You may have heard people wax lyrical about the advantages of yoga, but you remain unconvinced. Perhaps you were put off by the chanting, the pose names or you think that yoga is really just a bunch of prolonged stretches? Well, it’s time to relook at your view of this ancient form of exercise, because there are many yoga benefits that you may be missing out on – both physical and mental.
The word ‘yoga’ translates from the Sanskrit as ‘union’, ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’, meaning the ultimate union between the mind, body and spirit. And this is exactly what it intends to do: use physical movement to balance and centre the mind. There are a number of different types of yoga, from the gentle poses of Hatha yoga to the more physically demanding poses of Ashtanga. Let’s explore the physical and health benefits of yoga:
- Increase flexibility and muscle tone
It’s true – yoga does involve stretching, done in the form of a series of coordinated poses. Over time these stretches can help increase your overall flexibility, as well as strengthen and increase the tone of any weak muscles in your body.
- Reduce stress and anxiety
Yoga is thought to help manage stress in various ways. To start with, it trains your counter-stress responses (called the parasympathetic nervous system), which is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion response. This is the counter-reaction to your body’s “fight or flight” mode, and therefore controls your body’s ability to relax
Yoga also teaches you how to breathe properly, and mindfully, a vital skill in managing stress.
- Healthier heart
All forms of exercise benefit your heart, and yoga is no different! Although the scientific evidence is still emerging, research suggests that it’s the magical mixture of the yoga poses (working your muscles), breathing (bringing more oxygen into your body and reducing blood pressure), relaxation and meditation (which calms the sympathetic nervous system as per above). All of these benefits add up to a healthier heart overall.
- Perform better at other forms of exercise
If you’re an avid runner clocking up the kilometres each week but don’t do any other form of exercise – the advantages of yoga may surprise you. Regular yoga classes can increase the endurance of your muscles and joints, meaning that you’re less likely to get injured, and are more likely to have increased stamina when you’re out running a race on the road (or cycling on a trail, or any other form of exercise really).
- Sleep better
In these stressful times, the best thing we can do is make sure we’re getting enough quality sleep – and yoga has been shown to help you do just that. The Harvard Medical School* found that doing yoga regularly improves both the duration and quality of sleep, while another 2013 study conducted in Nagpur, India, found that older adults who practice yoga regularly have better overall sleep quality, less disturbed sleep, take less time to fall asleep and feel more rested and energetic in the morning.
It’s clear that yoga offers a host of benefits for all ages that are both physical and mental. Its different forms and minimal equipment requirement mean that it can be practiced by almost anyone, no matter what your current strength or fitness levels are. With the world seeming to become more frenetic and stressful with each passing year, adopting a regular yoga practice can do wonders for your overall health while also keeping you balanced and centred.