Are You Part of the 91% Who Is Failing to Do This Ultimate Exercise for Health?
Yoga combines inner focus and awareness, mindful breathing, and muscular activity and if you were to do just one thing for your health, yoga should be it. And that’s not just a matter of opinion, it is scientifically proven that the meditative state that yoga promotes helps to slow down the aging process by stopping the shortening of telomeres.[i] [ii] [iii] Yoga also helps to reduce the risk for chronic diseases through a variety of different mechanisms, and to promote mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.[iv] Read-on to discover the many benefits of yoga and for guidance on how to find the ideal yoga style for your personality and fitness requirements.
Although there are many different types of yoga, one thing that they all have in common, is they focus on the breath. Knowledgeable yoga teachers encourage mindful breathing, which helps to promote a meditative state with a focused, calm and quiet mind, and also helps bring you into the present moment. The practice of ‘yogic breathing’, which encourages deep breathing, and utilizes the diaphragm and belly, is particularly beneficial for health. Most of us are in the habit of shallow breathing, and incorporating yogic breathing into our daily lives can help increase oxygenation, energy, and immunity, slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure.[v] [vi]
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are major risk factors for chronic disease including heart disease, cancer and stroke.[vii] They also increase inflammation, sabotage your immunity, interfere with sleep, increase the propensity for addictive behaviors, and can lead to poorer dietary and lifestyle choices. The practice of yoga produces a physiological state that is opposite to the stress and anxiety producing fight-or-flight state, and doing yoga has been shown to lower cortisol levels (which is the stress producing hormone).[viii] Yoga helps to reduce stress and anxiety by promoting a meditative state and by slowing down and deepening the breath. And the best part is that those who practice yoga regularly tend to take these learnings off the mat, which results in reduced stress and anxiety levels in their daily lives.
Corrects Physical Imbalances and Weaknesses
Many athletes, gym rats and laborers have substantial muscular imbalances, with some muscle groups being really strong and others lagging behind. This is caused by the fact that the exercises and/or type of labor that they perform only utilize certain muscle groups, and the resulting imbalances dramatically increase the risk for chronic pain and injury. Yoga is unique because it tends to use all of the muscle groups equally and regular practice can help to create an ideal muscular balance. Yoga also helps enhance flexibility, posture, endurance, stability, and coordination, resulting in an optimally healthy physique. [ix]
Additional Benefits Associated with Yoga
Practicing yoga regularly helps to: relieve chronic pain, and to improve respiratory function, bone density, sports performance, flexibility, immunity, blood flow, mood, sleep, resilience, metabolic regulation and blood pressure.[x] Yoga also facilitates greater self-awareness, inner strength, easier recovery from addiction, and a balance of mind and body.[xi] Regular practice also helps to fight depression and increase levels of the happiness hormone- serotonin.[xii] In addition, most skilled yoga instructors incorporate yogic philosophy into their classes, which helps to nourish the soul and promote positivity, compassion, gratitude and self-control. Finally, the focus on the breath during yoga and the final relaxation (savasana), both help to prepare the body for mediation, which is the ultimate health-giving state.[xiii]
Despite its wide-availability and plethora of benefits, only 8.7 % of Americans actually practice yoga.[xiv] Many people claim to avoid it because they think it is too slow, not challenging enough, or simply ‘boring’. However, there are numerous types of yoga, and each teacher and studio has its own unique style. With a little experimentation, anyone can find a type of yoga and/or class or studio that they truly enjoy and benefit from.
A Cheat-Sheet to Help You Determine What Yoga Style is Best For You:
- Type-As and those with racing minds, may enjoy the more fast-paced and flowing vinyasa style classes (if you get bored easily, choose one that incorporates music)
- People who are constantly stressed out, exhausted or who yearn for relaxation, will enjoy a yin class
- Hatha style yoga is beneficial for those who want both movement and relaxation and for those who want to increase flexibility
- Those who want to sweat and detoxify should seek out heated yoga classes
- Stretch and release style classes that use things such as tennis balls and stretch bands are great for those with chronic pain and tension
- Those who want to build muscular strength and have an intense, challenging experience should look for a class that includes weights in the practice
- Those who want to enhance energy, immunity, and all aspects of wellbeing, and to more easily enter a meditative state should try Kundalini yoga (which has minimum movement and primarily focuses on the breath), or choose an instructor that incorporates pranayama (control of the breath) into their classes
[xii] McCall T. New York: Bantam Dell a division of Random House Inc; 2007. Yoga as Medicine.