Yoga is an ancient Hindu discipline, collated by Patanjali sometime around 200 – 500 AD in the text called The Yoga Sutras. The word ‘Yoga’ means ‘union’ or ‘connection.’ It can be defined as a state of self-realization, where you connect and rest in your ‘own true nature.’ You enter a state of total control of your immediate environment, including your mind and thoughts.
According to the Yoga Sutras 1.2, “Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field. Simply put, it is the mastery of one’s mind.
It involves the practice of body postures, meditation and breathing control. There are about 100 plus different types of yoga training and they vary in their intensity and method, but virtually all of them include the basics of breathing exercises and simple meditation, as well as poses and postures that stretch and flex different muscle groups. These sets of exercises come with several outstanding benefits, ranging from workout benefits to dynamic health benefits. That is why a lot of people now find it very addictive, because it’s suitable and beneficial for all ages.
These benefits include; health, physical, psychological, social and mental benefits. And we’ll be addressing some yoga benefits in this article.
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. Yoga for beginners might not be an easy task, as you probably won't be able to touch your toes, nor do a backbend. But as you continue to practice, you'll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. Practicing yoga increases your flexibility, the more you stretch your muscles, the longer and more flexible they become. “A tight muscle is an angry muscle” – so they say. Stretching it frees up the tension and improves blood flow, reduced the risk of a headache or stress and increases your range of motion. You'll also probably notice that your pains start to fade away gradually. That's no accident. As we age, flexibility usually decreases, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting, and this leads to pain and rigidity. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings also, can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture. Yoga can help reverse all of these processes.
2.Yoga for weight loss
“Move more, eat less”—the maxim of many dieters. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the emotional and mystical dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. You may become a more conscious eater through yoga inspiration.
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice improves coordination, memory, reaction time, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they're less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an unending tape loop.
Physical activity is good for relieving stress, and this is particularly true of yoga. We are surrounded by daily stressors, which affects the body in many ways, and in many areas, as; neck pain, back pain, sleeping problems, headaches, weakness, lack of concentration etc. By practicing yoga and incorporating its breathing and meditation techniques, you are developing skills to manage your stress levels. Because of the concentration required in practicing yoga, your daily troubles, both great and small, seem to melt away during the time you are on the mat. This provides a much-needed break from your stressors, as well as helping to put your problems into perspective. The emphasis yoga places on being in the present moment can also help as you learn not to dwell on past events nor anticipate the future. You will leave a yoga class feeling less stressed. Aside from the wonderful physical benefits yoga cement in the body, your mind is also receiving an overhaul. The more you practice, the more the meditation and breathing comes easily and can turn into something that you can implement throughout the day.
5.Protects from injury and boost performance.
Because yoga works every part of the body, it can affect areas of your body that have been untouched by other training. This protects you from injury surprises by making sure these forgotten areas are taken care of. As for problem areas, it works these regularly, so there is less chance of injury. Not just injury protection but injury recovery too. There are specific restorative yoga courses you can do which guide your injury to restoration and prevention from further injury.
Yoga improves so many aspects of fitness, it will make any other training you do far more effective. The idea about boosting your athletic performance with yoga, is not to replace your regular athletic training with it, rather, it’s for enhancement of your performance that had been built from your regular training sessions. There’ll be an upsurge in power, better focus than ever, increased level of endurance, as well as, balance and peace of mind. Many athletes in team sports or Olympic competition do yoga as part of their training program.
6.Fosters Mental Calmness and increases self-confidence.
Yoga asana practice is intensely physical. Concentrating so intently on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing a calmness to your mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as how to focus on your breath and disengage from your thoughts. These skills can prove to be very valuable in intense situations off the mat, like childbirth, or when having an anxiety attack.
Doing yoga improves your mind-body connection, giving you a better awareness of your own body.
During yoga, you learn to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment, putting you in better touch with your physical being. You also learn to accept your body as it is without judgment. Over time, this leads to feeling more comfortable in your own body, boosting your self-confidence.
7.Gives you inner strength
Yoga can help you make great changes about your life. In fact, that might be its greatest strength. Tapas, the Sanskrit word for "heat," is the fire, the discipline that fuels yoga practice and that regular practice builds. The tapas you develop can be extended to the rest of your life to overcome inertia and change dysfunctional habits. You may find that without making a particular effort to change things, you start to eat better, exercise more, or finally quit smoking after years of failed attempts etc.
As far as the body’s energy levels go, if you are low on a hormone called Cortisol, then you are low on energy. What is so impressive about yoga, and specific yoga poses combined with breathing techniques, is that, it can actually help to increase Cortisol levels, which in turn reduces fatigue. Your energy levels are boosted straight away, and your body gets revitalized on a whole new level.
Most of us take shallow breaths and don't give much thought to how we breathe. Yoga breathing exercises, called pranayama, focus our attention on breathing and teaches us how to take deeper breaths, which benefits the entire body. Certain types of breath can also help clear the nasal passages (helpful for people with allergies) and even calm the nervous system, which nourishes the body with both physical and mental benefits on and off the mat.
Recent studies have suggested that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, (an important neurotransmitter in the brain, responsible for mood and a sense of well-being) is linked with specific types of exercises. It turns out that Iyengar Yoga can also increase the levels of this GABA in the brain, more so than walking, according to a Boston University study.
11.Increased muscle strength and tone
Those who practice yoga are actually quite strong. Even though the idea of yoga is slow downing and connecting. Building up strength has been popularly believed to be associated with pumping iron and/or engaging in a heavy cardiovascular workout. But, the truth is that, the control needed in the various combinations of yoga poses, or when you use straps, bolsters, and balls within yoga exercises, is just as toning and strength building, as weights because with yoga you are often holding your weight. With regular yoga training, and being able to keep yourself in yoga positions, you will strengthen shape long, lean muscles in your legs, arms, back, and abdomen. As a by-product of getting stronger, you can expect to see increased muscle tone. If you’ve felt the thrill of discovering that you can hold Chaturanga for longer and longer periods, then, you've experienced how yoga strengthens your muscles. Standing poses, inversions, and other asanas challenge your muscles to lift and move the weight of your body. Your muscles in turn will respond by growing new fibers, so that they become thicker and stronger—the better they will help you lift heavy grocery bags, or your kids and to maintain fitness and function throughout your lifetime.
12.Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by "squeezing and soaking" areas of cartilage that normally aren't used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.
Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That's the only way they get their nutrients. If you've got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, you'll help keep your disks supple.
13.Yoga workouts and women’s health.
Many women have turned to yoga to help them cope with the symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to sleep disturbances to mood swings. A recent analysis of the most rigorous studies of yoga and menopause found evidence that yoga—which included asana and meditation—helps with the psychological symptoms of menopause, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In one randomized controlled trial, Brazilian researchers examined how yoga affected insomnia symptoms in a group of 44 postmenopausal women. Compared with women who did passive stretching, the yoga practitioners showed a big drop in incidence of insomnia. Other, more preliminary research has suggested that yoga may also help to reduce hot flashes and memory problems, too.
14.Eases your pain
Yoga can ease your pain. According to several studies, asana, meditation, or a combination of the two, reduced pain in people with arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other chronic conditions. When you relieve your pain, your mood improves, you're more inclined to be active, and you don't need as much medication.
15.Reduce the risk of Diabetes
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that adults at risk for type 2 diabetes who did yoga twice a week for three months showed a reduction in risk factors including weight and blood pressure. While the study was small, all who began the program stuck with it throughout the study, and 99 percent reported satisfaction with the practice. In particular, they reported that they liked the gentle approach and the support of the group. If larger, future studies show similar results, the researchers say, yoga could gain credence as a viable way of helping people stave off the disease.
16.Controls Blood Pressure
One-fifth of those who have high blood pressure don't know it. And many who do struggle with the side effects of long-term medication. Yoga and meditation, by slowing the heart rate and inducing the relaxation response helps to bring blood pressure down to safer levels. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently conducted one of the first randomized, controlled trials of yoga for blood pressure. They found that 12 weeks of Iyengar Yoga reduced blood pressure, as well as, or better than the control condition of nutrition and weight-loss education. (If you have high blood pressure, consult with your doctor and make sure it's under control before you practice inversions.)
17.Keep Your Heart Healthy
Despite advances in both prevention and treatment, heart disease remains the no. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. Its development is influenced by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle—all of which can potentially be reduced by yoga. Dozens of studies have helped convince cardiac experts that yoga and meditation may help reduce many of the major risk factors for heart disease; in fact, a review of no fewer than 70 studies concluded that yoga shows promise as a safe, effective way to boost heart health. In a study this year by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center, subjects who participated in twice-weekly sessions of Iyengar Yoga (including pranayama as well as asana) significantly cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation, a serious heart-rhythm disorder that increases the risk of strokes and can lead to heart failure.
When you regularly get your heart rate into the aerobic range, you lower your risk of heart attack and can relieve depression. While not all yoga is aerobic, if you do it vigorously or take flow or Ashtanga classes, it can boost your heart rate into the aerobic range. But even yoga exercises that don't get your heart rate up that high can improve cardiovascular conditioning. Studies have found that yoga practice lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance, and can improve your maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise—all reflections of improved aerobic conditioning. One study found that subjects who were taught only pranayama could do more exercise with less oxygen.
As you read all the ways yoga improves your health, you probably noticed a lot of overlap. That's because they're intensely interwoven. Change your posture and you change the way you breathe. Change your breathing and you change your nervous system. This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—from your hipbone to your anklebone, from you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding the benefits of yoga. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive and even multiplicative effects. This synergy may be the most important way of all that yoga heals.
Yoga is life, the earlier you embrace it, the better. It can’t be any better as there are now many yoga accessoriesthat have been designed to make the practice of yoga convenient and fun for you. There are nice collections ranging from; comfortable yoga wears (quality yoga pants, hoodies, T-shirts), leggings, etc.
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