Yoga has been around for at least five thousand years. In ancient times, it was practiced not only for keeping the body healthy, but to increase wellness on all levels, including physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional.
There are six branches of yoga, each with a different purpose. Raja yoga focuses on meditation and following the “eight limbs.” Karma yoga teaches practicers to serve others and to be free of negativity and selfishness. Bhakti yoga is all about positively channeling your emotions and learning to treat others in an accepting and tolerant way. Jnana yoga is called “the path of the scholar” and teaches people to study and develop their intellect or knowledge. Tantra yoga is more about the religious side. It teaches about the rituals and ceremonies.
The yoga we know today is Hatha yoga. Hatha is the physical branch of yoga that uses poses and a focus on breathing to increase circulation, strength, and flexibility.
There are many benefits to practicing yoga. Researchers and medical journals are starting to publish reports about all the studies going on that are proving just how good yoga is for you.
Stress relief is one of the biggest benefits of doing yoga. It is also where you will see the quickest improvement. Slowing the breath and focusing on the moment helps you to relax your mind and body. This leads to:
- Fewer feelings of stress
- Less tension in the body
- Improved focus
- Improved sleep
Increases strength and flexibility
Yoga poses are all about challenging yourself. Increasing your muscle strength and flexibility will improve your balance. This improves athletic ability and reduces the risk of falling in elderly practitioners.
As an added benefit, working your joints and your spine to their full range of motion keeps them healthy. When the cartilage is compressed it squeezes out the old nutrients; only then can the fresh nutrients come in. To get nutrients, the joints need to be used, and if they aren’t the cartilage will break down. Working and using your joints can prevent arthritis. It can prevent compressed nerves and herniated disks in the spine as well.
Flexible, healthy joints are also key components in preventing sports-related injuries. In addition, using your body weight as resistance increases the strength of the bones themselves.
Lowers blood pressure and blood sugar
Yoga practice has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which make it ideal for preventing and recovering from heart attacks.
Studies show that doing yoga regularly decreases blood sugar levels by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Yoga is a proven way to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol has been shown to have effects all over the body. When you lower your stress, you lower your levels of the hormone as well.
Low cortisol levels mean:
- Better sleep
- Less calcium leaving your bones
- Lower blood sugar
- Improved memory and focus
- Decreased risk of depression
- Decreased risk of high blood pressure
Getting your blood moving means more oxygen for all your organs and limbs. Twisting and inverting helps to move blood in places that might otherwise be sluggish. Better circulation affects your lymph system as well.
When your lymph fluid is moving through your body well, it increases your body’s ability to fight disease and remove waste.
Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to injury or infection. It is a signal that something needs to heal.
However, chronic on-going inflammation is no good and is linked to diseases like:
- Heart attack
- Autoimmune disorders
Teaching yourself to focus on the moment and incorporating deep breathing can help reduce anxiety.
Many studies have shown that after practicing yoga for several weeks or months, symptoms of anxiety are reduced or eliminated.
Fosters self-awareness and self-care
Those who practice yoga are typically more aware of their bodies and what is going on in them. Being self-aware leads to earlier detection and treatment of diseases.
Doing yoga also promotes self-care, which means people who do yoga take more responsibility for their health care and are more willing to do things to improve their health, like changing their diet or exercise.
Starting a yoga practice can improve your physical and mental health no matter how fit (or not) you are. If you are just beginning or if you have injuries or other physical limitations, consider going to a live class with a trained instructor. An experienced teacher can make sure you are using proper form and alignment. Doing the movements and poses properly will reduce your risk of injuries.