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In part 1 of this series, I discussed some of the reasons why I love yoga and why I think yoga is for everyone. In addition to those reasons, I also love the health benefits that come with regular practice.
The Benefits of Practicing Yoga
I normally don't really like the WebMD website, but when I came across their entry for the “Health Benefits of Yoga“, I found the list to be quite comprehensive. Here are some of the ways that yoga benefits the body:
- Yoga creates flexibility. But, don't let this make you think you have to be as flexible as a gymnast to practice it. Anyone, and everyone, can improve their flexibility with yoga.
- Yoga builds strength. While yoga improves your flexibility, it also builds muscle strength and helps lengthen and tone your muscles. Some forms of yoga are going to be faster paced and more vigorous than others, but any style of yoga will help develop strength.
- Yoga helps your posture. Good posture comes from having a strong core and back. Strengthening your abs is one of the best ways to improve your posture and avoid a lot of back problems. You can also prevent future injury by having a strong midsection. You will notice over time that you become a lot more conscious of your posture once you start practicing yoga regularly.
- Yoga helps your breathing. We all take our breath for granted. It's just something that we do without even realizing it and most of us probably don't give it a second thought. But, paying attention to your breath can help you in many ways. It helps alleviate stress, helps improve your lungs capacity, helps relax and calm the nervous system, and keeps a regular supply of fresh oxygen to your body, which improves your whole body function better.
- Yoga helps alleviate stress. Didn't I already mention that? Well, this point can't be emphasized enough in my opinion. This is probably the number one reason that I made myself commit to regular practice. For those of you who know me, you know that I am a Type A personality who tends to always be stressed, anxious, and on the go. While these traits do serve me well at times, they are also a huge burden because I tend to let myself get sucked into them and that creates stress to a point that I don't function properly. This is the perfect time to shout out to my husband, who is one of the most patient people I know. He is the polar opposite of me and I have to thank him for the years that he has put up with my overachieving, neurotic behavior! I am hoping that he is starting to see some changes in my personality and I feel that I owe those changes to regular yoga practice.
- Yoga improves mood and concentration. I think that this benefit goes hand-in-hand with the alleviation of stress. When I'm stressed, I tend to be moody and unfocused. Alleviating the stress has helped my moods become more stable. I try to do more “glass is half full” visualization, rather than always feeling that the “glass is half empty”.
- Yoga helps the heart. One of the major benefits of yoga is that it has a incredibly positive effect on the cardiovascular system and heart disease. It has long been known to help lower blood pressure and help lower the heart rate. Yoga has also been used as a treatment option in studies, most famously the heart disease program by Dean Ornish, MD. Yoga also has been shown to have an anti-oxident effect as well as improving the immune system.
- Yoga helps with weight loss. Not only does the physical exercise and strength building help you lose weight, over time, you will be more aware of your body's needs regarding food. This comes from being in more tune with your emotions and cravings. You'll just start to feel more healthy and in turn, you'll want to eat better as well. One of the quotes that sticks out in my head came off of a Jamba Juice cup many years ago — “Your body is a temple. Don't litter.”
- Yoga helps a whole host of other things. Because yoga has started to become more popular in the US, and across the world, medical researchers are starting to pay attention and study the benefits of regular practice. I think that as time progresses, there will be a long list of the benefits of yoga on the human mind, body, and soul. So far, it has helped alleve or reduce asthma and arthritis symptoms. Right now, there are clinical trials going on to look at the benefits for people with insomnia and multiple sclerosis. People with Parkinson's Disease can also find benefit from yoga.
And to think, these are just the physical benefits of yoga. To delve into the spiritual benefits of yoga would turn this blog post into a thesis paper!
Do you practice yoga? How often do you practice? What benefits have you found? I'd love to hear your stories, so please feel free to leave me a comment below.