Boosting Your Health
Although yoga quickly became popular as a system of physical exercise in the Western world, it has a meditative and spiritual core as well. Yogic Sage, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras provide one of the foundations of classical yoga philosophy. In the text, he refers to The Eight Limbs of Yoga which describe three main aspects of yoga that can help protect and heal the body and mind, thus improving overall health and wellness: asana (the physical body in postures), pranayama (breath control) and savasana (meditation).
Many styles of yoga, including hatha and ashtanga, combine meditation and physical poses with controlled breathing throughout the yoga class. The Yoga Alliance, a nationwide nonprofit association representing yoga teachers, schools and studios enumerates the positive benefits of yoga postures, breathing and meditation.
Yoga for the Physical Body
Athletics: Yoga is a perfect companion for athletes of all sports at all levels. Yoga postures involve movements that bring stability to the physical body as well as the senses, mind, intellect and consciousness. Yoga helps athletes develop breathing techniques, endurance and mindfulness, and improve balance, flexibility and core strength.
Arthritis: Yoga is approved by the Arthritis Foundation to ease aches and pains because it encourages movement that lubricates the joints. It is a gentle, yet physically beneficial activity that can be safely performed by people with most forms of arthritis. Chairs can be used as props as needed.
Diabetes: Yoga can effectively support diabetes management by providing gentle massage to internal organs, thus activating glandular systems to help normalize blood glucose levels and lower blood pressure.
Better Breathing: Yoga includes exercises that improve lung function by slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s ability to relax. Perhaps the most profound lesson of yoga is changing our breathing patterns to help regulate the body’s response to stress.
Flexibility: Western society is overwhelmed by deskbound jobs where workers sit most of the day. This leads to reduced muscle mass, fitness and flexibility. In addition, office work increases neck and shoulder strain from hunching over a computer. Yoga poses focus on stretching and lengthening muscles. Increased flexibility helps with daily movements such as lifting and bending, plus more strenuous activities involved with sports. While it can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion, being super-flexible is not required to do yoga. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles begin to gently lengthen, thus increasing elasticity.
Digestion: Yoga can increase and enhance the metabolic action of digestion to help eliminate wastes and toxins.
Yoga for the Mind
Mental Focus: Yoga helps build the power to focus and direct the mind. By focusing on a dristi (focal point) and concentrating on the breath, we can learn how to strengthen our ability to focus, slow down and become more mindful.
Positive Self-Esteem: Yoga promotes positive body image and increases self-esteem. It is especially helpful for teens and young adults.
Stress Management: A regular yoga and meditation practice can help people reduce and cope with stress, according to a 2010 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Yogic science teaches that a regular practice of yoga postures and breathing strengthens the nervous system. Cortisol levels are often used to measure the stress response, and yoga has been demonstrated to reduce them. Yoga postures, breathing and meditation can be effectively used to help manage anxiety, panic disorders, agoraphobia and other anxiety-related conditions, and are now recommended by many physicians and mental health providers. People who regularly practice yoga frequently report that they sleep better and feel less stressed.
Sarah Bunger is the owner of Hanover VA Yoga, LLC, offering daily yoga and meditation classes, essential oils classes and workshops. For more information, visit VirginiaLovesYoga.com.