Yoga, originating from the Sanskrit word “Yug” means to bind, to join, to attach and yoke. This in its practice typically translates to the union of the body, mind and soul. It is in this holistic approach to well-being that yoga adopts, lay its endless health benefits.
Yoga offers postures or asanas that can work every joint, muscle, ligament and tendon of the body. When done together, in the correct order and under knowledgeable guidance, these seemingly unrelated postures work in harmony to massage all the internal glands and organs of the body in a thorough manner. This stimulation and massage of the organs in turn keep away disease and often provides a forewarning of a likely onset of disorder.
According to recent research from the Yale University School of Medicine, practicing yoga for an hour and a half three times a week can make your heart healthier in just six weeks. Various yoga postures and controlled breathing techniques forces higher oxygen absorption in the blood within a shorter time. This ensures supply of richer blood to cardiovascular muscles thereby helping combat coronary artery disease and keeping the heart healthy in general. Sustained yoga practice also lowers cholesterol through increased blood circulation and burning fat.
Asanas that are excellent for the heart include the mountain, warrior, triangle, tree and lotus poses. The controlled breathing technique of Kapaalbhati also helps keep the heart healthy.
The structured breathing exercises like alternate nostril breathing help clear the nasal passages which reduces sinusitis and allergy symptoms. Yoga also lays much emphasis on correct and complete breathing and uses the entire upper body for it. Thus the ability to take a complete breath can be hampered by tightness around the shoulders, back, chest and abdomen. Yoga postures stretch and strengthen these areas and encourage deep full breathing. This helps reduce the respiratory rate that indicates better functioning of your lungs.
Other than breathing exercises asanas that help open the thoracic cavity are raised legs, bridge, wheel, cobra and mountain poses.
SPINE AND CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
Successive asanas in a solid yoga routine reverses the muscular stretches of the previous ones. Yoga uses free weight i.e. your own body weight for strength training. These two factors increase spinal flexibility and ensure overall brilliant spinal health. Yoga reduces spinal compression and helps overall body alignment to reduce back pain. Additionally, yoga’s ability to lower levels of cortisol helps keep calcium in the bones, thereby reducing chances of osteoporosis.
Postures known to reduce lower back pain include pigeon and cobra poses. The half plough, spinal twist, wheel, bow, mountain poses are recommended for overall spinal health. The standing wheel pose in particular is known to correct mild scoliosis or curving of the spine. Yoga has a specific group of postures, like Bramha’s pose, specially designed to stretch and tone the neck muscles, a group usually overlooked in other forms of exercise.
Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which lowers blood pressure and slows the pace of your breathing allowing relaxation. Downward facing dog stretch, shoulder stands, torso twist, bridge and half moon poses may help relieve pain associated with sciatica. A new study indicates that yoga can help elevate brain gamma-amino butyric (GABA) levels. Low GABA levels are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s. Focusing on stress reduction, breathing, and restoring overall balance in the body may help prevent epileptic seizures.
Since yoga works on the usually neglected muscles and body parts it is encourages the functioning of lymphatic system. Headstands, spinal twists and inversions help remove toxins and flush important lymph around the entire torso.
Sustained practice of yoga encourages better posture that helps the digestive and elimination systems to work more efficiently. It not only increases blood flow to your digestive tract but also stimulates intestinal action so digestion is more efficient. The calming effect of yoga relaxes your digestive system and leads to more effective elimination of entrapped gases.
Some asanas improve the blood circulation to the hepatic cells, sensitizes lymph nodes supplying your liver and remove toxins from the peritoneum and hepatic regions. A healthy liver helps reduce cholesterol, promotes better digestion and blood metabolism. Yoga helps your muscles absorb the extra blood glucose in your body, thus allowing the pancreas and liver to work more efficiently. It also encourages your pancreas to produce more insulin, which can help to reduce your blood sugar levels. Since a balanced yoga routine stretches every muscle of your body it keeps fat from accumulating all over your body. These factors make yoga extremely beneficial for diabetic patients.
Postures recommended for the abdominal region include Kapalbhatti, spinal twists and half plough, raised leg, leg lock, boat and thunder bolt poses.
Certain yoga postures like the warrior pose is extremely beneficial for kidneys as it stretches your lower abdomen, activates your large intestine, prevents constipation and enhances urination. Other asanas good for the kidneys and urinary tract are half plough, boat, wheel and rise and squat poses. Kapalbhatti breathing due to its basic detoxifying effect helps regulate the kidneys.
Yoga not only works the body but also the mind. Since much of yoga revolves around structured breathing and holding a posture, yoga practice forces you to look inward and requires astute concentration. This helps control a wandering mind which in turn increases self awareness and acceptance. The positive self image thus generated combats depression. Meditation and controlled breathing exercises can calm the mind. Improved blood circulation to the brain coupled with stress reduction and improved concentration results in a better memory.
Breathing deeply in a headstand increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the pituitary gland, which helps relieve mild depression. Other asanas recommended for excellent emotional well being include corpse, bridge, palm tree, warrior and child’s pose.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS
Arthritis – The slow, conscious movements associated with yoga help relieve arthritis symptoms. Due to the low impact nature of yoga postures, gentle pressure is exerted on the joints and chances of injury is much less compared to other forms of exercise.
Cancer – Yoga has proved to increase red blood cells in the body. This helps cancer patients fight anemia, nausea and fatigue better during chemotherapy.
Migraine – Rhythmic breathing exercises help relieve migraine attacks.
Menstrual cramps – Certain yoga postures stretch and tone the vaginal muscles. Squat and rise pose is especially helpful in reducing menstrual cramps and regulating periods.
Though yoga has multiple health benefits it true value lies in the quality of life it endorses. Through continued yoga practice you will achieve better control over your mind and body. This sense of complete happiness is a yogi’s total health reward.