I was introduced to the benefits of Yoga practice whilst undertaking my Personal Training course some time back. My fellow students and I were running fitness tests on ourselves and one of them was the flexibility score. Initially, I was happy scoring high on the strength, cardio and motor skills components of the tests. This, however, turned to disbelief on the next test, when it was revealed to me how poor my overall flexibility was! Weeks later I attended my first Yoga session with a view to making improvements, and I have never looked back. Yoga is a life changer.
A very simple way of describing Yoga would be as an ancient form of exercise that originated in India. The discipline focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. This would be a very, very simple description of the practice, however. Yoga, although practised physically, it is a multifaceted holistic practice with physical, mental, and spiritual elements.
It could be said that the ultimate goal of practising yoga is achieving tranquillity in mind and spirit. Yoga practice does this via the use of physical and mental tools such as yoga poses and meditation. The main physical components of yoga are ‘Asanas’ or postures. The Asanas are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility as well as improve breathing. The mental and spiritual aspects of Yoga involve contemplation mindfulness and meditation.
The Rise and Rise of Yoga
Yoga has quickly become one of the most popular fitness regimes. It has been adopted internationally and is commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs throughout the world. Yoga is also a cost-effective practice with little or no equipment required. It is also time friendly, the amount of practice dependant on the practitioner’s needs and time. It is up to the practitioner whether they practice Yoga in a social setting (such as a gym/club) or make it a more personal thing (practised in privacy at home).
Yoga is a great way of reducing stress and allowing for greater relaxation. So ideal for balancing out 21st-century life then! Particularly after a stressful day at the office or a busy commute. Indeed, many who get into Yoga begin to look more into its philosophy and embrace the spiritual aspects assigned to it. For many, it is more than a philosophy or practice but a way of life. On a personal level, it’s been clear to see, Yoga is very much more than just a fitness regime.
The Reported Benefits of Yoga
The majority of Yoga participants you encounter will claim that practice has increased their overall health. Many claim it has vastly improved their body awareness and increased strength and muscular endurance. Other improvements include being much more flexible and having better body alignment. Furthermore, many practitioners maintain that regular practice helps with a number of ailments including joint problems and pain reduction and sleep disorders. Even though not all of these benefits have been fully backed by science.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
- Increased flexibility.
- Increased strength.
- Improved balance.
- Increased stamina.
- Improved posture and body alignment.
- Proprioception (the body’s awareness of spatial location in relation to other parts of the body).
- Core strength.
- Muscle tone.
- Breath control.
- Improved digestion.
- Better sleep (reduced stress and fatigue).
- Strengthened immune system.
- Improved breathing. (improved lung function and vital capacity, increasing oxygen intake.)
- Reduced inflammation.
- Reduction of pro-inflammatory diseases (Coronary Heart Disease, diabetes and cancer).
- Improved heart health (lowered blood pressure, reduction of LDL ‘Bad’ Cholesterol.
- Reduced chronic pain (arthritis and injuries).
Mental Benefits of Yoga
- Stress reduction (cortisol production).
- Reduced anxiety.
- Body awareness.
- Better sleep.
- Improve self-confidence.
- Mental balance.
- Improved communication/connection between mind and body.
- Helps individuals challenges mental health disorders such as PTSD, Depression and Bipolar Disorder.
- Improved mood.
There are many more physical and mental benefits, but these are the major ones. Anyone may practice yoga to keep fit and supple or for relief from back or joint pain, injuries or stress. Indeed many people who suffer from certain debilitating conditions can benefit greatly from yoga. People with lower back pain, chronic arthritis, sleep and mental disorders have found relief practising. Additionally, women who are pregnant or who are planning on becoming pregnant can benefit greatly from yoga.
Yoga is an awesome discipline for getting into shape physically and mentally. It’s easy to see why its popularity has grown exponentially over time among western cultures. Yoga for fitness is largely geared towards improving physical health; fitness; and wellness. Traditional yoga, however (which places more emphasis on mental and spiritual development) is now increasingly commonplace in Western societies. Traditional Yoga practices can be adopted as required to help deal with the stresses and strains of everyday 21st-century life.
On a personal level.. I will say that Yoga ability does not come easy, my own practice took some time. Gradually I am seeing improvements in my flexibility, muscle tone and self-discipline. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely! My advice to those starting out would be to remain patient, keep your expectations realistic. Rome was not built in a day, stick around, persevere and you will be much more likely to see results materialise.
And there you have it, there really is something for everyone. Like an all-you-can-eat banquet. Pick what you like, leave what you don’t want, try something new or don’t. The choice is down to the practitioner. Namaste or not…
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