It is believed that this is why yoga can bring relief to people who suffer from depression. Additionally, all types of exercise release endorphins, which are the pleasure hormones in the brain. Yoga does both, which means people get a double dose of happiness.
How to Get Started with Yoga
One of the reasons why many people avoid getting involved with yoga is because they believe they would never be able to achieve the different poses. However, they forget that they are looking at people who have been practicing it for many years. They too have had to start at the beginning. Since it takes just eight weeks to see a notable improvement in flexibility, this is really not something that people should concern themselves with. But note that while it is possible to learn yoga from videos and books, it is advisable to find an instructor.
Although you can learn yoga from books and videos, beginners usually find it helpful to learn with an instructor. Classes also offer camaraderie and friendship, which are also important to overall well-being. When you find a class that sounds interesting, talk with the instructor so that you know what to expect.
Do ask what qualifications or training the instructor has. Additionally, discuss the experience they have gained and what made them become interested in becoming a yoga instructor in the first place. If you have any health concerns, it is important to address these with the instructor first, so that they know whether there are certain poses that you may not be able to do. Do also find out how demanding the class is and what type of yoga is being offered. For instance, laughter yoga is very different from hot yoga and you need to know at least to some degree what you can expect from the class.
The most important thing is that you feel supported in your class. Not everybody is able to do every single pose. Additionally, some people can hold a pose longer than others. You need to feel that you are encouraged and supported to go to your personal limit, but not beyond that point. Yoga is not a competition, it is a kind activity to engage in for relaxation.
Remember to share this article with all your friends and family so that they can also benefit from all the amazing properties of Yoga.
Together we can make this world a healthier, happier world!