05 Jan The Benefits of Yoga
I don’t know where to start as there are so many benefits to this ancient practice. I know for some – yoga might be a bit daunting as you might think you have to be “bendy” or “spiritual” but that is a myth. There are so many aspect to yoga which can benefit literally anybody. I started practicing over 25yrs ago when I was in my early 20’s. A time when I was zooming around like an idiot and really having no down time. I found Yoga gave me an hour in my day to slow down. I had no idea of the pose names or really what I was doing but I did feel like I was benefiting from some slowness and calmness in my head. In time I became stronger and definitely more flexible. Regardless of ability (whatever that means) yoga can help in so many ways. Here is just a taster of what you might gain from strength to flexibility to heart health, we have 8 benefits to rolling out your mat and get started.
- increased flexibility.
- increased muscle strength and tone.
- perfects your posture
- protects your spine
- makes you happier
- improves your balance
- helps you sleep better
- improves your energy levels
1. Improves your flexibility
Probably the most obvious physical improvement is flexibility. This comes with time though and one needs to remember that everyone’s body has a completely different makeup. Your’ll find that one person however much they try and practice will never be able to do the splits, because anatomically they might have a deep ball and socket joint at the hip which inhibits the hips to open fully. While another has fused vertebrae which decreases there ability to perform spinal twists. Either way you know your body and what its limits are. You might find during your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture.
2. Builds muscle strength
Building strong muscles are integral to proper alignment which when you practice yoga and hold poses for a considerable length of time, you are activating your slow-twitch muscle fibers, this action helps build endurance. Muscles are also there to protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. Yoga has you moving and exerting through natural movements patterns. Building strength in functional ways, rather than isolated movements that exist only in the gym..
3. Perfects your posture
Poor posture can cause back, neck, hip and other muscle and joint problems. Practicing yoga helps you understand proper alignment and the importance of a healthy spine. Our posture is an important dimension of health, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Posture influences the alignment of the spine and thereby the overall health of your body. The spine is the central channel of the nervous system, and when your spine is healthy, the pathways of the nervous system are strong and clear, and vital energy flows unimpeded, creating maximum vitality and well-being. It’s beneficial to take steps to improve posture. Over time, bad posture can develop into “hunched back” or hyperkyphosis, Kyphosis from poor posture is called postural kyphosis. Other potential causes of kyphosis include: aging, especially if you have poor posture. muscle weakness in the upper back. People with Kyphosis are more prone to fractures and more likely to lose balance and function as they age. A chronic, hunched posture restricts breathing, creating shortness of breath. One might think that this problem only exists in the elderly, but it’s the people who sit behind a desk hunched over a computer all day that suffer too!!
4. Protects your spine
Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends and twists you’ll help keep your disks supple.
5. Makes you happier
Feeling sad? Yoga is an amazing way to lift your spirits and turn around a totally “blah” day. At times we all wake up feeling a little blue, lets face it we can’t always be happy but being on your mat for even 15mins can change your mindset. A few minutes of flowing and intentional breathing on your mat activates your parasympathetic nervous system (which is the part of your “involuntary” nervous system that helps you chill out) and causes a rejuvenated feeling of peace and calmness. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, and you really don’t feel like making it to the gym to get those feel-good endorphins pumping, sink into some easy yoga poses instead for a soothing, warm, instant dose of happiness.
6. Improves your balance
Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. People with bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor proprioception, which can be linked to knee problems and back pain. Better balance could mean fewer falls. For the elderly or especially people who suffer from osteoporosis this is so beneficial so the chances of falling are greatly decreased.
7. Helps you sleep better
Yoga can be a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. A national survey from national survey found that over 55% of people who practiced yoga found that it helped them get a better nights sleep. Yoga can provide relief from the continuous busy lives we lead. Restorative yoga or Yoga Nidra (a guided form of relaxation) similar to Savasana can provide downtime for the nervous system.
8. Increase your Energy
Having recently gone through the menopause, yoga has really helped with my energy levels. Just taking 5 minutes during your day using the Yogic breathing technique (pranayama) can give you energy for the whole day.
A Beginner’s practice into Three-Part Yogic Breathing
- Sit on a blanket in Sukhasana or Easy Cross-Legged Pose. Root your sit-bones and feel your spine grow long as you lightly extend from the crown of the head. Soften your heart and your shoulders.
- Place your hand over your navel and take a slow, deep breath into your belly. Feel the belly inflate like a balloon as you inhale, and deflate as you exhale. Practice this for five breaths.
- Move your hand two to three inches above your navel to your rib cage. Feel the ribs expand as you inhale, and retract as you exhale. Practice this for five breaths.
- Place your hand below your collarbone, at the center of your chest, and inhale. Feel the chest spread as you breathe in, and withdraw on an exhale. Practice this for five breaths.
Linking and Expanding Your Three-Part Yogic Breath
- You may continue to use your hand as a guide or try the breathing exercise without. Breathe into the belly, feeling it grow. Keep inhaling as the breath expands to the ribs, and then the chest. Pause for a moment, completely filled with air.
- Exhale from the chest, then the ribs, and then the belly. Pause.
- Continue the same sequence, inhaling to the belly, the ribs, the chest, and so forth. Try for five to ten rounds. Work towards more repetitions if you feel comfortable.
- Once familiar with the exercise, add the breath to the back of the body. For example, as you inhale into the belly, also feel the breath expand to the kidneys. Continue inhaling to the back of the rib cage and the space between the shoulder blades. Exhale shoulder blades, back of ribs, then kidneys.
Daily yoga practice will awaken the main energy centres (called chakras) in your body.
Here are some great poses for extra energy :
1. COBRA POSE – Bhujangasana
Cobra stretches through your upper back, neck, shoulders, and chest and it is great for reducing fatigue and bumping up energy levels.
2. CAMEL POSE – Ustrasana
Camel is great for reducing both fatigue and anxiety. It’s also useful for mild back aches and easing menstrual pain.
3. DOWNWARD DOG – Adho Mukha Svanasana
Known for offering a cleansing and rejuvenating stretch, downward dog offers tons of benefits. It provides relief for stress and mild depression as it energizes and strengthens the body. Down dog can also be therapeutic for high blood pressure.
4. UPWARD FACING DOG – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Upward dog is a great chest opener. Anyone looking to improve their posture, strengthen their back, arms and shoulders should incorporate this pose into their practice.
5. BOW POSE – Dhanurasana
Not only does bow pose energise and de-stress the body, it provides relief from mild backache.
What more excuses do you need to hit the mat? Good luck and get in touch, I’d love to hear about your journey!