BEING healthy is not just about how we look on the outside, it also includes how we feel on the inside as well. While persons have always turned to physical workouts such as running, weight lifting and aerobics to build endurance and lose weight, yoga is often the choice exercise for those who want to improve their flexibility, balance and posture, as well as to release stress.
"If you practice yoga, not only will you have health physically, but you will have health mentally, and if you practice it continually, then you will never feel any physical problems and you will never feel any mental stress," said Dada, a monk who teaches yoga at the Ananda Marga Yoga Centre in Kingston.
He agrees that people who practice yoga consistently can derive some of the following benefits:
1. It relieves pain. The gentle, stretching poses practised during yoga have been found to be very effective at addressing pain. The use of adaptive pain coping strategies such as yoga has been used for the treatment of fibromyalgia, for example, which is a disorder causing widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.
2. It improves flexibility. Most yoga poses are very effective at stretching your muscles, thereby increasing the range of motion in your joints. Yoga also releases the lactic acid that addresses issues such as stiffness and pain.
3. It reduces the effects of stress. The deep breathing techniques practised during yoga help to calm the mind and release pent up anxiety. The meditative techniques also decrease the hormone catecholamine which is produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It is also believed to boost the hormone oxytocin which is commonly referred to as the "trust" and "bonding" hormone.
4. It leads to inner peace. Yoga is very liberating and therefore causes people to embrace their reality and accept self. This feeling of well being helps people to be more at peace with life's situations, both good and bad. It also helps to lessen anxiety, so you can feel more at ease with you.
5. It assists with weight loss. Yoga has often been viewed as something you do for spiritual elevation. However, yoga can also be used for weight loss. This is because it helps to get your heart rate up, it activates the thyroid gland, and it activates the internal heat in the nervous system which helps to burn body fat.
6. It improves focus. Being a holistic discipline, yoga also helps with physical, mental and spiritual enlightenment through meditation. Because meditation is a fundamental concept of yoga, concentration is usually cultivated and strengthened further.
7. It helps you to sleep better. Yoga helps to alleviate sleep problems and promotes restful sleep by addressing issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression which causes insomnia and sleep apnea. Adopting a nightly yoga routine can help to improve the overall quality of your sleep.
8. It teaches discipline. The practice of yoga is a physical discipline itself. "You have to eat at a proper time, you have to go to bed at a proper time, you need to be in good company at all times and if you follow these things then it will be good; and if you don't follow these things then you will be in problems," said Dada.
9. It elevates your mood. Some persons who practice yoga say they feel happier and more content after a yoga session. Research continues to assess the connection between yoga and its effect on depression.
10. It strengthens your core. You will probably never get a six pack from practising yoga, but you can strengthen and tone your abs with the help of a few yoga poses. Plank poses and lunges are great exercises for the abs.