When practiced regularly, yoga is an incredible tool to achieve optimum health. Not only does the practice as a whole increase strength, balance, flexibility, muscle tone, and mental acuity, the list of health and emotional benefits is too numerous to detail in a short article. Yoga has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and improve gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health and circulation. It strengthens the immune system; promotes strong lymphatic function, helps balance your metabolism, improves sleep quality and increases energy levels.
The individual postures themselves, or families of postures, hold within them unique benefits of their own. Twisting poses, for example, are beneficial to the digestive system, as the organs are compressed in the twist and then released, pushing out the toxins and allowing fresh blood to flow in. Collectively, the postures of yoga work the entire body, removing toxins and impurities, massaging the internal organs, and generally improving the ability of the body to prevent disease.
Yoga also helps us achieve better breathing though the practice of Pranayama (breathing techniques). As you become more aware of your breath, you may notice how shallowly you are actually breathing, unconsciously creating tension and gripping within the body. Pranayama teaches us to breathe more deeply, inviting more oxygen rich air into the body. Yoga also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the pace of your breathing, allowing for relaxation and reduced stress and anxiety.
As a result of a regular yoga practice, many people begin to change their eating habits, turning toward a cleaner diet. This could be attributed to a stronger mind-body connection and a subsequent increased awareness of how what you put into your body affects you. After a good yoga session your body feels relaxed, detoxified and energized. Consequently you begin to desire to keep the body feeling as such and adjust your lifestyle “off of the mat” accordingly.
To achieve optimum health we must include the mental, physical and emotional components of our beings, and yoga really does help us to do this. Yoga improves the mood in general, promotes self-acceptance, positivity, and peace of mind. Some postures of yoga help bring to the surface and release negative emotions that we may be repressing. Hip and heart opening poses, for example, are thought to release such emotions. Releasing this negativity helps reduce depression.
A dedicated yoga practice is a wonderful, holistic approach to achieving overall mental, physical and spiritual health. It is certainly not an overnight process, but with time and dedication, you will begin to see transformations taking place, and experience an entirely new level of wellness.
This article was originally published in LIVING HEALTH Magazine, June 2014 Edition