The following is an excellent guest post continuing our yoga series and the associated health benefits.

The practice of yoga dates back more than five thousand years, and modern science has revealed there are some very good reasons why. The list of benefits to be gained by practicing yoga is extraordinary, and it seems to grow longer every day. From the obvious benefits to the utterly surprising, there’s no doubt yoga is one of the best exercises for maintaining health and peace of mind.

The Expected Benefits

  • Increased flexibility:
  • Perhaps the most obvious and immediate benefit, the smooth, steady stretching of muscles helps to release the lactic acid buildup that causes tightness and pain in many people. Yoga also increases the lubrication and range of motion in joints, leading to dramatically increased flexibility.

  • Decreased pain:
  • Another obvious benefit of yoga is a decrease in pain. By lubricating joints, stretching muscles, and exercising soft tissue such as tendons and ligaments, yoga can be used to fight chronic pain. If done regularly, it also leads to a higher pain tolerance.

  • Posture:
  • Because of the required focus on body positioning and awareness, practitioners often develop greatly improved posture. This puts less stress on the body, helps combat pain and stiffness, and leads to a more positive image.

  • Reduced stress:
  • Yoga is an exceptional reliever of stress, thanks in large part to its meditation-like focus on precise, serene movements and bodily awareness. This calm focus can be effective in relieving stress not only during exercise, but during any stressful time.

  • Improved mood:
  • Owing in part to the relaxing nature of the exercises, yoga can be effective in improving mood for many yogis. It is believed that an increased oxygen level in the brain also contributes to the mood-boosting effects of a yoga session. In fact, some doctors now recommend yoga therapy in the treatment of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Balance:
  • Yoga requires a great deal of focus on balance and bodily awareness, so it’s no surprise that yogis often find their balance substantially improved in their daily lives. Many poses also help to develop core strength, further enhancing stability and balance. Many high-caliber athletes are known to use yoga for this reason.

The Unexpected Benefits

  • Heart health:
  • It may come as a surprise that such a low-intensity exercise can benefit the heart, but yoga offers multitudinous coronary benefits. Yogis often experience a profound drop in pulse rate, indicating a healthier heart capable of moving more blood with each pump. Increased oxygenation, improved circulation, and lower blood pressure also help keep the heart in optimal shape. Finally, yogis also enjoy decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

  • Stronger immune system:
  • Doctors and scientists have noticed a distinct correlation between yoga practice and enhanced ability to fight disease and infection. One reason for this is the stimulation that yoga movements trigger in the lymphatic system. While the picture isn’t entirely clear, several poses in particular have been noted for their ability to improve lymphatic activity and overall immune response.

  • Proper breathing:
  • Arguably the most overlooked benefit of yoga is the simple act of proper breathing. The focus on deep, restorative diaphragmatic breathing in yoga allows practitioners to carry proper breathing mechanics into the rest of their lives, which leads to an increase in energy, improved mood, and reduced stress.

  • Quicker processing:
  • Recent studies have shown that yoga practice can stimulate faster, more efficient information processing, allowing yogis to react more quickly to external stimuli. This effect also promotes more accurate decision-making, as more information can be processed in a shorter time.

  • Medical uses:
  • Yoga can aid in the treatment of an array of medical issues. Cancer patients often experience less nausea and increased energy during chemotherapy, as well as improved overall well-being. Multiple sclerosis, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, and scoliosis can all be managed through the practice of yoga. Muscular dystrophy sufferers may also turn to yoga in order to regain some physical function during early stages of the disease.

Although yoga has seen a significant rise in popularity in the west in recent years, many still aren’t aware of its countless benefits. From disease treatment, to reduced stress and depression, to enhanced overall well-being, the benefits of yoga are only now being fully explored.

 

Nathan Joynt works with Gaiam, the leading lifestyle media company focused on yoga videos and health videos for everyone.

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