The health benefits of Yoga
Thinking about rolling out a mat and trying yoga? Instructor SARAH COWIE explains why a regular practice can help with a little more than bendiness…
Whether it’s ‘aligning your chakras’, increasing ‘prana energy’ or chanting a round of ‘om’ and attempting to quieten the chattering mind, yoga can sound pretty daunting at times. But in practice (and it doesn’t take much to experience its far-reaching benefits) there’s an awful lot to be gained from taking a deep breath in, having a good old stretch, and focusing on something other than working through that sizeable to-do-list.
Yet contrary to the images of inversions and lotus positions that frequent our screens, yoga isn’t about tangling your body into pretzel shapes. Whilst a disproportionate emphasis is placed on the third limb of Ashtanga – the ‘asana’, or pose – yoga offers us a great deal more than just a form of physical exercise. Here are just a few reasons why yoga is essential as part of your wellness toolkit…
1. It reduces stress levels
Yoga – the Eastern practice of uniting body and mind – can be an excellent way to unplug from our increasingly busy day-to-day lives. Amazingly, this happens at a chemical level, with the effect of coordinating breath and movement proven to dramatically decrease the concentration of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) in the bloodstream. Just a couple of minutes of breath work – or ‘pranayama’ – can dramatically slow your heart rate, improve the function of your immune system, and ward against serious health conditions related to elevated cortisol levels such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
2. Motion is lotion
We all know the score – you use it or you lose it – and keeping the body active and supple is of immense importance as we grow older. Incorporating stretching and functional movement exercises, yoga improves strength, flexibility and overall fitness levels. Regular classes encourage healthy posture and alignment and can alleviate the back, neck and shoulder tightness that accumulates after many hours of desk-sitting, driving and lengthy box-set Netflix sessions. Daily lengthening, twisting and flexing of the skeleton lubricates the joints, helping you stand tall and halt that daily shrinking process.
3. Energy boost
Feeling lethargic? Whether it’s that post-lunch slump or one too many mulled wines during the festive period, it’s not uncommon to feel that you’re powering through with depleted energy resources. Yoga stimulates blood circulation, reduces the energy-zapping stress hormone and opens up the chest region enabling us the breath to flow more freely and efficiently. Yet this energy hit isn’t confined to the physical body.
4. Yoga helps you sleep like a baby
Human beings spend roughly a third of their lives sleeping, yet why are many of us so bad at it? Restlessness, sleep deprivation and overstimulation can have a profound and lasting effect on our health. Yoga teaches us to slow down the breath, lower the heart rate and trigger the relaxation response. As the parasympathetic nervous system (the counter to our in-built fight or flight mode) begins to take the reins, blood pressure decreases and circulation increases to the reproductive and intestinal regions, telling your body it’s time to rest down and recharge.
5. Yoga improves balance
We’re all prone to mishaps and stumbles, but feeling wobbly on your feet isn’t something that just happens as we approach our twilight years. Feeling stable and distributing weight equally through your feet is a skill that must be honed. By aiding proprioception (the ability to identify where our limbs are moving in space) yoga improves neuromuscular coordination and gives the brain a sense of where the body should be positioned without the need to look. Through toning and strengthening the muscles, particularly around the core muscles in the spinal column, postures such as mountain and tree pose can prevent stability-related injuries and instil confidence in our capacity to walk, get out of bed, dress, and play sport.
Find out more at www.scyoga.co.uk