Chances are, if you have been along to yoga classes you have felt better when you came out than when you went in. You probably felt that your tension released and maybe even looked a little younger! Almost certainly you will have had a really good night’s sleep. But that’s not all – yoga works deeply on all the systems and layers of your being and to make the most of it you should really KEEP IT UP AT HOME. I offer a variety of hand outs for students to practice safely at home and if you need more incentive to roll out that mat…..check out these 10 reasons below…
1 Improve flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the most obvious benefits of yoga. Many people aren’t able to touch their toes, never mind do a backbend when they first attend a class (do you remember?). But as you stick with it, you notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can actually cause poor posture.
2 Build muscle strength
Strong muscles do much more than look good! They protect us from many conditions like arthritis and back pain, and can help to prevent falls in as we get older. The good news is that when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength and bulk at the expense of flexibility.
3 Perfects your posture
Imagine that your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy. When it’s balanced directly over an aligned spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it’s no wonder you’re neck gets tired and leads to tension in the shoulders and headaches. Tension might not be your only problem. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
4 Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.
5 Protects your spine
Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. Practice a well-balanced asana routine – think about including backbends, forward bends, and twists, to help keep your disks plump and supple.
6 Improves bone health
It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, like Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog, help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures.
7 Lowers blood pressure
If you’ve got high blood pressure, you might benefit from yoga. Two studies of people with hypertension, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, compared the effects of Shavasana (Corpse Pose)with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number—and the higher the initial blood pressure, the bigger the drop. So don’t forget to take 5 minutes at the end of your home practice to lie in Shavasana and practice the 3 part breath.
8 Regulates your adrenal glands
Yoga lowers cortisol levels. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this. Normally, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. If your cortisol levels stay high even after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis (it extracts calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with the laying down of new bone), high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortisol levels lead to what researchers call “food-seeking behaviour” (the kind that drives you to eat when you’re upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.
9 Gives your lungs room to breathe
Yogis tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient. A 1998 study published in The Lancet taught a yogic technique known as “complete breathing” (also known as the 3 part breath) to people with lung problems due to congestive heart failure. After one month, their average respiratory rate decreased from 13.4 breaths per minute to 7.6. Meanwhile, their exercise capacity increased significantly, as did the oxygen saturation of their blood. In addition, yoga has been shown to improve various measures of lung function, including the maximum volume of the breath and the efficiency of the exhalation.
Yoga also promotes breathing through the nose, which filters the air, warms it (cold, dry air is more likely to trigger an asthma attack in people who are sensitive), and humidifies it, removing pollen and dirt and other things you’d rather not take into your lungs.
10 Prevents IBS and other digestive problems
Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation—all of these can be exacerbated by stress. So if you stress less, you’ll suffer less. Yoga, like any physical exercise, can ease constipation—and theoretically lower the risk of colon cancer—because moving the body facilitates more rapid transport of food and waste products through the bowels. And, although it has not been studied scientifically, yogis suspect that twisting poses may be beneficial in getting waste to move through the system.