Top Health Benefits of Yoga
Are you considering taking up yoga? Would you like to know what you could expect to experience in terms of health benefits of yoga? We asked Alex Evans, an experienced yoga instructor, to sum up how yoga can change your health for the better, both in the short and long term.
Yoga improves flexibility
Flexibility is the first thing a new yoga student experiences. As a teacher, it’s very satisfying to see and as a student, it’s very satisfying to feel! Soon after the first few sessions a student will be able to touch their toes and soon after that, they’ll be able to deepen positions that require full backbends.
Flexibility is crucial as cramped muscular tissue affects the way we walk, sit and move. If we move awkwardly, we place unnecessary stress on the wrong areas of our body, leading to back pain, neck and shoulder trauma as well as issues such as sciatica.
Yoga builds strength
Building strength needn’t be about pumping weights and plumping up muscles. Yoga builds strength by toning and elongating the muscle. It does this through postures that concentrate on holding up your own body weight, so the weight you carry is perfectly calibrated with your body. Yoga is perfect if you want to build strength after an accident or illness, or if you simply want to tone up your body with sleek-looking muscles.
As one ages, strength in the muscles, especially the upper body decreases rapidly and some argue contributes towards degenerative diseases. Yoga is a sure-fire way of holding such illnesses at bay.
Yoga increases blood flow
Many of us find ourselves sitting at desks for most of the day. And even if we are mobile, we tend to repeat the same actions, such as walking, standing and lying down. What this means is that blood accumulates in certain part of the body, such as the lower back, when we need blood to be circulating around the body and carrying glucose and oxygen to all of our cells.
Twists and inverted postures such as backbends and headstands are vital in this respect as they encourage blood to flow in different directions. The health benefits are huge and risk of heart attacks, thrombosis and strokes are significantly reduced.
Yoga manages stress
Working out releases endorphins, making us feel immediately happier and therefore less stressed. But yoga’s emphasis on breathing is what separates it from other forms of exercise.
Students often tell me that they hadn’t realised how shallowly they were breathing until they started practising yoga. Shallow breath means the heart races and not enough oxygen is pumped around the body – that’s how stress starts! And once stress takes a hold, more serious ailments such as headaches, insomnia and panic attacks can be a threat.
So Yoga teaches us to slow our breath down. The first thing we learn is to breathe through the nose and out through the mouth. By doing that we tighten the nasal passage, so the breath meets with more resistance and travels more slowly. As a student becomes more familiar with yoga, we introduce more complicated breathing exercises, but just being aware of the breath and how to slow it down is a huge health benefit.