The Health Benefits of Yoga
by Lisa Fletcher, Tofino
The health benefits of yoga are endless. It can be used to treat specific problems in the body or can be used to maintain and prevent future problems.
With regular practice there is more relaxation, healthier sleep patterns, better posture and circulation and a more grounded approach to life.
Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced yoga in the west. The physical strength attained from asanas tend to be what lures people in. Yoga begins its work at the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body, which most people find this a practical and familiar starting point.
The asanas of yoga build muscular strength by moving the body in various positions. Stretching muscles can release tension that has built up over time. This creates a toned physique by using muscles that aren't used in normal everyday life. Yoga itself is all about balance; therefore it only makes sense that each side of the body is equally worked to create harmony.
The variety of the poses and the sequence in which they are done, creates a 'core' strength that is unattainable through any other activity. Many physical ailments such as back, hip and knee pain have been reduced through regular yoga practice. Asanas also increase flexibility and circulation. Flexibility is a key component to staying limber and avoiding injuries, especially as a person ages. One particular pose for building core strength, alignment, and hamstring flexibility is trikonasana, or triangle pose.
During the work of specific asanas, there is a lot of effort that goes on inside the body. For example, besides toning the entire body, trikonasana also tones the reproductive organs, stimulates the nervous system and improves digestion. While the body is hard at work on the outside, the internal organs, glands, and nervous system are reaping the benefits as well. It is possible to massage and thus stimulate and detoxify certain organs depending on the pose. Yoga is being prescribed all over the world as a means to treat varying physical ailments.
There have been numerous studies done on how stress affects the body. It can raise blood pressures, cause anxiety and have devastating long- term effects. Yoga relaxes muscles and slows down the body to a more conscious state. Properly preformed asanas require focus and stillness within. In a study at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, it was discovered that men and women in their 20s and 30s had more of a decrease in cortisol levels, (the stress hormone), after a single yoga session than just resting quietly.
As yoga de-stress' the body, it is also promotes a quietness inside so it can fully focus. A focused mind is rewarded in better memory, and ease in learning new things. In the asana sirasana, or head balance, blood flows to the head through brain cells. One of the affects of sirasana is thought to rejuvenate the brain cells, increasing thinking power and clearer thoughts.
Pranayama is the breath-work that is done in yoga. It is so easy to forget just how important breathing actually is. Each breath we inhale brings in oxygen, churning into nutrients, and every exhalation is the release of wastes, carbon dioxide. Prana translates to vital energy, or life force. Yama is derived from ayama, which means extension, or expansion. Incorporating pranayama with asanas, or even on its own can have a very powerful effect of the mind body connection. It unlocks doorways, creating a flow throughout the whole body. This relieves stress, induces calmness and gives an invaluable base for dealing with everyday situations.
There have even been studies done on yoga reducing depression. One of the most persuasive cases for reducing depression with yoga, stems from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India. A success rate of 73% by treating depression with a specific paranayama technique called sudharshan kriya.
B.K.S. Iyengar has been studying yoga since 1934, and is the founder of Iyengar Yoga. He states that through pranayama, "a yogi's head and heart are clean through the harmony of the breath".
Although yoga originates from an ancient religion of India, it is more a way of thinking than religious acts. The spiritual connection of yoga ultimately comes from within the yogi; it comes from the union of the body, mind, and soul. There is no competition involved--it is only about how open the person is willing to become by putting aside past fears or ego. Well put by Isaacs and Martinez, " Coming onto the mat is called a yoga practice, not a yoga performance".
Meditation is integrated with yoga every step of the way. The meditation aspect of yoga is all about the personal growth and empowerment. Yoga cultivates integrity, awareness and an understanding that everything is connected -- a philosophy for leading a finer existence.
Lisa Fletcher wants to tame wild elephants and start a revolution in her spare time.