A traditional western practice that has become a popular form of exercise in America, yoga is designed to enhance awareness, create a mind-body-spiritual balance, and cleanse, heal and strengthen the body. The most obvious benefits relate to stress reduction, flexibility and relaxation, but as more studies are conducted, there is evidence of other tangible health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits.
Yoga can be an effective adjunct therapy for a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia and migraines. Even if you are in perfect health, you can benefit from yoga. It helps improve strength, flexibility, coordination and range of motion. And since yoga promotes relaxation, improves circulation and reduces stress and anxiety, it enhances cardiovascular health and benefits the respiratory and nervous systems. Because it promotes relaxation, yoga also aids sleep and digestion. Additionally, yoga can make you more aware of your own body, more conscious of its strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Medical experts aren’t exactly sure why yoga offers so many health benefits, but more studies are underway. Some of its physiological effects can be attributed to stress reduction and relaxation. Since many health problems are triggered or aggravated by stress, stress-reduction can only help. And when you do yoga, especially meditation and breathing exercises, you often induce what is known as the relaxation-response, a stress-neutralizing physiological state that boasts a wide-range of physical and mental benefits.
Yoga requires no special equipment or clothes, though an inexpensive yoga mat may help provide cushion and grip. You can do the exercises at home or at the office. Yoga is gentle enough to be practiced by almost anyone. If you have limited mobility, you can even do several yoga poses from a chair or in a bed. The beauty of yoga is that you don’t have to be able to do all the positions; you can work within your own limitations, and tailor your practice to your specific needs.
If you decide to try yoga, finding a teacher won’t be hard. Classes are available through recreation centers, senior centers, YMCAs, YWCAs, hospitals, health centers, community centers and meditation centers. Most of these classes are relatively inexpensive – they may even be free with your membership at a gym, community center, etc. And check your health plan: some insurance companies cover the cost of class. Ask your regular health care professional for suggestions if you need help finding a type of yoga that meets your individual needs.
Regardless of your reason to practice yoga, you can know that you’re getting more than you bargained for when it comes to yoga’s health benefits.