The Wonderful World Of Yoga Part II: What Are The Mind-body Benefits?

The Wonderful World of Yoga Part II: What are the mind-body benefits?

There’s always a new exercise fad to try but if you’re looking for a tried and true routine, look no further than yoga. This comprehensive mind-body exercise has been in practice for roughly 5,000 years.

Yoga gives you the chance to shed calories and improve muscle tone, but it also offers breathing exercises along with the opportunity to delve into a meditative or relaxed state. There are several basic forms of yoga, with dozens of offshoots. If you want to slowly immerse yourself by practicing gentle movements, try Restorative yoga. If you’re up for a sweaty challenge that will have your heart pumping, Bikram yoga is for you. 

There’s a reason why yoga has been around for centuries—it’s not only fun, it’s good for you! Physically yoga can help to enhance balance, flexibility, and strength. Psychologically, yoga can help to increase mindfulness by focusing your awareness on the feelings, emotions, and cognitions that arise as you hold a pose.

What are some of the benefits associated with engaging in yoga on a regular basis? Research has uncovered tons of positive perks that yoga can confer to both the body and the mind.

For starters, most types of yoga provide the opportunity to improve your sense of balance.

Better balance can improve posture, which in turn may help to improve existing back pain or knee issues. Bad posture is often due to muscle inflexibility and specific poses target muscle groups that may be a sore spot (pun unintended!) for you. For example, tight hamstrings can lead to back pain, and there are specific poses to help loosen these leg muscles.

Balance and flexibility go hand in hand, and yoga is a terrific way to increase your range of motion. If you can’t touch your toes now, chances are you’ll get closer to your feet as time goes on—just hold off on complicated backbends until you’ve had the chance to warm up!

As you stretch, bend, and twist, your blood has no choice but to get moving as well. This results in better circulation, especially to the extremities. Yoga also boosts hemoglobin and red blood cell levels, enabling a greater flow of oxygen to cells and tissues, improving their function.

Bone health is a particular concern for women and yoga can go a long way toward improving not just your muscle health but also that of your skeleton. How so?

Many yoga poses involve lifting your own weight, an act that increases bone strength. Better bone strength helps to ward off the ravages of osteoporosis.

Many of us suffer from high blood pressure, a condition that can contribute to a whole host of other medical issues. Studies have shown that the ability to lower blood pressure is one of the best side-effects of yoga!

Depending on which yoga type you choose, e.g. hot yoga, your heart rate can significantly increase during your practice, which has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. But yoga poses which cause only a mild increase in heart rate can also benefit heart health. 

Research shows that yoga can also lower the resting heart rate and increase the maximum uptake of oxygen, both actions that contribute to cardiovascular health.

On a more technical health note, yoga has the ability to reduce cortisol levels and drain the lymphatic system, which can lead to increased levels of immunity.

Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands in times of crisis, temporarily boosting immunity. Conversely, maintaining elevated cortisol levels after a crisis has passed has a negative effect on the immune system. High cortisol has been correlated to osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and depression.

Moving through yoga poses can also help to boost the release of lymph. In layman’s terms, lymph is a fluid high in immune cells and is key to helping your body ward off infection, as well as destroy cancer cells.

Can yoga make you happier? While there’s no guarantee of anything in life, studies have shown that practicing yoga on a regular basis can impact depression. For example, researchers have found that people who meditate have increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with increased happiness and enhanced immunity.

What is not in doubt is the fact that yoga is an active form of self-care. Meditating can help you to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings, thus providing an impetus for change.

For example, if you are struggling with a weight issue, yoga can help you to burn calories, but it can also help you to focus on your inner voice, perhaps helping you to identify issues on a deeper level.

Speaking of focus, a key aspect of yoga involves focusing on the present moment by way of meditation. Researchers have discovered that individuals who meditate show a greater ability to solve problems as well as enjoy an increase in memory.

Additionally, as we slow down and allow ourselves to experience the thoughts that cause us to feel anger, fear, and frustration we have greater power to confront and manage these issues. All of these negative emotions can increase stress, a factor that is associated with a multitude of health problems including insomnia, migraines, eczema, etc. By learning to quiet your mind, you can potentially give yourself the gift of a longer, healthier life.

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Source: Tran, M. D., Holly, R. G., Lashbrook, J., & Amsterdam, E. A. (2001). Effects of Hatha yoga practice on the health‐related aspects of physical fitness. Preventive cardiology, 4(4), 165-170.

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