The literal definition of the word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning to yoke, join or unite. This implies joining or integrating all aspects of the individual – body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life, and spiritually, uniting the individual with the supreme. That seems to still be a fairly brief description when trying to find out why you should try yoga.
If you poll the general population as to what they think yoga is, you will get a variety of answers. Some will say it’s just stretching, or its people sitting really still and meditating for an hour, or it’s just for women. Others might say it’s a total body experience and workout. Let’s explore that last statement.
Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years and close to 11 million Americans enjoys the benefits of practicing yoga, which offers the greatest health benefits by enabling you to develop your flexibility, strength, and balance.
When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a gymnast or be able to twist into a pretzel formation. That makes them worry that they’re too old, unfit, or “tight” to do yoga. The truth is you’re never too old to improve flexibility, and it’s never too late to start. Yoga stretches the body in all different directions, releasing the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion and fluidity in joints. Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time. In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga. The greatest gains were in shoulder and trunk flexibility.
Yoga is also a great way to build strength in the body. Many of the poses, such as Downward Dog, Upward Dog, and Plank pose, build upper-body strength. As we age, our bodies start to lose bone density, leading to Osteoporosis and Arthritis. Building strength becomes crucial as people age to counteract the effects of bone loss. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. Poses that strengthen the lower back include Upward Dog and Chair pose. When practiced correctly, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
Perhaps one of the most studied areas around the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. On a biochemical level, studies point to a possible anti-oxidant effect of yoga. And yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.
Yoga also benefits other chronic medical conditions, relieving symptoms of asthma, back pain, and arthritis. There have even been studies on yoga and its health benefits for insomnia and multiple sclerosis.
One of the biggest benefits that yoga has, that is sometimes noticed after the first class, is feeling less stressed and more relaxed. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant “mind chatter” that often underlies stress. Other yoga styles depend on deep breathing techniques to focus your mind on the breath. When this happens, your mind becomes calm.
At Shane Diet Resorts weight loss program for adults, our schedule offers several different types of yoga classes, taught by highly qualified instructors. The classes can range from a gentle stretch to more of the classic yoga format, enabling everyone to find a class that suits their needs. The only way to be certain of all that yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see.