Yoga is a popular form of exercise for Americans and it’s becoming more and more of a trend each year. In 2008, 15.8 million Americans practiced yoga, that number increased by 29% (20.4 million) in 2012. Yoga originated hundreds of years ago in India and became popular in the United States in the 1980s. It consists of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that help the individual achieve a state of peace and serenity. Yoga also improves mental and physical health when practiced regularly.
Here are a few of the awesome benefits of practicing yoga regularly:
1. Yoga can reduce the symptoms of asthma by improving the quality of life and heart rate variability. Asthma is a chronic condition that can be regulated by medication. Sometimes people with allergies have asthmatic episodes because of inflammation and congestion in the lungs. There are a number of yoga poses that focus on breathing by opening up the chest to clear the mucus in the airways of the lungs. Consistent breathing through the nose at slow equal intervals while in posture help the lungs learn how to control opening the airways gradually, increase breath stability, and improve lung capacity.
2. Practicing yoga regularly increases your metabolism. Metabolism converts food into energy, and certain yoga poses allows the body to increase this conversion rate. The postures that allow your core to twist and stretch helps kick-start the organs to aid in digestion. Exercising your abdomen strengthens your digestive organs, but it also improves circulation which results in a stronger immune system that can fight off sickness.
3. Yoga can reduce high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is generally considered to be below 120/80. A daily yoga routine of breathing, exercise, and meditation allows the body and mind to relax, which aids in lowering blood pressure. Certain yoga postures energize the kidneys that soothe the internal system, which then lowers high blood pressure. The production of blood takes place in the long bones in the thighs, so the poses that improve circulation in the legs help rejuvenate the blood.
4. Yoga can reduce pain and rigidity associated with arthritis. Arthritis is the swelling of the joints, which can cause great pain and stiffness in wrists, ankles, knees, and elbows. Almost all of the yoga postures help increase strength and flexibility of the joints. The poses are low-impact and can be done gradually at your own level.
5. Yoga boosts energy. Regular yoga practice helps the body access blocked energy and adjust the hormone cortisol that can boost your energy. Many of the poses increase balance, sharpen focus, and increase oxygen levels to help you be more alert.
6. Yoga decreases insomnia. Regular yoga practice helps release tension and stress. Regulated breathing sends oxygen to the brain that helps calm nerves and relax the mind. Yoga helps you achieve improved postures (sitting and standing straight), which then releases the pressure on your heart and lungs allowing the reduction of stress. Without stress, your body and mind are more able to achieve a full nights rest.
7. Yoga can decrease anxiety and depression. Yoga can be used as a self-soothing practice. Through meditation, relaxation, and exercise the mind and body can be at peace, which decreases feelings of anxiety and depression. Yoga postures help reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and regulate the intake and outtake of air, which helps the body respond to stress more flexibly.
8. Yoga can tone your body. Yoga uses different muscles in the body than any other workout. Toning of the body occurs with each posture improvement, taking the posture deeper than the day before. Motivating yourself to stretch more, reach higher, bend lower and hold longer will activate the muscles to work harder. The best way to increase your body tone is to work your muscles to their maximum potential and provide variety to your poses. There are hundreds of poses in the yoga practice to master, and sticking to only a few poses will eventually cause a tone plateau. Keep in mind that body tone can be hidden under body-fat, so nutrition and diet is the best way to see results.
9. Yoga increases concentration and willpower. Muscles are meant to be exercised, and your brain is a muscle that constantly needs nourishment through stimulation. Regular practice of yoga will force you to focus on your breathing exercises, eliminating your mind from wondering. Your breathing is not controlled when your mind wonders to preoccupied thoughts, so focus back in on the breathing and it will increase your concentration and willpower.
The most important thing to remember, whether you have arthritis or high blood pressure or you are in perfect health, is to not push your body beyond its limits. Yoga postures teach you to stretch, breathe, and relax, and with time your body and mind will also stretch and expand to allow you to complete the poses with improvement. Your body cannot learn all the poses in one class or session, but every day you will notice your muscles and limbs extending and bending to new lengths and poses. Breathing is the most important part of yoga. Concentrate on breathing slowly in and out during your entire yoga session. It will help steady your heart rate and send oxygen to the brain, which will help keep your mind from tangent thoughts and focus on completing each posture instead. Start and finish each session with a 5 minute breathing exercise to warm up your lungs and slow down your heart rate.