Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that has gained massive popularity in recent years. It combines physical movements with meditation and breathing exercises.
Regular practice of yoga can strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, while also calming the mind. It can boost the immune system, help manage stress and depression, aid in weight loss for overweight individuals and even relieve menopause symptoms.
Strengthening the Body
Yoga helps strengthen muscles, especially in the core and lower back, by building strength through poses that require you to hold your body weight against gravity. It also increases flexibility and balance, which can decrease your risk of injury as you age.
The breathing exercises and meditation of yoga help calm the nervous system by improving blood circulation, easing muscle tension and encouraging you to relax. This is especially important for people with stress-related health issues, such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
Yoga also boosts your immune system by influencing gene expression at the cellular level. This means that even if you’re already sick, practicing yoga can improve your symptoms and help you recover faster.
Calming the Mind
Yoga’s ancient practices have been shown to be effective at calming the mind and body. In fact, studies indicate that yoga is particularly helpful for stress and anxiety.
The combination of physical movement and breath control that’s integral to yoga allows practitioners to release feel-good brain chemicals. This helps to reduce the physiologic response of the sympathetic nervous system (sometimes referred to as the fight or flight response).
When combined with meditation and visualization, this calming effect is amplified. The use of mantras, for example, is a common technique to help calm the mind and focus attention.
Yoga also strengthens parts of the brain that play a key role in memory, awareness, thought and language. For instance, many poses require the practitioner to hold their balance by concentrating on keeping contact between the big toe, little toe and heel in order to train the proprioceptive portion of balance. This is complemented by using drishti, the focus of the eyes during practice, to train the visual part of balance.
Boosting Your Immune System
A regular yoga practice has been shown to boost your body’s immune system. It does this by lowering the levels of stress hormones that suppress it.
In addition, yoga encourages a deep sense of mindfulness and awareness that helps to balance the mind-body connection and decrease inflammation. Chronic inflammation can weaken your immune system and lead to health issues.
It also increases the amount of oxygenated blood that flows to your organs, thus removing and flushing out toxins. A sedentary lifestyle and certain medical conditions can reduce the flow of oxygenated blood, leading to blockages in your organs. Yoga, when done on a regular basis, stimulates the lymphatic system to remove toxins from the body.
As we head into the winter season, it is important to keep your immune system in tip-top shape so that you can avoid catching colds or the flu. Yoga is one of the most effective ways to do that! It also helps your body fight off infections by strengthening your immune system and reducing inflammation.
Boosting Your Mood
When you practice yoga, you strengthen parts of your brain that play a key role in memory, attention, awareness and thought. Think of it as weightlifting for the brain.
Whether you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, yoga helps to calm the mind and boost your mood. Studies show that practicing yoga decreases the secretion of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. In addition, it trains the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes self-compassion and a positive outlook on life.
In fact, more and more therapists are encouraging yoga as an adjunct to psychotherapy to help their clients find calmness in the face of stressful life events. It can be as effective as anti-anxiety medications and, better yet, it’s natural. There are even forms of yoga that are easier to do than traditional poses and can still provide mental health benefits. For example, chair yoga, yin yoga and restorative yoga are good options for those with physical limitations.