Yoga Health Benefits
Origins of Yoga
Yoga health benefits are many, but where did this practice begin? Yoga is labeled as holistic, which means that the body is related to the breath; both are related to the brain; the brain links with the mind, which is a part of consciousness. The exact origins of yoga are unknown, but it is thought to be at least five thousand years old. The earliest evidence of yoga practice can be traced back to about 3000 B.C.
The word yoga has its roots in the Sanskrit language and means to merge, join, or unite. Yoga is a form of exercise based on the belief that the body and breath are intimately connected with the mind. By controlling the breath and holding the body in steady poses, or asanas, yoga creates harmony. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions and is a tool that allows us to withdraw from the chaos of the world and find a quiet space within. To achieve this, yoga uses movement, breath, posture, relaxation and meditation in order to establish a healthy, vibrant and balanced approach to living.
Control is a key aspect of yoga health benefits; control of the body, breath and mind. The word "Yoga" means balance. The secret of yoga practice lies in a simple but important word: balance. In every area of our life, yoga represents balanced moderation.
Yoga Health Benefits
- Improves flexibility and muscle joint mobility.
- Strengthens, tones, and builds muscles.
- Corrects posture; strengthens the spine; eases back pain.
- Improves muscular-skeletal conditions such as bad knees, tight shoulders and neck, swayback and scoliosis.
- Increases stamina.
- Creates balance and grace.
- Stimulates the glands of the endocrine system.
- Improves digestion and elimination.
- Increases circulation; improves heart conditions.
- Improves breathing disorders.
- Boosts immune response.
- Decreases cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Encourages weight loss.
- Relieves chronic stress patterns in the body.
- It increases body awareness.
- Refreshes the body by relieving muscle strain.
- Relaxes the mind and body; centers attention; sharpens concentration.
Health Benefits of Yoga for Your Heart
According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, causing about 1.5 million heart attacks each year.
Now, research shows us that yoga and meditation both reduce blood pressure, lower the pulse rate, improve the elasticity of the arteries, regulate heart rhythm and increase the heart's stroke volume.
In today's society, stress plays a major role in heart disease. When stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, which in turn, releases stress hormones. These stress hormones can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels, especially during prolonged or repeated exposures.
Yoga's ability to reduce stress and promote a calm, relaxed state reduces stress hormone levels, decreases the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure. All of these benefits control and prevent heart disease.
Breathing influences the rhythm of the heart through inner connections in the central nervous system. Slow, deep breaths are at the core of hatha yoga, and are called pranayama (yogic breathing exercises). It is this lengthening of the breath that slows the heart rate and regulates the heart rhythm. The blood becomes oxygenated and feelings of calm and well-being are induced in your body.
Because of these positive effects on the human body, specific types of yoga postures can be used to control and prevent heart disease.
- Upper back-bending poses open the chest to improve heart function and respiration.
- Side-bending poses open the energy channels of the liver, gallbladder and heart to help remove physical and energetic blockages in the heart and chest.
- Spine lengthening poses promote good posture to reduce compression on the heart and lungs and to facilitate proper functioning of the heart.
- Shavasana (corpse or resting pose) is deeply calming and has been shown to reduce high blood pressure in just a few weeks.
- Inversions help rest the heart muscle and improve blood circulation. Note: Inversions are contraindicated with un-medicated high blood pressure.
Findings now show that you can reduce blood pressure, pulse and overall risk of heart disease by simply practicing yoga at least three times a week.
Safety Tips for Yoga Beginners
Trying to force yourself into a yoga posture your body is not ready for, or not flexible enough for, could prove disastrous. Yoga is meant to be a nurturing form of exercise, not a rigid imitation of poses. You can stretch and strengthen your body without having to touch your nose to your knees, or your feet to your head.
Following are suggested ways to help you in your yoga practice.
- Style -- Practice gentle forms of yoga, such as Kripalu Yoga, or Integral Yoga. Bikram, Ashtanga and Power Yoga are generally too vigorous for beginners and inflexible people.
- Your Instructor -- Find an instructor who is experienced, certified and cares about your physical imitations. He or she can modify the pace or perhaps offer alternative poses to meet your specific needs. In addition, never let an instructor try to force your body into any pose. Practice the "hands off" approach!
- Warm Up -- Get in ten minutes of warming up with easy movements to increase circulation, lubricate joins and ready your body to stretch. You want the poses to progress from simple to more difficult.
- Poses to Avoid -- The plow, full shoulder stand, headstand and full lotus. These poses can place tremendous strain on joints and disks.
- Protect Your Back -- Keep your knees slightly bent and hinge from your hips when you bend forward from any standing position. For arching backwards, concentrate on opening the front of the body by lengthening from the navel to the sternum. Be careful not to over-arch your lower back, as this will compress the lumbar disks.
- Protect Your Knees -- Never lock your knees when in a standing posture. If you feel any strain while doing sitting or kneeling postures, place a cushion or folded blanket under your bottom.
- Your Neck -- Be sure you keep your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine at all times, especially when arching backwards. Be careful not to allow your neck to drop back or down.
Enjoy your yoga practice and you are sure to reap the rewards -- you will know when you are ready to take it a step further -- or perhaps you will be happy right where you are at. Let your body be your guide. Get to know it and its injury-prone areas and back off from any movements that causes pain or cramping. And above all, never compare yourself to others!
If you decide to give yoga a try, start with beginner's yoga. Yoga is a very unique form of exercise and extremely beneficial but can be difficult at first. Ease into it, accepting your limitations. Strength and flexibility increase slowly and incrementally. As your body adjusts to this form of exercise, you can move on to more difficult poses and phases. Yoga is endless -- and timeless!
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