Over the past few years, due to the influence of celebrities or a social push toward a healthier lifestyle, more and more people are looking toward yoga as their exercise of choice. Beyond the obvious benefits such as increased flexibility, muscle strength, and balance, yoga provides a host of other long-term benefits.
Although it is not generally seen as a weight reduction method, the poses and stretches involved in yoga function in burning fat and reducing overall weight over an extended period of practice. Further, a psychological study found that people who did yoga had a greater tendency to choose healthier foods, eat smaller portions, and have a lower rate of occurrence for eating disorders. From this information, we see that yoga affects us not only physically, but also psychologically by influencing us to make healthier decisions in regards to diet.
Cardiovascular health is also greatly improved by yoga. Yoga requires you to achieve a state of calm meditation while performing the postures, and practicing this relaxation allows you to extend it into your life. Maintaining composure in your daily life and not overreacting to stressful stimuli ensure that you have a lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate, which in turn decrease your risks for cardiovascular diseases caused by over-stressing the heart. A 2006 study found that yoga is also able to lower cholesterol and improve blood circulation. Since it can lower the risk of cardiovascular problems and major heart failures, it is sometimes recommended as a post-surgery treatment for patients and for those at high risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Yoga can also serve to protect you from injury in a variety of scenarios. For example, it is recommended for expecting mothers to practice various poses that are geared toward reducing the lower back pains that occur in pregnancy. Some poses are specifically recommended as the time of delivery approaches because stretching specific parts of the body ensures that the mother gains sleep, has a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, and does not deliver prematurely. Yoga is able to accomplish this because staying in certain poses for a period of time massages affected areas of the body. Nerve fibers are stimulated to stretch, thus delaying the delivery of pain signals to the brain. Yoga also protects the rest of the population because it targets the areas of the body affected by lower back pain. Due to the press of gravity on our spinal cord throughout the day due to our bipedal posture, people tend to experience painful cramps in their lower back. Certain yoga poses help decompress the spine and allow it to stretch to its full length again, thus releasing any pent-up tension, relieving any pain associated with it, and providing you with a better posture at the same time.
Recent research has also revealed that yoga can act as an anti-aging and de-stressing agent by reducing the levels of a certain inflammatory protein, cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), in the body. A study by Ohio State University that was published in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed that yoga decreased the amount of IL-6, which causes heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and other aging diseases. Although research has not yet fully expanded on yoga’s part in influencing this protein, it seems promising that long-term practice of yoga can have positive effects in reducing your risk for these aging diseases via a biological basis.
These numerous benefits of yoga are key in convincing people to join the movement toward a healthier lifestyle! However, the difficulty lies in the fact that yoga, especially in the advanced levels, requires your body to flex to the point where muscles are stretching to their limit. Only people who have been persistent in their practice of yoga can achieve this without any pain or damage since their muscles have slowly been stretched. However, many people jump into yoga and attempt these difficult poses right from the start, causing over-extension of muscles. With these pointers in mind, remember that you should slowly ease into the practice of yoga and that having a physically and psychologically healthy lifestyle involves long-term commitment.
- Scientific Basis for Yoga Benefits from Psych Central <http://www.psychcentral.com/news/2010/01/12/scientific-basis-for-yoga-benefits/10693.html>
- Weekly Health Tip: Yoga’s Health Benefits from Huffington Post Healthy Living by TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/yoga-heart-health_b_900621.html>
Article by Nithya Lingampalli
Feature Image Source: Medical News Today