The benefits of yoga


Since late childhood, I have dabbled in yoga as a fun activity that helped bring my spiralling mind into a sense of peace and stillness and improved my flexibility. Generally, there was no regularity to my practice; it was a nice-to-do rather than something that held huge value in my life This year, however, I am determined to make it an everyday part of my life due to the huge benefits it has to offer my body, mind and spirit.

For me, the true meaning of yoga is the aligning of mind, body and spirit through the breath and movement. Indeed, the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which can be translated into “yoking” or “union.”

Here I share with you a brief history of yoga and some of its amazing benefits in the hope it will transform your life too.

A brief history

Yoga first grew in popularity in the West in the early 19th century but its roots stretch back approximately 5,000 years. There is no written record identifying who invented it, but it is thought to have started life through Vedas (ancient Hindu scriptures), the practice then being passed down from yogi(ni) to yogi(ni).

A major written milestone was Indian sage Patanjali penning the Yoga Sutras, sometime between the second and fourth century BC. The treatise contains 196 sutras, divided between four sections (or padas), outlining the aims of the practice of yoga, discussing yogic powers and liberation and describing in detail the eight limbs of yoga. In essence, it shows that yoga is a whole way of living rather than simply a set of movements. Two millennia on the sutras still provide the framework to all modern yoga.

Traditional Indian yoga was focused on practices such as expanding spiritual energy through breathing techniques or developing mental focus. Indeed, for Patanjali:

“Yoga is the progressive settling of the mind into silence. 

When the mind is settled, we are established in our own essential state,

Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind”


It is looking within and connecting with your true self. I like to think of it as a journey home.

Some key transformational benefits of yoga


Increased flexibility
Remember that childhood fascination with being able to touch your toes?  If you were anything like me when starting out, maybe you are now lucky if your fingers get far beyond your knees! Stick to the practice and I assure you that, mindfully, you'll notice a gradual loosening, eventually getting fully into postures you never thought you were capable of. 

Improves posture and protects the spine
Spinal health is essential; our spine supports our bodies, protecting our nerves and enabling us to move. If it is unable to support our central nervous system, fundamental for every cell in our bodies, all sorts of issues can ensue. 

In our modern-day lives, we often find ourselves glued to a computer or mobile device and over time takes its toll on our spines and causes tightening of the muscles which can lead to chronic pain or resembling Mr Burns from the Simpsons. 

Yoga helps to support the correct curvature of the spine, maintain its healthy movement and to build its strength and agility. It also helps with balance, another fundamental component of correct spinal alignment, as well as strengthening core muscles that help to hold you upright.

Stops cartilage degeneration
Practising yoga ensures that your joints move through their full range of motion,  keeping the cartilage more supple. Every time a joint is exercised, the cartilage is squeezed, releasing fluid from the joint. The body then sends new fluid and nutrients to replace it. This means that whenever you perform yoga, your cartilage is getting a fresh supply of nutrients to stay healthy. 

Improves bone density 
You may have heard that weight-bearing exercises strengthen our bones and improve bone density. Yoga is effectively weight-bearing through using your body weight as resistance. It is also thought to lower cortisol levels, a hormone thought to, at a high level, leech calcium out of the bones. 

Improves circulation
You may not associate yoga with cardio. However, even by following a gentle set of movements you are increasing your heart rate, promoting blood circulation to transport nutrients and oxygen throughout your body leading to healthier organs, skin, and brain.

Lowers blood pressure
As well as having circulatory benefits, yoga can lower blood pressure, decreasing your risk of developing cardiovascular problems that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Drains the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system has no pump to move lymph fluid around the body. Lymph fluid moves when muscles contract and push against the vessels that carry it. If your lifestyle is quite sedentary, the lymphatic system can become sluggish meaning that toxins are not moved quickly out of the body. If you practice yoga, however, movement helps to pump lymphatic fluid around your body, therefore improving immunity. 


Improves lung function
Through breathing exercises, yoga encourages you to take longer, deeper breaths. This is incredibly beneficial to your well-being as it improves the oxygen saturation levels in the bloodstream.

Improves digestion
Yoga helps to improve the speed at which food moves along the digestive tract, helping to prevent constipation and move waste through the intestines.

Reduces stress and promotes relaxation
Focusing on the breath, tensing and relaxing muscles and mindfully observing sensations help to calm the mind and bring a sense of relaxation and reduce stress. Studies have shown that yoga can even decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.  Through its stress-busting and relaxing properties, it can help alleviate anxiety and depression.

Aids focus
Concentration and focus are improved by calming the mind and letting go of distracting thoughts. You will find that this carries forward off the mat. 


Improves sleep
Our lifestyles can result in our brains being overstimulated, meaning that it becomes hard to switch off at night. Yoga helps to relax the mind, giving the brain a break from stimulation and therefore encouraging restful sleep.


The above were just some of the benefits you can experience. Are you ready to experience the benefits for yourself? Why not join a local class, or find yoga classes online? My favourite internet source of yoga classes is the Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel which is friendly for yogi(ni)s of all abilities!  I'd love for you to leave a comment to let me know how yoga has benefited you.

Comments

  1. Love this breakdown of health benefits -- I knew yoga was great for our bodies but some of these surprised me! Also, I'm a big fan of Yoga With Adriene! I did several of her yoga videos while training for marathons over the past few years and it made such a difference in my flexibility and core strength.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. It's awesome to hear it's helped your marathon training too, as I am also a runner :) I really loved her 30-day challenge in January :)

      Delete

Post a comment

Find us on Social Media