The Benefits of Yoga
Yoga benefits can be seen as falling in to 3 key areas:
1. Mental and emotional
relieve stress, tension and anxiety
improve sleep patterns
boost concentration and memory
increase focus and mental discipline
2. Exercise (and rehabilitation)
increase strength & improve muscle tone
increase and maintain flexibility
improves circulation and the immune system
injury prevention and recovery
originally intended as a preparation for meditation, yoga deepens our awareness of ourselves and our connection to the subtle world around us.
Credited with everything from improving flexibility to elevating consciousness, the benefits of yoga are as diverse as its many forms.
Dozens of scientific studies have examined these claims, and whilst there is always room for further information, there is evidence to suggest regular yoga practice can help those with stress, depression, aches and pains, heart disease and high blood pressure. By improving balance and strengthening the lower body, yoga can help prevent falls. Yoga is a great way for those with limited movement, or conditions such as arthritis to take gentle exercise.
There are no age limits to yoga, it can be practised from very early in life (babies are seen to benefit from gentle yoga stretches) right through to your advanced years. And you don’t need to be fit or flexible to join in, there are classes to suit all abilities, even classes which are chair based. To join a general mixed ability class you may need to be able to move up and down to the floor. For those with very specific requirement, one-to-one or private group classes can be a fantastic way for ensuring your practice meets your personal or group needs.
Yoga asana works physically by flexing and contracting your muscles, targeting a range of specific muscle groups but with a whole body focus. Most sitting or standing asana require us to engage our core muscles to maintain a position or protect our bodies. By regularly using muscles we build their strength, elasticity and flexibility, helping us to feel more awake and enjoy free and easy movement, guiding us to better posture and an improved relationship with our bodies.
As well as working our muscles, yoga, like other physical exercise, can strengthen our bones. A 2009 study* found that practicing yoga could increase bone density in older adults.
Typically yoga asana practice also asks us to allow our movement to be guided by our breath, which we learn to relax and control through particular breathing techniques. Some faster paced yoga classes such as Ashtanga can also help to improve stamina and aerobic ability.
By learning to slow and control our breath, we also slow our heart rate, helping to control or improve conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or aid recovery from a stroke.
In addition to its physical benefits, yoga, often combined with meditation, offers mental, emotional and spiritual gains. Regular practice can relieve anxiety and stress, help to combat depression, boost memory and focus and even improve sexual function.