Originating in ancient India, yoga is a form of physical exercise with a meditative and spiritual core, practised for over 5,000 years. Known for its focus on calmness, balance, and self-healing, this form of physical exercise incorporates relaxation techniques that can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome. There are several different “schools” of yoga, but in Western culture most typically include breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming postures (sometimes called asana or poses) that stretch and flex various muscle groups. Practising yoga just a few times a week can drastically improve to both your mental and physical health.
Here are six reasons why you should be practising yoga:
- Reduced Back Pain
In the Western world, back pain is one of the most common health problems experienced amongst adults. As people get older, the chance of developing back pain increases, due to factors such as previous occupation and degenerative diseases.
One of the most important benefits of yoga is an increase in blood flow which promotes healthy cell growth, fuels energy and relieves muscle pain.
According to research published in July 2017 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 50% of people who practised yoga for 3-months stopped taking medication. There are a number of reasons for this including the emphasis on stretching, strength, and flexibility which relieves back soreness and improve function. Another study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in 2015 found that those with chronic pain had less of a kind of brain tissue in the regions that help us tolerate pain, but those who did yoga had more — which suggests that yoga is not just physically but neurologically protective.
- Better Sleep
Sleep plays a fundamental role in maintaining good health and superior quality of life. According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, sleep disorders affect 40% of Canadians.
A national survey, published on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, reported that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. And over 85% of respondents said yoga helped reduce stress levels.
Learning to unwind and relax through yoga can not only leave you feeling refreshed but can also clear your mind from those wandering thoughts that keep you up at night.
- Emotional Health
We all know that exercise promotes feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain and throughout the body that improve your mood and make you more relaxed. Yoga is no different as it releases chemicals to help reduce anxiety, enhance self-esteem, and boost energy and brainpower.
A study from Duke University found that yoga benefits those living with depression, schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. Practising yoga encourages mindfulness and meditation which results in higher serotonin levels (the happiness hormone) and long-term contentment.
- Improved Flexibility
Muscle stiffness typically occurs after exercise, hard physical work, or lifting weights. You may also feel stiffness after periods of inactivity, for example when you wake up in the morning or stand up after sitting on a chair for a long time. If left untreated, stiff muscles can lead to injured ligaments, bones, back and shoulder pain.
You may be able to treat muscle stiffness at home with rest, massage, and application of heat or cold. However, prevention is better than treatment. Stretching regularly is recommended as a pre-or post-exercise activity. Yogic stretching is particularly useful as it involves prolonged sessions that focus on loosening tight muscles and strengthening weak joints. This helps increase range of motion, agility, flexibility and endurance. It also promotes faster recovery.
Here are some of the benefits of improved flexibility:
- fewer injuries, since your body will be stronger and able to withstand more physical stress
- less pain.
- Improved posture and balance
- A positive state of mind
- Greater strength
- Improved physical performance
- Muscle Strength
In comparison to weight training and cardiovascular activity such as running, which tighten and shorten muscles in the body, yoga allows you to build strength while lengthening your muscles and improving flexibility.
While putting your body in different positions and orientations, you ultimately have to support your entire body with your muscles, hence building strength. In other words, you can increase muscle tone and definition — and even muscle size — with yoga. But because you’re limited to “lifting” your own body weight, it may take a lot more skill, time, and determination that it would with lifting weights.
- Heart Health
Many studies have shown that increasing your heart rate through exercise, even slow-moving yoga lowers the risk for heart disease. According to the American Journal of Medicine, and an analysis of 22 studies that included more than 320,000 adults, even as little as one hour of walking per week was linked to lower rates of heart attack and stroke.
Another study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology indicates promising evidence of yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular health. Dr. Hana Stastny, a medical doctor and yoga therapy instructor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, claims that relaxing through yoga can decrease stress-related inflammation thereby reducing the chance of most pathologies, including heart disease. Yoga can also lower blood pressure, boost circulation and improve heart rate, all of which can lead to healthier heart conditions.