Anyone who works out regularly understands the benefits. Exercise helps us feel better not only physically, but it improves mood, brain function and our psychological well-being. Incorporating a variety of exercises into your routine will help you achieve a more well-rounded sense of health and wellness.
Yoga has become popular in the west in recent decades. It makes us stronger, stretches our muscles, soothes chronic pain, promotes mental wellness and encourages us to be more present, which can be hard to do if we lead busy, stress-filled lives.
One of the best parts about yoga is that it is available to everyone. It can be practiced anywhere, at any time, without a great need for equipment. People of all ages and abilities can enjoy its benefits and, these days, formal instruction is offered at most gyms.
Two of the most popular yoga styles in the United States are Vinyasa and Hatha. Vinyasa yoga is a fast-paced form of yoga that teaches individuals to flow through a series of poses synchronizing with their breath. Hatha yoga is a slower paced form of yoga that focuses on holding poses for longer periods of time allowing individuals to hone in on their breath.
Regardless of the style you choose, you’ll likely experience notable mental and physical benefits that will encourage you to continue a regular practice.
1. Enhanced Creativity
Meditation enhances your ability to think creatively. Allowing thoughts to naturally arise and seeing where they take you will help you arrive at fresh ideas and allow you to embrace your inner creative energy.
2. Stress Prevention and Relaxation
Yoga works similarly to other relaxation and exercise techniques to improve mood and reduce stress. Running a mile, going out dancing or hiking a trail will have similar benefits and can be used to refocus our minds and possibly even bring things into perspective.
According to Harvard Health Publications, an easy way to gain control over stress and improve your mood is to switch your focus to breathing. In all forms of yoga, being aware of the pattern of our breath helps us be present in the current moment, clear our minds and activate different parts of our brain.
3. Improving Mental Health
Regular yoga practice has also proven to improve mental health. Individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependency have reported increased ability to manage their conditions.
In one study conducted by the Trauma Center, participants with chronic PTSD were divided up into two groups. The first group of women underwent ten weeks of Trauma-Informed Yoga classes while the second group participated in Women’s Health Education classes. The first group showed significant decreases in PTSD and 52% no longer met the criteria for diagnosis. This may be due to the participants increased sense of awareness of their safety and ability to control their body.
This also may have been caused by an increase in GABA (gamma-aminobutryic acid) which is a neurotransmitter that helps us relax. People with low amounts of GABA are frequently diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Some studies have suggested that yoga may be more beneficial than cardio or other forms of exercise when it comes to increasing amounts of GABA and soothing symptoms of mental illness.
While practicing yoga can be a valuable tool in attaining mindfulness and reducing stress, it also has monumental health benefits, particularly when it comes to maintaining a healthy core. Yoga requires us to hold poses for several breaths with an intense focus on proper alignment and posture and helps us to build strength in the abdomen and back.
5. Back Pain Prevention
Four out of five Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives making it one of the most common physical health problems in the United States according to Harvard Health Publications. Some causes of back pain are unmanageable such as aging, genetics or injury. However, yoga can help to reduce your risk and relieve pain you may already be experiencing.
According to this study funded by the National Institutes of Health, yoga helped individuals not only improve their mood, but also to relieve lower back pain. Those who participated in 90-minute yoga classes twice a week for two months and 30-minute sessions every other day experienced a 45.7 decrease in depression-related symptoms, a 29 percent reduction in functional disability and a 42 percent reduction in overall pain.
Sciatica, one of the most common back-pain diagnoses, can be caused or worsened by poor posture. According to North American Spine, sciatica is defined as “any pain traveling in the sciatic nerve” which extends from the lower back to the feet.
Muscles in our core are essential in maintaining a healthy spine. Regularly strengthening and lengthening these muscles can help us greatly reduce or avoid back pain altogether.
Common yoga poses such as plank pose, downward facing dog and cat/cow pose can help strengthen and soothe lower back muscles which lead to a decreased risk in being diagnosed with sciatica or other similar conditions.
Flexibility is important as is helps us to avoid injury, improve balance and improve physical performance.
Each pose in yoga strengthens some muscles while lengthening others. In order to effectively lengthen muscle fibers and tissues a stretch should be held for about 30 seconds. A stretch that is held less than 20 seconds will not make an impact.
Yoga poses are held for a series of breaths. Focusing on breath will help you to complete challenging stretches for longer, helping you to hold it longer and make a bigger impact.
Yoga betters our awareness. A better understanding of our bodies along with their positioning is an instrumental tool in maintaining balance and avoiding falls for people of all ages. With regular practice, we can maintain an improved self-perception telling our body how to align without additional thought.
8. Enhanced Quality of Sleep
We all love the feeling of waking up after a good night’s rest. Not only do we feel energized, but we also have an enhanced ability to focus and are more likely to have a positive outlook on the day ahead.
Practicing yoga can improve overall sleep quality and even help with insomnia. Studies have shown an increase total sleep time and decrease in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep after practicing yoga before bed.
9. Heart health
Stress management, physical activity and high-quality sleep will decrease the amount of work your heart is doing. Taking time to relax and breath through a series of yoga poses will lower your resting heart rate over time which prevents cardiovascular diseases.
10. A Sense of Community
The yoga trend is growing more and more every day. Taking a class or becoming a part of the online yoga community can have positive effects on your spirit and confidence as well. You’ll never have to be alone in your practice which will flow over to other areas of your life where you may need support and encouragement.
While some benefits of yoga come naturally and with ease, others take time. To experience all that yoga has to offer, you must take the time to practice regularly and open your mind. Namaste!