My sister-in-law is a yoga instructor. My mother-in-law has been practicing for years. Two of my friends are yoga instructors. The health benefits of yoga are undeniable. I know that I would benefit from practicing yoga. Yet every time I vow to practice regularly, it does not happen. After reading more and more about the health benefits of practicing yoga, I found a great set of CD’s by Rudy Mettia that I am enjoying, and hoping to take a class outside of my home soon too.
Yoga is a combination of both the physical and the mental. Stretching, posing, breathing and mediation pave the way for body and mind to relax. Some people may be hesitant to participate in yoga, thinking that the slower pace and deeper breathing is not a comprehensive workout. They may hesitate, thinking that they will not feel the same sense of satisfaction as they do while running or lifting weights. However, yoga is a comprehensive workout, with many styles, forms and intensities. You may not get a runner’s high from yoga, but you will have sense of calm and wellbeing.
It is time. Yoga can benefit all of us, regardless of our age, gender or athletic ability. Yoga can soothe. It can heal. And it can be a great workout. Different types of yoga can even have different health and healing benefits. Still not sure? Here are just some of the benefits of practicing yoga:
- As little as one 20-minute session of Hatha yoga has been shown to significantly improve our cognitive brain function, both in the reaction time and accuracy. Women who have ever experienced “mommy brain” will understand the value of that! Imagine what it could do for people with more serious cognitive issues.
- If you are reading this post you have been alive for a while, so you probably know how to breathe. Sure, you can breathe, but despite your many years on this earth you still may not be doing it quite right. Yoga teaches us how to optimally take in oxygen.
Here’s an example. People with COPD have trouble pushing hair out of their lungs, making it difficult to take in fresh air and leaving them short of breath. An estimated 24 million Americans may have COPD and there is no cure. Yet people with COPD who practice yoga regularly have seen improvements their lung function, shortness of breath, and inflammation.
- Practicing yoga has also been shown to benefit people with a family history or other risk factors for heart disease. By reducing anxiety, yoga may actually change our stress response systems, which can reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure. In one study, people who practiced yoga multiple times per week saw a significant decrease in blood pressure, even more so than people who followed a controlled diet and did not practice yoga.
- Whether you want to be more flexible for athletic purposes or simply to avoid feeling like a brick, practicing yoga can help. Many of the most elite athletes in the world use yoga for enhancing muscle performance, helping to avoid injury, and stimulating the mind. Our bodies have the ability to adjust the elasticity of our muscles to their history of stretching.
- Not only is yoga calming, it can also be beneficial for improving impulse control. We all know that teenagers can be, shall we say, rather impulsive at times. Researchers found that practicing yoga regularly can even be beneficial for calming teenagers who may otherwise react a bit too quickly.
- Pregnancy is a stressful time in life, and stress during pregnancy has been linked to problems such as premature birth, low birth weight of the baby and postpartum depression. Yoga can help to lower stress levels in pregnancy. A recent study found that women who attended one yoga class a week for eight weeks had decreased anxiety compared to women who did not attend yoga. Just make sure that you are doing a yoga class that is designed or modified for women who are pregnant. Even if you are in the early stages, your instructor should know about your pregnancy.
- Insomnia is a common symptom of both pregnancy and menopause. It is also common among people with a fair amount of anxiety (myself included). Practicing yoga regularly has been shown to improve sleep habits and patterns.
- It is not a pleasant topic, but yoga can be helpful for women who suffer from urinary incontinence. A specific program designed to improve pelvic health can help women to gain control and avoid some potentially embarrassing situations.
- In another unpleasant topic, it has been found that partner yoga can be beneficial for couples struggling with sexual dysfunction. - We know that yoga can be calming, and can reduce anxiety. So much so that yoga has shown to be helpful for people suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- One recent study out of Norway found that yoga may be even better than “traditional exercise” for strengthening the immune system. More research needs to be done to verify that, but do not be surprised your next prescription is for an hour of yoga a day.
And if an hour of yoga a day will keep the doctor away, shouldn’t that alone be reason enough for us all to say OM?