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Although yoga has been around for over 5,000 years, the recent trend has produced many scientific studies proving the health benefits of a regular practice. With so many different styles and types of yoga, every body can reap the health benefits: mentally, physically and spiritually. Scientists agree that yoga has far reaching effects, even off the mat, providing a better quality of life-for yourself and for those around you.
Many people through out the world suffer from some form of stress, anxiety and/or depression. Stress is related to many illnesses and health problems like asthma, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Through a regular yoga practice, symptoms of these very common ailments and illnesses can be alleviated.
Many styles of yoga teach some form of breath manipulation or pranayama, as it is known in the yoga world. These breathing techniques teach you to slow your breathing down, focusing on long, slow deep breaths in and out of your nose. This type of breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which is responsible for the “rest and digest” or the “feed and breed” subconscious functions of your body. If the PSNS is out of balance due to stress you may find yourself constantly feeling anxious, depressed or unable to eat or sleep.
By practicing breathing techniques, along with yoga asanas (the physical poses), you may find relief from these symptoms. People who suffer from panic attacks can find instant relief with this type of breathing even without the asanas for example in a plane or on a bus. The physical part of yoga, which activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), also provides relief from stress, anxiety, depression and even symptoms of PTSD. Any physical exercise will produce the “feel good” chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin.
Many people are prescribed drugs to mimic these chemicals, but yoga produces them naturally. These chemicals are responsible for feelings like love, joy, happiness and pleasure. It helps to regulate mood and improve memory and concentration. What is special about yoga is that during a typical yoga practice both the SNS and PSNS are activated creating a deeper relaxation for both the body and brain that last well after savasana.
Studies have shown that yoga, practiced with breath can improve memory and concentration, in more ways than one. Regular exercise creates new brain cells but in order for the brain cells to function properly it is best to try and stay stress free. A physical yoga practice triggers the new brain cells while the mind remains stress free. Yoga teaches you to connect breath to movement, which encourages oxygen rich blood flow to the brain and heart. It also teaches you to be “in the moment”, focusing on what is happening in your body- like feeling which muscles are being stretched and activated.
A physical yoga practice also teaches you about the importance of where you set your gaze, or drishti. Drishti, along with breath can create the flow of a vinyasa yoga class. All of these things are beneficial in life off the yoga mat as well. In stressful moments your body will revert back to these yoga tools, helping you make better decisions and focusing on what is really important, rather than the chaos that may be going on around you.
The physical benefits of a regular practice are plentiful. The poses are designed to increase flexibility, blood circulation and metabolism, improve strength and stability in the body; it boosts the immune system and flushes out the adrenal glands. Yoga lengthens and strengthens muscles and joints and is also beneficial to weight management, whether you are looking to lose, maintain or gain weight. A lot of yoga poses focus on strengthening your core, or stomach muscles and this helps protect your insides. Many poses include a twisting option or variation; this literally massages and rings out your internal organs detoxifying your body. As you sweat, the toxins leave through your skin, leaving you feeling refreshed, with the added benefit of healthy, glowing skin. This detoxing of the body keeps your immune system functioning, aids in liver and kidney function and it lowers cortisol levels, cortisol is linked to depression, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Yoga is a total body workout, aimed to include every muscle in your body. Recent studies have shown that muscle and bone strength can help prevent arthritis, osteoporosis and back pain. It also helps protect you from injury as you age. Along with improving muscle and bone strength, yoga improves your posture and slows the breakdown of your cartilage and joints, keeping you fit and active as you age. Improving posture can help reduce pain in the neck, spine and lower back and knees.
Many people experience a spiritual benefit from yoga. People describe feeling connected to a higher power, a deeper feeling of peace and joy and an over all better outlook on life. The more you practice yoga the more you learn about yourself. The practice has a way of forcing you to concentrate on yourself and in the process you begin to see a clear picture of who you are and what you are capable of doing, first in yoga poses and then in the real world. Yoga can change the way you think about yourself. This has been linked to a lower return rate among prisoners as well as help addicts reclaim their lives. The best thing about yoga is that it is accessible to everyone. With all the studies showing more and more benefits of this unique practice, yoga is a trend that is surely here to stay.