Podcast # 85 – The Powerful Benefits Of Practicing Yoga
As we lead up to our Forever Fit Online Yoga Retreat, I thought I would bring to you a podcast highlighting the amazing benefits of regularly practicing yoga. Yoga has been used for thousands of years around the world to treat illness, anxiety, pain, to increase flexibility, fitness and of course to promote general health and wellbeing. But over the last couple of years, we have seen a huge rise in its popularity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say there is a full blown yoga craze happening at the moment!
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore and Charlize Theron have certainly made yoga extremely trendy as well as fitness apparel bands focusing on designing some awesome yoga gear. I wouldn’t be surprised if yoga is one of the most popular hash tags tending on social media, in particular Instagram!
Yoga craze aside, I really want to chat to you in specifically about the health benefits of yoga. I am so excited to bring you our Online Yoga Retreat and help you fall in love with this practice as much as I have. If you are interested in improving your health in anyway, I would encourage you start incorporating yoga into your lives. As you begin to see and experience the benefits of yoga first hand, I am sure it will become a part of your everyday lifestyle.
So what are the health benefits? For this podcast, I am going to focus on the physical benefits more so than the emotional benefits. By no means does that reduce the importance of the emotional benefits of yoga – there are just too many to cover in one session!
A recent review by the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing analysed 81 studies to compare the effects of yoga and exercise in general on a variety of health outcomes and conditions. After extensive research, it was concluded that yoga may be as effective, if not better then exercise in improving health-related outcomes.
That’s really good news for the huge number of us who have fallen in love with yoga as not only are we working to improve our health, but the mainstream medical institutions are now starting to recognise the benefits too.
Let’s start with the more obvious benefits before moving onto the more surprising health benefits of yoga practice.
Improves your flexibility & muscle strength
One of the most obvious benefits of practicing yoga on a regular basis is the improved flexibility. When you start out, yoga will probably make you feel you are the least flexible person in the class! You may not be able to touch your toes, you may notice that your hips are tight and that your hamstrings feel like they are about to snap!
But if you stick with it and commit to practicing regularly, you will soon notice a gradual loosening of the muscles and ligaments. You will notice some of the aches and pains start to disappear and eventually you might just be able to fold over flat on the floor, a pose that may have seemed impossible to begin with. You will also start to build strength in your muscles which helps protect us against conditions such as arthritis and back pain.
Talking about our back, yoga has the ability to perfect your posture which is so important. Poor posture is a growing problem particularly as we spend more time sitting at a desk hunched over in front of a computer for long periods of time. As a fitness instructor, I see a lot of clients complaining of crippling back, neck and joint problems. Often this is linked to poor posture as we continually strain our muscles being out of balance and slumped over. Yoga improves all this my strengthen the muscles and making you mindful of your body position.
Increases your blood flow and heart rate
While many of you who haven’t practiced yoga might think it is all about meditation and slow stretching. But yoga really does get your blood flowing. The poses practiced in a yoga session, help improve your circulation particularly in your hands and feet. Through the twisting poses more oxygen flows into your cells and internal organs and inverted poses like a handstand encourages blood to flow black to the heart.
If you experience blood clots or heart problems, yoga can help increase the levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells. This assists in the thinning of the blood and reduces the amount of clot-promoting proteins which are the main cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Now, yoga is not going to compete necessarily with high intensity training when it comes to increasing your heart rate, if you do it vigorously (when you have the confidence of course) or take an Ashtanga class you will find your heart rate does reach the aerobic range. There are plenty of studies that have found yoga practice can improve your aerobic conditioning as it lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance and improves your intake of oxygen during exercise.
Relaxes your system
Probably one of the most well known and loved benefit of yoga is that it is so restorative and relaxing. You know when you leave a massage feeling calm and in a relaxed state? Yoga can produce a similar effect, yet you have achieved so much more for your mind and body in the same amount of time.
As you slow down and concentrate on your breath while focusing on the present during your yoga practice, the balance is shifted between the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. Basically that means moving from the fight-or-flight response to lowering the heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and increasing the blood flow to the important areas of the body such as the intestines and reproductive organs.
So that ticks off some of the more well-known and obvious health effects of practicing yoga. So if you feel you haven’t learnt much so far, listen on because there are health benefits that are a little more surprising and may be really relevant to you!
Boosts your immunity
First up, is yoga’s incredible ability to boost your immune function. According to a recent Norwegian study, practicing yoga actually changes your gene expression which increases your immunity at a cellular level. This is so important to our overall health particularly as we find ourselves working more than ever, travelling more to less development countries and with a general increase in viruses circulating.
You might be thinking this enhancement of your immunity must take a bit of time, but actually through the study it was found that these changes occur while you are still on the mat! When compared to a control group who listened to soothing music while on a nature hike, the changes were significantly greater with the yoga participants.
Improves your sex drive
This is one which I sure will get the attention of the guys! There are several studies which have found that as little as 12 weeks of regular yoga practice can improve the sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence and orgasm in both men and women!
While we all know that yoga can improve your mood and make you feel great, on a physical level practicing yoga increases the blood flow into the genital area and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles (hello ladies)! This in turn improves arousal and sexual function.
Enhances sleep quality
Doing yoga every day for as little as eight weeks can improve your sleep quality particularly in people with insomnia and cancer survivors. Restorative yoga practice allows the nervous system to take a break and rest which can help you sleep better.
If you have ever had a migraine you would know that they can be seriously crippling. I know several clients who struggle with migraines and when they come on, it means everything has to stop. Work, activities with the kids, social engagements and daily chores all have to be put on hold until the pain subsides.
Yoga has been shown to reduce the intensity of painful migraines and lessen their occurrence after just three months of regular yoga practice. While it is not fully understood what causes migraines to develop in the first place, it is believed the combination of mental stressors and physical misalignment could play a major role in their onset. This all ties back into posture and muscle strengthening, where yoga can correct the muscle imbalances contributing to headaches and migraines.
Lowers your blood sugar levels
Observations of people with diabetes has found that practicing yoga can lower blood sugar levels. This can happen in several ways including lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging weight loss and improving sensitivity to the effects of insulin. This is so important to decrease the risk of diabetic complications such as heart attack, kidney failure and blindness.
Not only can yoga help to decrease your blood sugar levels, it also helps decrease the LDL cholesterol and boosts the HDL cholesterol. This is preciously what we want. Reduce the bad cholesterol which is linked with so many health problems and increase the good cholesterol to support our health.
Elevates symptoms of IBS and other digestive problems
The twisting poses of yoga are believed to help elevate the symptoms of digestive problems by assisting the body to transport food and waste products quickly through the bowels. This can help with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and ulcers. The positive effect yoga has on stress is also thought to contribute to the reduced symptoms of these digestive issues as many can be exacerbated by stress and anxiety.
So there you have it. Some of the pretty amazing physical health benefits that have been identified in those who practice yoga on a regular basis. What’s also so great about yoga is that it can suit those of any age, gender, weight, fitness level or health status. I my opinion is it something that everyone should consider to include in their lifestyle. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty passionate about yoga which is why I have designed an online yoga retreat to help introduce those newbies to the practice as well as keep motivating and inspiring those who have already begun. So check it out at foreverfityoga.com and experience first-hand the health benefits of this amazing practice and you might just find out why this craze is here to stay.
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