Recently modern scientists and researchers have begun delving into the health benefits of an exercise program that’s over 5000 years old. That program is Yoga. Every day it seems that some new benefit is discovered, but here are the ones that are most important, and the reason most people take up Yoga in the first place.
This is probably the greatest and most obvious benefit of Yoga. The postures and positions (called Asanas) that Yoga places the body in will lead to much greater muscle and joint flexibility. For many years now, professional gymnasts and other athletes have used Yoga to help their overall flexibility and agility, and with Yoga’s current popularity, many others are now discovering the heightened muscle movement that comes from the exercises.
Not only will Yoga make the body more flexible, it will also add more strength to the muscles and tendons. Again, many professional athletes perform Yoga to aid in their daily exercise, and bodybuilders and weightlifters are no exception. Keeping the body in certain positions for a certain period of time will strengthen the body. This has been known for thousands of years, by many cultures. Tai Chi Chuan, the traditional Chinese martial art and exercise form, uses a similar philosophy; maintaining prescribed positions for a period of time to strengthen muscles.
While all the benefits of Yoga may truly never be known, this is one that anybody who’s ever practiced it will attest to. Yoga induces a feeling of inner calm and peace. Of course, this is what the traditional Yogis (one who practices Yoga) were aiming for, as Yoga was originally a religious path to enlightenment and inner peace. While modern Yoga focuses mostly on the exercise and health benefits, the other, less easily defined benefits still remain. Yoga is a perfect exercise for today’s busy lifestyle. We all need to manage the stress of daily life in some way, and what better way than something that will not only give you exercise and energy, but also calm and de-stress you in the process!
We all want to look good, that’s a given. There are literally thousands of exercise programs designed to help us burn fat and get in shape. Yoga practitioners have known of its toning properties for literally thousands of years. Along with a sensible diet, Yoga has been proven to burn fat and tone muscle, sometimes far more effectively than many of the “fly by night” exercise programs that seemingly pop up daily. While you won’t acquire the massive body of a bodybuilder, Yoga will help you to acquire a sleek, much more natural body tone than weightlifting will. There are even varieties of Yoga now that are considered “high intensity” that put the heart into the “fat burning zone”, and will help with weight reduction and fat loss.
Many physical rehabilitation facilities are beginning to incorporate elements of Yoga into their exercise and training regimens. This is because Yoga has a bodily healing effect. While someone with an injury might not be able to perform all of the positions, some of even the most basic positions have a therapeutic effect on the body. This is especially true with upper and lower back pain, something that literally millions and millions of people suffer with daily. Yoga stretches and works muscles that might otherwise go unexercised, and those muscles in turn help to strengthen muscles and tendons that are strained or damaged in some way. Definitely check with your doctor before starting ANY exercise regimen when you are physically injured, however.
This is something most of us have trouble with. How many times when you were younger did your mother tell you to “sit up straight”? Well, Yoga can help you do just that. You will gain a greater understanding of your body’s overall posture, and the positions help keep muscles responsible for good posture strong and supple. You will slump your shoulders less, and you will come to understand your body’s center of gravity and how to maintain that center at all times, whether seated or standing.
HEIGHTENED ENERGY LEVELS
Most of us in today’s busy world need an energy boost now and again. Whether this is something artificial, like caffeine, or something natural, like the energy you gain from eating a piece of fruit, is a personal choice. Yoga gives you extra energy to get through your day without having to resort to outside means. Imagine being able to get through a hard day without those extra cups of coffee or cans of soda? Not only would that save you money, its overall better for your health. The fewer artificial things we ingest, the better!
Doctors have long known that mental health is at least as important as physical health for a person’s overall well-being. Many Yoga practitioners report that after an exercise session, they experience a feeling of calm, peace, and overall harmony and balance. Yoga’s original purpose was as a path to religious enlightenment, and mentioned earlier, some of the less defined benefits still remain. Though modern Yoga’s purpose is for exercise and bodily health, the psychological benefits cannot be denied.
Yoga is quite easy to perform. Unlike many exercises today that focus on elaborate equipment, large and clunky machines, or require a radio to blast loud music, Yoga needs only a scant few things for a person to practice it effectively. A “sticky” mat that allows you to maintain the positions without slipping is really all that is required. Some people need what are known as “Yoga straps” to help them maintain some of the more difficult positions as well. Both of these products are inexpensive and easily transportable and storable. While other products do exist, such as rollers, blocks, mats and gloves for the hands and feet to prevent slipping, they are all optional. The term “user friendly” certainly applies to Yoga, as almost anyone can do it, and the things you require are minimal.
BALANCE AND CORE STRENGTH
Recently, scientists and exercise professionals have discovered that having a strong “core” is essential to having a strong body. The “core” muscles work to support and stabilize the spine, pelvis, and abdominal region. Many exercise programs have been developed with strengthening these particular muscles as their primary focus (Pilates currently being the most popular). Yoga exercises these muscles along with other muscles, so you essentially get a workout that combines the best elements of other exercise programs. Since many of the positions also require you to balance the body in certain ways, Yoga will also help with learning and maintaining overall body balance. This benefit in particular is why many gymnasts perform Yoga regularly, as balance is essential to their sport.
The benefits of Yoga are many, and the ten listed here are just a sample of what Yoga can do for you, both physically and mentally. Of course, consult your instructor if you have any questions or concerns about what benefits you might gain from performing Yoga regularly.