11 far reaching effects of yoga

Q&A: Yoga | Nutrition | Fitness

Yoga, as most teachers and practitioners insist, is more than physical exercise. It is a routine designed to bring harmony between body, mind and spirit. Its aim, they point out, is as much to improve physical health, as to cultivate mental and emotional well being.

How exactly does yoga do this? According to Timothy McCall MD, author of Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, “…Yoga is arguably the most comprehensive approach to fighting stress ever invented.” Stress, we now know, is a factor involved in the onset and development of disease.

McCall believes that doing stimulating exercise, followed by relaxing or meditative practices, enables deep relaxation of a kind that could facilitate prevention of, or recovery from, disease. But, he adds, yoga practitioners also become more responsive to the needs of the body and mind and actively make choices that result in a healthier lifestyle.

These are 11 far reaching effects that yoga confers:

* Increases strength: Yoga asanas, including forward and backward bending, stretching, twisting and balancing, involve a rigorous workout for the body. Regular practice thus leads to an increase in bone and muscular strength.
* Improves posture: Yoga relieves stiffness, and promotes flexibility and effortless movement. The asanas also help correct the alignment of the spine and joints, thus giving you grace and poise.
* Boosts breathing: Yoga includes pranayama or the practice of mindful breathing. Research conducted in Thailand also showed that the practice of certain asanas, during just 18 yoga sessions over a six-week period, significantly improved respiratory capacity. Rita Trieger, editor, Fit Yoga magazine and author of Yoga Heals Your Back says, “When the lungs and heart are operating at their optimal level, overall health improves. Keeping the body filled with fresh breath provides more energy, nourishes organs, helps release toxins and promotes healthy cell growth.”
* Promotes relaxation: The emphasis on achieving a meditative state – even while performing physically demanding poses – encourages the ability to relax. Besides, maintaining internal focus helps practitioners be at peace within.
* Sharpens concentration: Researchers from the American College of Sports Medicine who assessed participants in yoga classes, found significant improvement in concentration, motivation and anxiety in just over eight weeks. “We’ve noted empirical evidence that yoga carries affective benefits, but now we’ve been able to objectively measure the results,” said Traci A Statler, a member of the research team.
* Builds confidence: Greater control over the body and mind increases self-esteem, helping practitioners overcome inhibitions and shyness. Research conducted by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in California found that yoga promoted greater body satisfaction in women.
* Helps the Heart: Researchers at Atlanta found that yoga, included along with medical therapy, improved patients’ capacity to exercise, decreased inflammation levels, and generally improved health.
* Fights arthritis: The asanas involve moving joints through their full range of motion, which keeps them healthy and supple, and prevents, or delays the development of arthritis. According to studies in the British Journal of Rheumatology, yoga helped increase hand-grip strength, and also relieved pain and tenderness, during arthritis.
* Eases depression: Various studies have documented the benefits of yoga in alleviating symptoms of depression. Author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, psychotherapist Stephen Cope, says that doing yoga can release blocked feelings such as grief or anger.
* Relieves illness: Yoga also improves the ability to fight sickness. Its practice has been associated with improvement in chronic conditions such as asthma, carpel tunnel syndrome (a condition where the median nerve is twisted at the wrist), depression, diabetes and high blood pressure.
* Delays ageing: Doing yoga may or may not increase your life span. But its numerous benefits, such as improved health and resistance to disease, can definitely delay the debilitating effects of old age.

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Image: Flickr Creativecommons daveynin

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