10 Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a centuries-old practice that has expanded into hundreds of different forms. There’s hot yoga performed in a sauna atmosphere, flow yoga for those who prefer a more active practice and prenatal yoga for expecting mothers. While some aspects of yoga have changed, the effect it has on both the mind and the body has helped millions of people worldwide.
Yoga is one of the best ways to improve flexibility and many people notice changes in their body after the first class. Colorado State University conducted a study last year on the impact of yoga on college athletes. The study found after a 10-week period that the 14 students who participated in bi-weekly yoga sessions showed significant improvements in flexibility and balance. The more flexible a person is, the less prone they are to injuries. This is why the practice is recommended to professional athletes as a wholesome way to improve performance.
Reduce Back Pain
Different poses reduce back pain through stretching muscles and rotating joints. Yoga is especially recommended for those suffering from sciatica. Sciatica is defined as pain in the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the human body that goes from the foot to the central nervous system. Pain can come when the nerve is compressed and it is often centralized in the lower back. Iyengar yoga helps those suffering from chronic back pain by incorporating block, straps, and chairs in the stretches. Studies have shown that regular practice can help people reduce their use of pain medication.
As anyone who has tried holding a position for an extended period of time knows, yoga is great for building muscle strength. Unlike lifting weights at the gym, different yoga poses work with body weight. Some poses like the crane and crow involve putting full weight on the arms. Other poses, such as the bridge or warrior help build up the glutes. A full session can target close to every muscle in the body and it has less risk of injury than lifting free weights.
Inhale for four seconds. Hold the breath for seven seconds. Release for an eight second period. This breathing exercise, known as the 4-7-8 method, can calm anxiety in just a few breaths. Imagine doing this for an hour. that is the length of a standard yoga class. It’s not only the deep breathing that reduces stress; the practice also emphasizes clearing the mind and reducing distractions. This is how people feel considerably relaxed after just one class.
Yoga improves a person’s respiratory health through extended periods of deep breathing. Poses such as the bridge, cat, cobra, and cow all stretch the chest and work the lung muscles. People who participate in several weeks of classes have shown to have an increased lung capacity and some studies found the practice also helps ease asthma symptoms.
Beyond just reducing stress, yoga contributes to improving overall mental health. The practice often involves being in a group setting. Group exercises in general help because they produce hormones that give people a sense of bonding. Researchers from Duke University combed through the results of several trials and found that yoga helps people with depression, insomnia, and ADHD. Through both the social aspect and the exercise involved, yoga is one way that people can improve their mental health.
Several poses help improve posture as they both increase muscle and lengthen the spine. A better posture can prevent chronic back pain and help give people more self esteem. A healthy posture is more important as people get older. Older woman and men with hunched postures are more at risk for fractures, suffer from restricted breathing, and have an overall higher death rate. Just 10 minutes of poses such as the mountain, tree, or the downward-facing dog can make a difference.
Classes often involve various ways of bending and twisting the body, all of which help improve joint health. Each joint has a certain range of motion. However, regular yoga can help people extend beyond the normal range. It is also good for people who suffer from joint pain. Studies have found people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis benefit from the practice, especially hot yoga or gentle classes.
The practice is great for heart health, so much so that it is recommended by the American Heart Association. The first class can help lower blood pressure. Several weeks of classes can lead to lower cholesterol levels. Dr. M. Mala Cunningham tells the AHA yoga is great for those who have recently suffered a cardiac arrest as it helps reduce stress. She says it helps those who have had bypass surgery as well since half of all bypass patients experience depression. Cunningham says it is possible for the practice to help prevent or reduce overall heart disease.
Some research suggests yoga helps improve bone strength. Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a physiatrist at Columbia University, has been studying this subject for years among older adults. One of his earlier studies found that the practice helped increase bone density in people’s spines and hips. He expanded to a larger study that involved testing 741 over the course of 10 years. Data compared from the start of the study to the end found that 227 participants had improved bone density in their spine and femur. While more research is needed, his studies show older adults can especially benefit from the results of regular yoga.