Yoga is an ancient exercise practice that dates back to the fifth century. The word “yoga” means “to unite” or “to attach.” It was used by Indians over thousands of years to improve health and increase longevity. However, it also encompasses a mental and spiritual aspect that makes it an overall discipline meant to help body, mind and spirit. Yoga is popular today because of the health benefits that include greater muscle strength, improved flexibility, better circulation and improved respiratory function. Science has found that yoga has many benefits to health and well being, and that is why physicians and fitness experts are recommending it today. The researchers a Harvard University have found a number of measurable benefits from yoga practice:
1 – Yoga Relieves Stress
One of yoga’s most valuable aspects is its ability to relieve stress. Yoga can be done at the most basic level of difficulty by almost everyone, and it still provides the benefit of reduced muscle tension and emotional stress. The formal poses, called “asanas,” are done along with patterned breathing and mental focus. Combined, these activities help to eliminate stress from the body and settle the mind into a more serene state. The heart rate is reduced, blood pressure is lowered and respiration becomes less labored, lowering overall stress.
2 – Yoga Helps With Pain Relief
Some studies indicate that yoga may be helpful in relieving pain from a variety of chronic pain conditions. Individuals with fibromyalgia that participated in regular yoga classes were able to enjoy significant relief of pain compared to non-participating subjects. Yoga appears to improve focus, as well as increase muscle relaxation, which helps to provide relief from some painful conditions. Yoga also increases circulation throughout the body, which can aid healing in muscle, ligaments and joints. In addition, the group setting of yoga classes can help to relieve the isolation that many people with chronic pain experience, thereby providing social interaction that helps to increase well being.
3 – Yoga Improves Mood
A number of different studies show that engaging in yoga practice helps to improve mood significantly. The yoga environment provides a quiet, serene space that helps to reduce anxiety. The structured movements and patterned breathing exercises help to induce a sense of calm and control that allows the practitioner to feel less overwhelmed by emotions and exterior events. Yoga can be used to help individuals undergoing significant life stresses to find the serenity that helps to improve their outlook and their ability to manage emotions.
4 – Yoga Relieves Depression
The structured breathing exercises that accompany the yoga asanas appear to help manage depression, as well as improve lung function. Many studies show that yoga can relieve anxiety and improve overall mood. However, it can also be helpful in relieving depression. It may be the yoga practice aids in breaking up negative thought patterns that are common in those with depression, allowing individuals to focus on more positive aspects of health, strength and emotional calm. This ability of yoga to help stabilize mood and improve brain chemistry can also be used to help individuals who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. The exercises help to keep practitioners “in the moment,” which can be useful in preventing the depression, hypervigilance and flashbacks that are common with PTSD.
Yoga is an exercise that is easy for most people to incorporate into their lives, and science continues to find more benefits from this ancient practice. Yoga is also fun, and you can make many new friends who also enjoy engaging in the activity.