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The Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is different from other exercises because not only does it improve fitness, strength and muscle tone it also improves mental and emotional health. Breathing is an essential part of yoga and what makes it different from other exercises is the type of breathing involved. Regular exercises involve heavier breathing because of their vigorous aspect. The body requires more oxygen, but the individual doesn’t usually make a conscious connection with their breath, unless they are doing a meditative sort of walk or jog.
In yoga there is breath awareness as well as various breathing techniques that are used to create different effects in both the mind and the body. Breath moves energy around which promotes healing. Breath awareness helps to anchor the yogi in the present during their yoga practice as well as in everyday life. Deep breathing and conscious breathing relaxes the body which in turn calms the individual. Breathing promotes a richer oxygen flow throughout the body which also increases flexibility and elasticity during yoga. Breathing also reduces pain, anxiety, slows the heart rate, regulates blood sugar and improves the immune system.
•Massages, detoxifies, strengthens and balances the internal organs and glands. It affects the various body systems: digestive, immune, lymphatic, circulatory and nervous)
•Increases energy and is often referred to as the ‘fountain of youth’
•Improves core strength and flexibility which as a reflex improves back health (a very common problem or many Westerners as well as athletes)
•Aids in weight loss, mental health as well as overall health
•Tones and strengthens the arms, shoulders, legs, buttocks, chest and abs
•Improves sexual fitness and virility
There are five main benefits of yoga as a superior form of exercise and they are:
1) Better Overall Health – Not only does yoga aid with weight loss but it also improves the overall functioning of the internal organs and glands. Furthermore your fitness level will continue to improve as you do more yoga. Yoga has even been shown to re-generate nerves and heal long standing injuries and other health issues.
2) Few Side Effects – Yoga’s philosophy is to work gently and lovingly with your body and to work in such a way that brings your body back to its natural state of health and wholeness. Other types of exercises sometimes push people beyond their abilities or fitness levels. They often do not take into consideration the different doshas (body types) and that everyone has different needs and levels. For example, my dosha (according to Ayuervedic Medicine) is Vata and I just don’t do well with vigorous exercise. It exhausts my system and makes me more prone to illness. I do best with walking and yoga. Even power yoga is too much for me.
3) Permanent Weight Loss – Yoga has been shown to be a more a permanent approach to weight loss. Yoga brings the body into alignment with the underlying causes of weight gain and addresses these issues whether they are biological or emotional. Emotional over-eaters might find themselves eating less as they do more yoga and develop a higher level of awareness and mindfulness in terms of how much they are eating and why they are eating.
4) Affordable – Yoga is free thanks to the internet and can be practised alone or in a group. There are hundreds of websites that offer free online classes, or sequences.
5) Mental Health – An added bonus compared to many other exercises is that yoga improves concentration and mental stability, develops parts of the brain that are usually dormant which increases intelligence and clarity of thoughts. It encourages awareness of the ego and a connection with the divine or the universe which creates a sense of joy, peace and compassion. Yogis report an overall feeling of serenity. They anger less easily, recover more quickly from set backs and major life events, experience more patience and feel less rushed.
Yoga, particularly kundalini yoga, is unique because it offers a total body workout that addresses both a healthy level of fitness which includes strength and toning and it also has been shown in numerous studies to significantly improve mental health. Many studies have been conducted to compare yoga to other forms of exercise and yoga is passing with flying colours. In 2010, the University of Maryland School of Nursing found that yoga over a three month period significantly reduced depression and anxiety. They also found that yoga far surpassed other forms of aeorbic exercice in terms of pain management (everything from MS to carpel tunnel to chronic back pain), daily energy, hormonal issues as well as creating a superior level of fitness in terms of balance, strength and flexibility. Superior fitness in turn prevents injuries as well as illnesses.