Yoga comes from yuj, the Sanskrit word for union, and it is the path to complete harmony of the mind, body, and spirit; the union of the universal consciousness with the individual consciousness.
It isn’t just a means of exercise for the body, it’s an ancient wisdom. It leads to a healthier and happier life. Humans hold an inherent need for happiness and yoga is an ideal activity to achieve this state.
Practicing yoga helps to channel your energy flow, releasing toxins from your body. It corrects posture, thus correctly aligning the body, and also improves the joints range of motion, and the flexibility of muscles.
It can help regulate your circulatory, digestive, and endocrine system, too. It can help relieve the symptoms of diabetes, asthma, depression, and a host of other chronic illnesses.
How Yoga Heals And Its Health Benefits
Have you always been interested in trying yoga, but lacked the confidence to get started? Or, you’ve fallen out of practice and you’re looking for ways to motivate yourself back into the habit? Just consider all the ways that yoga brings healing to your mind and body.
- It brings your full attention to breathing, which just happens to be the most important thing that you do constantly.
- It helps you maintain a connection to yourself, allowing you to understand your needs and put them first.
- It can help you increase your clarity of mind and clarity of personal issues.
- It can help you avoid negative self-talk, and encourage positive self-talk.
- It invites you to get into your body by getting out of your head.
- It provides you with healing tools to cope with trauma and stressful events.
- It can rebalance your body, helping you with inflammation, chronic ailments, PMS, and weight loss.
- It brings awareness to areas of tension within your body, which can help you let it go.
- It enforces your social standing, by allowing you to meet new people.
- It improves mood, thus happiness.
- It provides your body with strength and flexibility.
Physically, there are serious health benefits to practicing yoga, including:
- Stronger muscles
- Stronger bones
- Increase in flexibility
- Improved balance
- Improved immune function
- Improved lung function
- Improved joint health
- Improved posture
- Improved breathing
- Increases lymph circulation
- Increases oxygen to tissues
- Improves feet function
- Increases control over bodily functions
- Improves cardiovascular system function
- Improves weight loss
- Decreases stress on the nervous system
- Improves brain function
- Improves nervous system function
- Reduces cortisol levels
- Reduces blood pressure levels
- Reduces blood sugar levels
- Improves cholesterol
- Improves digestion and bowl function
- Provides pain relief
- Improves mental health
- Results in building healthy habits
Let’s look at some of the benefits in a bit more detail.
- Flexibility. Each yoga pose is designed to exercise and stretch a certain area of the body. Good flexibility is an important aspect of practicing yoga, and the more you practice, the more flexible you will be. Flexibility has a variety of benefits, such as muscle and joint pain that is caused by tightness.
- Stronger muscles. Weakness in muscles is a contributing factor to back pain, arthritis, and even falls for the elderly. Yoga helps to strengthen your muscles. Studies suggest that patients in their 80s can benefit from the core strength building of yoga.
- Balance. Anyone who has watched yoga in action has a good idea about how much balance is needed. Balance is particularly important for the elderly, as it can prevent hip fractures.
- Immune Function. Both meditation and yoga have been known to increase the function of the immune system. This is particularly beneficial to those with autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis.
- Posture. Many of the problems that people suffer with neck and back pain, and other problems with muscles and joints are as a result of poor posture. Yoga is highly efficient in improving posture. Just following a 12-week program is enough to improve posture.
- Lung Function. The reason that yoga improves your lung function is because of the breathing techniques and posture improvement. It increases your lung capacity, allowing for more air in each breath.
- Breathing. Many people are guilty of mouth breathing, but yoga promotes practicing breathing through your nose. This helps to clear pollutants out, as well as slows breathing down, which helps reduce stress.
- Joint health. Yoga poses help to improve cartilage, blood flow, and bone alignment. Cartilage serves as a shock absorber, which helps to reduce the wear and tear on joints.
- Lymph circulation. Your lymphatic system fights cancer cells and infections, and yoga postures stimulate lymph circulation.
- Feet function. Your feet play a starring role in many yoga postures, and this improves the function of your feet, as well as general health. Improving foot function will help maintain balance, as well as prevent fallen arches.
- Bodily functions. Yoga poses improves control over blood flow and heartbeat. Many master yogis can completely stop their heart just through controlled breathing. The purpose of this type of control, of course, is that is help reduce stress levels.
- Strong bones. Yoga postures increase weight bearing, which strengthens bones. For instance, the warrior pose works to strengthen both the hip bones and the thigh bones.
- Cardiovascular system. Yoga can increase oxygen intake, as well as lower the resting heart rate. One study found that men in India’s army who practiced yoga for one hour every day saw the same aerobic capacity gains as following a regimen of aerobic exercise. However, the yoga practisers had to exert less energy.
- Weight loss. Practicing yoga postures can help reduce fat folds, relax the nervous system, and restore the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
- Brain function. Yoga can improve reaction time, coordination, and memory.
- Neurotransmitter levels. Yoga can reduce the symptoms related to depression, because it decreases cortisol levels, while increasing serotonin levels.
- Cortisol levels. Again, yoga decreases cortisol levels, which in turn reduces stress levels.
- Blood sugar. Yoga’s ability to reduce blood sugar levels is thought to be due to the control over cortisol, as an increase in cortisol levels leads to a spike in blood sugar.
- Blood pressure. Experts believe that yoga’s effect on high blood pressure is due to its ability to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
15 Chronic Conditions Helped By Yoga
Yoga is an effective means of treatment for a variety of chronic illnesses. You may not have a cure on your hands for all of these illnesses, but you will be able to reduce the symptoms greatly.
- Anxiety. Disorders that are related to stress and anxiety have some things in common, primarily that they affect your parasympathetic nervous system. Gentle yoga (hatha, yin, and restorative) are effective methods of calming your parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga helps with focusing on the now, thus letting go of anxiety and stress related to other issues.
- Heart disease. Yoga is unique when it comes to the various forms of exercise. Consider yoga as the ultimate trifecta. The relaxed focus, slow postures, and meditative breathing that accompanies yoga is an effective means of reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and thus improving cardiovascular health.
- Sleep disorders. For anyone with insomnia, yoga can be the ultimate ally when tackling it. Any type of exercise will help to improve your sleep patterns, however, yoga does so far more efficiently. Of course, exercising directly before bed will only energize you, but gentle yoga postures before bed can ensure you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and enjoy a deeper quality of sleep.
- Cancer. Yoga is a highly efficient practice for any patients with cancer. It reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety that accompany the illness and treatment, which in turn reduces the effect of negative reactions to treatment.
- Inflammation. Gentle yoga postures are an efficient way to reduce the pain and swelling that accompanies chronic inflammation. You can opt for short daily yoga practice, or lengthier 90-minute sessions twice a week. Studies found that the latter reduces inflammation by 25% in arthritis patients. Patients practiced practiced yoga over a period of three months.
- Arthritis. When you consider the above points, it is no wonder that yoga improves arthritis. After all, it decreases inflammation, as well as reduces stress and depression, which are both associated with chronic disease management. Yoga is beneficial for arthritis patients due to the improvement of joint function, mental health, and basically, the patient’s overall wellbeing.
- Hypertension. Regularly practicing meditative yoga poses is reducing high blood pressure.
- Indigestion. It’s painful, and it can make sleep difficult. Yoga, however, is effective for reducing indigestion, and there’s even a specific wind-relieving pose to try.
- Migraines. These are often the result of poor blood flow to the brain. Headstands and Sirsasana postures are effective in relieving migraines, and will prevent the nasty side effects that often come with popping over the counter painkillers.
- Lower back pain. This is now one of the most common chronic diseases for working professionals. In addition to painkillers, people are often given steroid injections, and when they fail, have surgery to correct the problem. Save yourself the time and agony and instead try yoga, poses like the tree pose are highly effective for lower back pain.
- Liver problems. There is a variety of illnesses that affect the liver, and you can follow basic yoga postures to help prevent such conditions or relieve the symptoms related to a liver problem. A cat pose is a great example of the perfect posture for liver problems, as it will increase circulation throughout the abdomen.
- Asthma. Yes, an inhaler can save your life if you are struck by an asthma attack. However, practicing yoga is an excellent way to reduce the likelihood of an attack.
- Diabetes. There has been a steady rise in the prevalence of diabetes, and while you can’t cure the problem, you can help manage it through yoga. Postures like the triangle pose are effective ways to control blood sugar levels.
- Polycystic ovaries. Irregular periods, infertility, excruciating pain from ovarian cysts are are just some of the issues that accompany PCOS. Yoga postures like the corpse pose may be the most effective way to reduce the symptoms that come with PCOS.
- Depression. Depression can cause a lot of other health issues, and yoga is one of the most effective ways to reduce the symptoms related to depression. Try introducing yoga postures to your daily ritual to help battle depression and all of its accompanying symptoms.
Getting Started With Yoga
The decision to start practicing yoga is the first step. Once you have decided it’s time to get started, you need to choose the right type of yoga. You also need to decide whether you would be best joining a yoga class at a local gym, or practice from home. Consider the following steps to get your yoga journey started.
Choose Your Yoga Type
There is a wide variety of types of yoga, and some of them won’t be the right fit for your fitness level, or for your personality. Take some time out to research the type of yoga styles that are out there. If you’re a beginner, the most appropriate class will likely be hatha yoga, or vinyasa yoga. These are basic yoga styles, and are a great way to get started. Once you get going, you may want to branch out and try different styles. There are plenty of videos and books on the market, though they aren’t a substitute for learning the poses direction from a teacher in a local yoga class. However, if you are too shy to join a class, or you don’t have the time, a beginner video will be more effective than a book.
Find A Yoga Class
You can find a local yoga class by checking newspapers, and searching online. If you’re already a member of a gym, they are likely to offer yoga classes, so ask around. Always start with a basic class. If you don’t initially click with your yoga instructor, don’t be afraid to change classes until you find an instructor that you do like.
What You Should Expect
If you do choose to attend a yoga class, make sure that you are wearing clothing that is breathable and comfortable. You may also want to take a minute to read about the basic equipment you may come into contact with. You can pick up a yoga mat, or opt to rent one from the studio. Typically, you place your mat on the floor facing toward the front of the room. Don’t line your mat up directly in line with your neighbour, because you want to have enough space to do your poses and postures without bumping into people. Before class begins, most people will sit cross-legged, or they’ll do some stretching. How your class begins will be dependent upon the instructor.
Many instructors will begin with a short meditation, a breathing exercise, or a short chant. Once the class begins, you will start with a few warm-up poses, which leads into more strenuous poses, followed by stretches and ending with a relaxation session. If you are uncomfortable with any of the poses, simply sit them out.
Don’t push yourself, as this could result in an injury. You may find that the instructor visits each student and offers a light massage during final relaxation, but others end with a chant. You should expect a bit of soreness the day following your first yoga class.
Home Yoga Routine
Yoga has become increasingly common, but that doesn’t make it any easier for you to get started. You can start the journey at home with this month-long schedule. It will encourage you to undertake a specific routine every day.
Once you have the first 30 days under your belt, you’ll find that you want to keep going. You will need to schedule 15 minutes into your day for the daily routine, and 45 minutes for an expanded routine. You can add more poses to the daily routine if you wish.
If you skip a day, don’t beat yourself up over it; just pick it back up the following day. The good news is that there isn’t much equipment required in yoga, but you will need a yoga mat. You may also want to have a yoga strap, a yoga block, as well as a blanket.
The daily routine will serve as the backbone of your home yoga practice. It takes just 15 minutes and serves as a way of waking up your spin, and will stretch your hamstrings, and relieve minor back pain. Completing the routine in the morning is an effective way to get your day started, and you should follow the routine every day for 30 days. The extended routine, sun salutations, should be completed three times every week.
Start with 5 daily stretches, and then choose three sun salutation poses, as described by Art of Living. Finish with the corpse pose.
The First Week
Over the first week as you complete the daily stretches, you can add sun salutations (every other day), and also add in seated stretches and standing poses. Always finish with the corpse pose.
The Second Week
You can start to add in moon salutations instead of sun salutations, along with seated stretches and standing poses.
The Third Week
In the third week, you can replace moon salutations with sun salutations and start to introduce standing balances and ab stretches.
The Fourth Week
Now that you’ve had more experience you can start to ad in yoga for your arms, as well as the rest of your poses.
This introduction is an excellent way to get your body in the habit of practicing yoga on a daily basis. Continue the short stretch and practice the longer routine every other day.
The Don’ts of Yoga
- Don’t eat right before you practice yoga. Eat a light meal or snack a few hours before you plan to do your routine.
- Don’t actively drink water while practicing yoga; you can drink water before the routine and after.
- Don’t wear socks, or shoes, while you’re practicing yoga. This can cause you to slip. There are grip socks available specifically for practicing yoga.
The Do’s of Yoga
- If you’re going to a yoga class, let the instructor know it’s your first time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor for help.
- Get to know the basic poses before you head out to take your first class.
Yoga is a safe and low-impact exercise option. People who practice yoga are at low risk for side effects, and there is a very low risk of serious injury while properly practicing yoga. People with certain medical conditions, such as sciatica and glaucoma, should not practice yoga, so if you have a diagnosed illness you should speak to your medical doctor about whether you can practice yoga.
Research indicates that following a specific set of yoga postures can reduce lower back pain and improve muscle and joint function. Studies have also shown that yoga can reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, reduce heart rate, improve quality of life, reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression, and also improve flexibility, strength, and fitness.
If you want to practice yoga, do not replace traditional medical care with it, nor should you postpone visiting your doctor about a potential condition. It’s a complementary therapy that can aid your health in additional to conventional medical care. If you plan on going to a yoga class, you can ask your hospital or doctor’s office if they have a yoga instructor they can recommend.
Remember, your body is different than everyone else’s body, and yoga poses are modified based on individual ability. Choosing an instructor who has the training, experience, and skill to understand your needs is an important part of practicing safely. Ask the yoga instructor about the demands of the yoga you’re interested in and let them know if you have any specific medical issues.
Alternatively, you can choose a yoga video to get started (as opposed to a book, which may be unclear or difficult to understand) and take it easy, do not push yourself into a posture your body is not ready for.
Regardless of whether you choose to attend a yoga class, or practice your routines at home, the health benefits of yoga are vast. The ability to relieve many of the symptoms associated with a host of illnesses, as well as reduce stress levels, will not only improve your overall health, but also boost your mood and levels of happiness.