Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on flexibility, strength, and breathing to enhance wellbeing and health.
This practice has its root in ancient India and has evolved over five millennia to become the modern practice many people know today.
Presently, yoga sessions have become a common practice in homes, schools, hospitals, and recreational places.
About 36 million Americans engage in this practice, while a third of the population have tried yoga at least once. Women practice yoga more than men, accounting for 72 percent of people who do yoga.
The global yoga industry is worth an estimated $80 billion, with Americans spending $16 billion annually on yoga classes, clothing, equipment, and accessories.
The main reason most people engage in yoga is to improve flexibility and fight stress.
However, the benefits of yoga go beyond the body. Studies show that the practice benefits the mind as well.
After all, the guiding philosophy behind yoga is harmonizing the mind, body, and spirit.
Health Benefits of Yoga
There are many claims about the health benefits of yoga, but not all of these are backed by scientific evidence.
Therefore, individuals should get a doctor’s consent before commencing any form of yoga therapy.
Some scientific research supports the following benefits of yoga:
Relaxation and stress relief is the most common reason people start yoga. The efficacy of yoga in dealing with stress is backed by scientific evidence.
Yoga significantly lowers cortisol levels leading to reduced stress and anxiety.
People who employ yoga as a stress relief mechanism also report an improvement in their quality of life.
Reduced Blood Pressure
Research shows that yoga may reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of cardiovascular problems when combined with a healthy lifestyle.
Yoga is also linked to decreased levels of bad cholesterol and may also slow down the progression of heart disease.
Chronic Pain Relief
Member reports from StuffThatWorks indicate that some people with chronic pain from conditions like osteoarthritis may get some symptom relief from yoga.
More research is required to validate these claims.
Improved Balance and Flexibility
There are specific yoga poses aimed at helping people improve their balance and flexibility.
This allows athletes, dancers, and other groups of people to improve mobility, prevent falls, and optimize physical performance.
Research has shown that yoga might reduce inflammatory markers, thus reducing the risk of diseases like cancer or diabetes.
More studies are needed to confirm the anti-inflammatory potential of yoga.
Improved Quality of Life
Yoga has been linked to better sleep quality, improved social function, and an enhanced quality of life.
A study of how women who had breast cancer responded to yoga showed that the women felt less pain and were more relaxed and energized.
Yoga and Mental Health
Newer research shows that yoga affects the brain in ways that may profoundly affect mental health. This Harvard University article states that yoga helps the brain cells develop new connections, causing changes to improve memory, learning, and overall cognitive function.
Yoga may also help treat common mental health problems, including:
Yoga’s action on blood cortisol levels may also help fight depression. It increases the production of serotonin, a chemical thought to play a role in depression.
Yoga practice involves breathing, concentration, and positivity, which calms the mind and improves mood.
The calming effect of yoga also plays a role in treating anxiety symptoms.
It reduces blood pressure, eases breathing, and increases pain tolerance, enhancing relaxation and making it easier to let go of fear.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A 2014 study showed that women with PTSD experienced reduced symptoms after undergoing yoga treatment for ten weeks.
At the end of the survey, 52 percent of the participants failed to meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
Improved Sense of Self
Yoga teaches mindfulness, a practice that involves non-judgmental awareness of self and environment.
The more a person does yoga, the more they understand themselves and cultivate self-trust.
Mindful yoga helps develop a healthy ego, leaving the individual more courageous and with better self-esteem.
Yoga’s emphasis on mindfulness can also help people develop good eating habits. Mindful eating helps a person stay in the moment while eating.
With time, the cumulative effect of this practice is that the person develops healthy eating habits that can help control obesity, blood sugar, and eating disorders.
Participants in this study reported a decrease in binge eating after practicing mindful eating.
Yoga demands focus, so regular practice can help improve one’s concentration.
Yoga teaches the individual to clear their mind, calm their nerves, and focus on one thing at a time.
Yoga classes provide a community for people from different strata of society.
They create a sense of belonging in participants; and offer an excellent opportunity for interaction and bonding, which can help improve their mental health.
How Can a Beginner Perform Yoga?
The best way to start a yoga practice for its health benefits is by joining a class or hiring a qualified instructor.
An instructor will show the individual correct poses and correct mistakes as they arise.
It’s also possible to start yoga by learning from a book or online course. There are several online lessons to help beginners learn the ropes of this ancient practice.
Does Yoga Come with Any Risks?
Like other forms of exercise, practicing yoga comes with a few risks. Yogis may suffer sprains and strains, especially at the lower legs and knees.
These risks are higher in older individuals due to reduced lower bone density and muscle mass.
Severe injuries are rare, and individuals should speak with their doctor if they experience any form of discomfort.
Yoga is an ancient practice that continues to gain tremendous interest globally because of its associated physical health benefits.
Existing studies show that patients can have better mental health outcomes by incorporating yoga into their treatment plan.
The research is still emerging, so individuals must get a doctor’s opinion before trying yoga or other alternative therapies.
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