Yoga: Scientifically Proven for Your Wellbeing
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a practice that has been studied and used for therapeutic medicine for over 5,000 years. Generally, yoga is a series of postures (or asanas) each held for a few cycles of breath. A cycle of breath is one inhale and one exhale. The breath is cued in sync with the asanas to gain mindful control over breathing. Yoga is different from other exercises as it incorporates the intensity of a workout and the mindfulness of meditation. Yoga has many forms: Bikram or hot style, vinyasa or power, Iyengar, hatha, yin or restorative, Ashtanga, etc. Most of these are slight variations of each other; the same postures and breathing techniques are used.
What are the Benefits?
As a physical practice, an intermediate-advanced yoga class meets the requirements for aerobic exercise needed to maintain cardiovascular fitness. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve circulatory function and reduce risk for heart attack and stroke. Yoga practice is physically demanding enough to cause these effects to increase lung capacity and increase the amount oxygen reaching blood vessels. These effects hold true for all medium to high intensity activities including running, swimming, or even mowing the lawn. Yin yoga, restorative yoga or a beginner class will not provide the above benefits.
However, in all yoga practices there is emphasis on flexibility and strengthening muscles and joints in the body. The bending, twisting and rinsing of joints and muscles in a yoga practice promotes healing, prevents injury and even relieves pain associated with the muscles and joints. That is why yoga is often recommended as a complement to the treatment of arthritis. Strengthening of joints and muscles can also reduced risk of osteoporosis.
As a mental practice, the breathing associated with a yoga has effects on the body’s hormonal stress response. The intense physical activity combined with breathing designed to calm, teaches the body how to react in stressful situations. During times of stress the body triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol triggers a fight-or-flight response causing the body to take energy away from essential physical functions to address the stress at hand. On a short-term basis, this can quickly address stress. However, in the long term this can cause adverse side effects. Common ones include insomnia, back pain, digestive issues, fatigue and a suppressed immune system. Stress can even exacerbate cancerous tumors. A yoga practice teaches the body to address these responses in a healthy way, and reduce adverse side effects.
Yoga has also been used as a way to age in a healthier way. A study done in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that yoga and meditation decreased the rate of cellular aging. Yoga improves posture, joint function, stress responses and cardiac health; all factors that may contribute to lower overall function later in life.
How to Start?
Yoga is beginner friendly, no previous experience required! There are a wide range of postures and poses, and everyone can do at least one. Even if that means sitting or lying still and breathing with intention, that’s yoga! There are thousands of yoga studios across the country that offer beginner courses taught by certified instructors, who have studied yoga. Try the OmFinder app. The yoga community is huge, accepting and encouraging. Whether you’re looking to stay healthy, or find the support you need to feel better, yoga provides endless opportunities.
Emma Schmitt, RYT 200