7 reasons why yoga should be a part of your life

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Practicing yoga once a week for 2 years has been shown to decrease physical inflammation by up to 41%.
  • There are three core principles of yoga: slow movements, coordinating breathing with those movements, and keeping a calm mind.
  • Yoga has a number of physical benefits, for example strengthening muscles, reducing muscle tightness, and maintaining an internal balance with regard to stress and sexual hormones.

Yoga began in India about 4-5 thousand years ago. The practice was initially exclusive to yogis and the Brahmin class, who used it to help them overcome illness.

It was subsequently adopted by practitioners of Hinduism, traditional Buddhism and Chinese Zen Buddhism as a method of achieving enlightenment.

Yoga refers to the act of creating a balance between the physical and mental states to ensure the soul can become one. Practicing yoga is therefore a process of physical and mental training, involving high levels of concentration to ensure inhalation and exhalation are carefully controlled to coordinate with movements. Hence, effective yoga practice should involve a combination of the following 3 key principles: slow movements, coordinating breathing with those movements, and keeping a calm mind throughout.

How does yoga differ to other forms of exercise?

Yoga Other forms of exercise
1. Focused on calmness and stillness of body

 

2. The body is in a passive state, with muscles gradually relaxing

3. Focused on stretching muscles and full musculoskeletal coordination

4. Relies on internal feelings to lead movement

5. Focused on improving organ function, as well as leg and arm strength

6. The person’s capabilities inform their practice, meaning each session is highly individualized

7. Stimulates the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for relaxation

8. Requires minimal force so the person is not required to over-exert themselves to achieve their goals

9. Reduces stress on all 5 senses

10. An activity that allows the person’s feelings to inform practice, relying on their mental capabilities over anything else

1. Requires frequent movements and physical exertion

 

2. The body is an active state, with muscles constantly required to flex and relax

3. Entirely reliant upon muscle flexion to improve muscle strength

4. Relies on external feelings to lead movement

5. Focused on strengthening the main muscle groups, especially those in the arms and legs

6. Reliant on the person’s level of expertise or skill set to ensure fun or achievement

7. Stimulates the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for alertness

8. Some forms of exercise require maximum exertion or steadily increasing exertion to achieve the goals of that activity

9. Increases the stress placed upon all 5 senses

10. Activities that rely on physical exertion, with muscular strength of paramount importance

7 great reasons to begin doing yoga

  1. Strengthens the core muscles & improves posture: Practicing yoga will increase core muscle strength and help to relieve back and shoulder pain due to improved posture. This is because many people develop pain as a result of incorrect sitting positions when working or driving, leading to bad posture and muscular tension that can cause spinal compression. Yoga can play a vital role in correcting this issue.
  2. Provides top-to-toe flexibility: Yoga can relax muscular tension from the top of the head to the toes through various poses or movements. This results in improved flexibility of muscles in the legs, back, shoulders and hips.
  3. Boosts confidence: Yoga increases self-esteem while encouraging a mindful personality. Many yoga poses involve new techniques that require shifting of body weight, such as standing on one leg (tree pose) or holding body weight using the arms (downward facing dog). Practicing these poses along with coordinated breathing will improve muscle strength and encourage a better physical balance, both of which are extremely beneficial as we get older. Poses that involve balancing on one leg as well as those that require turning the head also increase core muscle strength which, in turn, aids posture.
  4. Helps you keep your cool: Yoga helps suppress the production of cortisol, a hormone that is produced when we feel stressed. One research study found that practicing yoga once a week for a 2-year period reduced levels of the chemicals responsible for inflammation by up to 41%.
  5. Improves libido: Yoga helps to relieve anxiety and can help redress sex hormone imbalances, which has led to some yoga practitioners—who previously experienced libido issues—developing a better sex life.
  6. Helps you feel happier and sleep better: Yoga stimulates the brain into producing chemicals associated with happiness. Practicing yoga for at least one hour per week increases the brain’s production of GABA chemicals by up to 27%. GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is an amino acid neurotransmitter that acts as an inhibitor in order to maintain balance in the central nervous system, thus helping the brain to relax, reducing stress, decreasing anxiety and improving sleep quality to ensure the body is fully relaxed.
  7. Makes you look younger: Yoga can slow the aging process, with regular practitioners looking reinvigorated due to the increase in growth hormone and DHEA hormone production, both of which help to nourish and firm up the skin, while restoring energy to keep it feeling fresh at all times.

The core principles of yoga

  • Practicing the art of ‘yoga breathing:’ Inhaling (raising the diaphragm) and exhaling (lowering the diaphragm) to correspond with the movements between each pose, including only inhaling enough to ensure sufficient oxygen to maintain the pose, before releasing the air from the body to relax the previously flexed muscles.
  • Practicing each pose and progressing at your own pace, controlling movements according to your unique physical capabilities: This means not going too quickly, for instance, overstretching, holding poses for too long, overexerting muscles, or twisting too far during a pose. Each practitioner should understand their body and develop their practice slowly over time, starting with simple poses and working their way up accordingly.
  • Concentration: Practitioners are required to maintain concentration to ensure they do not wobble during poses, with this concentration improving over time. Refraining from talking while doing yoga, muting mobile devices, and practicing regularly—at least 3-4 times a week—will help in this regard.
  • Take a break between poses: Take around 5-7 deep, slow breaths in and out after coming out of each pose in order to relieve any muscle tension and prepare the body for the next pose.

Safety advice regarding yoga practice

  • People with certain health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, as well as pregnant women and the elderly, should consult with their doctor or yoga instructor before joining a class. There are some poses that could be dangerous for certain conditions. For example people with a neck injury should not turn their heads too far, and people with high or low blood pressure should not hold poses whereby the head is lowered toward the ground for too long a time.
  • Yoga should be practiced in a peaceful and spacious area.
  • Yoga should not be practiced immediately following a meal. Waiting at least 1-3 hours after eating is advised in order to prevent cramps.. Also, it is recommended that people wait at least one hour after finishing a yoga session before eating a meal.
  • If possible, use the bathroom before a yoga session.
  • Well-fitting clothing is advised instead of clothes that may be too loose or too tight.
  • Those new to yoga should not worry too much about the breathing aspect when they first start because yoga breathing is not like normal breathing. Many people new to yoga are not used to this type of breathing and experience anxiety, while many others try to progress too quickly from simple poses to much more difficult poses, skipping the necessary progression in between and leading to injury. Relax, do not rush, and remember that relaxation is vital to an effective yoga practice.

Do not focus on unrealistic goals including gaining a slimmer body, striking esthetically pleasing poses, and balancing effortlessly like your instructor. Instead, focus on each step of your progression without placing too much pressure on yourself.

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