Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise practice that enhances health and improves longevity. Depictions of yoga positions are found in both ancient Hindu and Buddhist writing. The word “yoga” has its roots in a Sanskrit word that means “to unite.” For thousands of years, people have practiced yoga not only to improve health, but also to find inner serenity of the spirit. The health effects of yoga make it a unique option as an exercise regime.
Physical Benefits of Yoga Practice
Yoga uses formalized “asanas,” physical positions that are known to work specific groups of muscles to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Yet yoga practice does not depend on vigorous cardiovascular activity. The movements are smooth and controlled, with accompanying breathing patterns that help to reduce stress, oxygenate tissues and stimulate circulation. Research finds that a number of physical processes are enhanced by the activity:
- Better muscle strength and control – Yoga positions utilize muscles in slow and controlled movement, which helps to strengthen them gradually, without risk of serious injury. The “muscle memory” becomes trained in a gradual, consistent way that helps to improve coordinated movement.
- Increased flexibility – Yoga practice uses a gradual stretch of muscles that serves to improve flexibility of various muscle groups.
- Better balance and lower risk for injury – Balance is an intrinsic feature of yoga asanas, with gradual improvement in control that helps to reduce the risk for injury during work or play.
- Improved respiration and lung function – The accompanying breathing patterns improve the function of the lungs and creates more mindful respiration in everyday life.
- Enhanced metabolism and greater weight loss – Yoga involves complete body involvement that helps to boost metabolism and improve weight loss, while at the same time improving mental focus and body awareness, making it one of the best exercise regimes for individuals trying to drop excess weight.
- Improved cardiovascular health – Although the movements are slow and deliberate, they do require concentrated effort, which helps to improve both cardiovascular and respiratory functions over time.
- Better athletic performance – The improved muscle strength, flexibility, balance and control helps to improve performance in many different types of athletic activities.
Mental Benefits of Yoga Practice
Because of the formalized nature of the movements, combined with controlled breathing exercises, practitioners can also experience a number of mental health benefits of yoga:
- Reduced stress levels –One of the most recognized health effects of yoga is its ability to reduce stress by stretching out muscles and relieving accumulated tension. It also focuses the mind away from daily problems and work-related stress.
- Sharper concentration – Focused breathing and concentration on positions helps train the mind to direct its attention in a more concentrated way.
- Better focus – Yoga practice requires a constant focus of attention on movements and breathing, which carries over into focus on other activities.
- Improved sleep patterns – Yoga movements relieve stress and work numerous muscles groups, allowing better relaxation and sleep.
Choosing the Right Level of Practice
There are over 100 different types of yoga, and practitioners can choose from a variety of levels to suit their physical ability and medical needs. Beginner classes are available to allow individuals who have never done yoga before to benefit from this ancient health-promoting practice. Intermediate and higher level classes are also available, so you can continue your yoga practice as you gain in strength and flexibility.
With such so many positive health effects of yoga, it becomes understandable why it has enjoyed increasing popularity. People of all ages and ability levels can reap the rewards of this calm and rejuvenating activity. Many medical professionals have embraced yoga as a recommended exercise even for patients who have conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Ask your doctor if yoga would be right for you, so you can benefit from this ancient, but highly relevant physical regime for maintaining health in the modern age.
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