In the United States, many people practice yoga for health – whether it be physical health, mental health, spiritual health, or some combination of all three. When you to look around an American yoga studio, you are likely to see people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. The yoga studio can be a diverse place, with people of all skill levels seeking some form of health from their practice. What all of these people have in common is that they’ve discovered the unique ability of yoga to foster health and promote longevity.
A Quick History of Yoga
In India, the practice of yoga dates back thousands of years. The practice was based on a comprehensive philosophy of man striving for harmony with himself and the world and as such was and still is a practice that incorporates breathing, meditation, and exercise. Despite its long history, yoga only came to the United States in the 19th century.
In the U.S. and other Western countries, yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas (also known as postures) of Hatha Yoga and is generally considered a form of exercise despite its deeper origins. While some lament the western commercialization of yoga, many more applaud its growing popularity and accessibility.
7 Reasons to Practice Yoga for Health
No matter your skill level or the type of yoga you practice, yoga can do wonders for your health and wellbeing both today and tomorrow. A regular yoga practice can also slow the negative physical effects associated with our generally sedentary lifestyles and aging. Better yet, yoga is adaptable for all skill levels and ages, meaning your body, mind, and soul can benefit from yoga well into old age. Here are seven great reasons to start and keep up with your yoga practice for health and longevity.
A typical American yoga practice usually consists of a series of poses that are held for varying lengths of time. Many of these poses are simple but challenging and require strength and flexibility that you might not yet have. While yoga can take you to your physical limit, it can also expand it.
After just a couple of sessions, many notice that the poses become easier and more fluid as they build their strength and flexibility, which allow them to “go deeper” into the posture or bring their attention to another aspect of the pose. In order to avoid the common complaint of aches and pains in old age, you can turn to yoga as your pain relief and needed stretching. Maintaining your flexibility and range of motion into your older years can also keep your body healthy and increase your quality of life.
Strength and Muscle Tone
While yoga increases your flexibility, it also simultaneously increases your muscle strength. Yoga makes us stronger through sustained holding of poses, controlled transitions, and, of course, the poses themselves. Most importantly, yoga engages muscles that you may not use or strengthen on a daily basis, adding to overall tone and strength and even giving a vital boost in bone density.
With so many older Americans suffering fractures and other serious health issues after an avoidable fall, it should be no question that we should all work to maintain not only our strength and flexibility into old age, but our balance as well. Yoga incorporates all types of asana, including several basic balancing poses, which can provide the safe balancing practice we all need. With better balance comes increased communication between the two hemispheres of the brain and a much more confident and sure-footed way to enter our older years.
With approximately one-third of American adults considered overweight or obese, we must find a way to combat the deadly epidemic. Most experts agree that the way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight must include both dietary and lifestyle changes including increased physical activity and exercise. While yoga is open to people of all shapes and sizes, the practice can aid in weight loss and the management of a healthy weight in several ways:
- Yoga helps people be more aware of their bodies and the need to take care of themselves, including exercising and eating in a healthy way.
- Yoga can help people gain a sense of control over their bodies and their food choices, as well as reducing the anxiety that often leads to overeating.
- It is said that many of the asanas (poses) stimulate glands, such as the thyroid gland, which can help increase metabolism and promote balance in the body.
Yoga is said to aid in detoxification of the body as many of the poses stimulate blood flow to the different organs, effectively aiding the body in the natural process of flushing out toxins. Yoga also strongly emphasizes breathing techniques which not only provides a guide during the physical practice, but also increased oxygenation of the body. Some of the poses, particularly the twisting asanas, also stimulate the digestive tract, which can improve digestion.
Stress Reduction and Relaxation
Yoga teaches us to be in the moment and to focus on ourselves and our breathing. The practice is said to give people a sense of control over situations and the strength and peace of mind to let go of those things that cannot be controlled. Many call their yoga sessions like therapy. The stress reduction and relaxation associated with yoga practice are known to be good for a host of things from lowering blood pressure to improving quality of sleep, which can not only increase your life, but can make each of those gained years happier.
Yoga is said to make people aware of their bodies, minds, and emotions. More importantly, however, a regular yoga practice also provides those very same people with tools to help address problems that arise in that self-awareness. For instance, people experiencing pain can find poses that target and relieve the pain as well as overcome feelings of helplessness.
Common Sense Cautions
While yoga has the potential to provide health benefits for almost all people, you should always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. Those with the following conditions should consult their physician before beginning a yoga practice:
- High blood pressure that’s difficult to control
- A risk of blood clots
- Eye conditions, including glaucoma