Why Try Yoga? 5 Benefits of Daily Practice
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. The main components of yoga are postures (a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility) and breathing.
The practice originated in India about 5,000 years ago and though it may have had a ‘hippy’ reputation a few years ago, it is fast growing in popularity and has become an increasingly relevant part of 21st-century life. Researchers are uncovering fascinating evidence of how the practice affects us mentally and physically and may help to prevent and assist in the treatment of a number of the most common ailments that can limit our quality of life.
Dozens of scientific trials have been published on yoga and many suggest yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity, especially strength, flexibility and balance. There's some evidence that regular yoga practice is also beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains, depression and stress.
Yoga is a form of exercise that can be taken up at any age, and you don’t have to be fit to get started. Yoga will improve your flexibility and mobility, which may make performing your daily activities easier.
Note that it is advisable to initially learn from a qualified teacher and choose a class appropriate to your level. Learning the poses and breathing techniques correctly, with someone there to correct your mistakes, makes injury much less likely. But once you’ve learned the ropes, you can just follow a DVD or book in the comfort of your own home.
Please take care when trying anything new and our suggestions are only intended for those without current injuries or medical conditions.
What style of yoga should I do?
There are many different styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar and Sivananda. Some styles are more vigorous than others, while some may have a different area of emphasis, such as posture or breathing. No style is necessarily better than any other, it’s about finding something that you enjoy and suits your needs, fitness and energy levels.
Here’s our top 5 benefits of yoga practice:
Helps you to relax
In our busy, tech-focused world, our bodies spend too much time in an overstimulated state, often contributing to problems relaxing and sleeping. There is promising evidence that yoga can be helpful for treating sleep disorders. Yoga poses can stretch and relax your muscles; breathing exercises can slow your heart rate to help prepare you for sleep; and regular meditation can calm a busy mind and keep you from overthinking and worrying, so more likely to drift into a peaceful sleep.
Studies have also suggested that exercise is associated with positive mood and a sense of well-being, increasing some of the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. There is also evidence to suggest that anxiety levels can be reduced following regular yoga practice.
Can help low back pain
Low-back pain is pretty common (it’s estimated that 60-80% of us suffer with it!) and there's definitely no one-size-fits-all treatment. Researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle worked with more than 200 people with persistent lower-back pain. At the end of the study, those who took yoga and stretching classes reported less pain and better functioning than those given a self-care book, and these benefits lasted for several months.
Control of blood pressure
It’s thought that yoga and meditation, by slowing the heart rate and inducing the relaxation response, may help bring blood pressure down to safer levels in those who have elevated levels. 1/5 of those who have high blood pressure don't know it and many who do struggle with the side effects of long-term medication. A recent study found that 12 weeks of yoga reduced blood pressure as well as or better than just being informed about nutrition and weight-loss. (If you have high blood pressure, consult with your doctor and make sure it's under control before you practice any inversion poses (head lower than the legs)).
Improve your strength
Various yoga poses (asanas) and the flowing sequences of movements which connect each asana with the next (vinyasas) strengthen your muscles. The postures challenge muscles to lift and move the weight of your body and your muscles respond by growing new fibres, so that they become stronger. This is great for improving your hiking capacity, as well as helping to maintain fitness and function throughout your life.
Improve your balance
As children, we tested our balance for fun - any opportunity to walk along kerbs or walls or over the rocks at the beach - but what about as adults? We spend more time driving and sitting at a desk than in activities that challenge our balance, and can easily lose touch with the body's ‘balancing muscles’ which allow us to teeter back and forth and remain upright. Good balance can be crucial to preserving independence, especially when you bear in mind that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people over 65.
I always considered balance to be a really boring benefit of exercise when I read about it, but since hitting 40, I’ve had trouble with the ligaments in my ankles (from years of running on pavements), and the impact on balance can definitely be felt when hiking on rough terrain or soggy ground. Balance poses are a core part of yoga practice and I definitely find asanas such as Tree pose and Eagle pose really help to strengthen up my ankles.
Here at On Clear Days we love practising yoga and though we have varying levels of ability, would thoroughly recommend it for the benefits – plus it perfectly complements any walking and hiking you may do. There will be more posts on basic postures over the coming weeks and months.
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