For centuries, man has been on a seemingly never-ending quest to find the elusive fountain of youth. But is it really something as tangible as a spring of life-giving water, or perhaps simply a way of life?
Although good genes help contribute to increased life expectancy and slow down the possible occurrence of degenerative diseases, many factors come into play to determine how long a person will live. One of these, undoubtedly, is having a healthy lifestyle. Consuming nutritious food and doing adequate exercise has been proven to stretch one’s lifespan by a few years. But some of us are just not a fan of difficult and strenuous routines. Good thing there’s yoga.
Over the years, the practice of yoga has earned a great following, from ordinary nine-to-five office workers to top-billed celebrities and prominent personalities. Still, many get intimidated because of the different unusual contortions (called asana, or pose), but yoga is generally very easy to do. While there are numerous kinds of yoga, it’s primarily a combination of breathing methods and body postures that bring strength and balance to both mind and body.
Although considered mostly as a physical practice, yoga also has a spiritual aspect. In Indian tradition, yoga is thought to be a pathway to divine enlightenment. Eventually, yoga practitioners discovered its practical benefit in alleviating chronic pains and certain illnesses. These health benefits have catapulted yoga to fame even outside the Indian culture.
The world today is way different from how it was twenty, thirty years ago. The advent of many technological developments, sadly, also brought with it an unprecedented number of mental disorders, most of which are caused by too much stress.
Yoga is well known for promoting relaxation and reducing stress by decreasing the production of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Multiple medical studies have shown this to be true. Emotionally distressed individuals who start doing yoga regularly will immediately see the results in just a few months. They feel refreshed, less tired, and less anxious.
Improves Heart Health
It’s a no-brainer that the heart is one of the most vital organs in the body. It pumps oxygen-rich blood to supply all parts of the body with essential nutrients. If it stops working, all else stops. Therefore, its condition is very critical to the overall health of a person.
Studies have shown that those who practice yoga have markedly lower risks of developing heart diseases. Their blood pressure and pulse rate are also lower than those who don’t practice yoga. Cardiovascular diseases remain to be the top killer in the United States and maintaining normal blood pressure through stress management and a balanced diet is key in keeping these diseases at bay.
Research has also shown that yoga is linked to the management of chronic inflammation, which is a risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases. While inflammation is a normal response of the body to protect it from harmful elements, chronic inflammation can lead to ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
While more research still needs to be done to support the positive effects of yoga in managing inflammation, the results of recent studies are very promising.
Helps in Weight Loss and Management of Eating Disorders
A new concept of the diet is gaining popularity. Called intuitive eating, or mindful eating, it is about noticing all aspects of your food—the taste, the smell, the texture—and paying attention to any sensations the food and the process of eating brings. Individuals who have tried this kind of diet have attested to its positive effect in promoting healthy eating habits. This, in turn, helps facilitate weight reduction, manage blood sugar levels, and even treat eating disorders. It also promotes normal metabolism.
The practice of yoga is generally a practice of mindfulness, so it can definitely be used to complement any health program for weight loss. To test its effectiveness, in one study published in 2009, yoga was incorporated into a program for fifty-four patients with eating disorders. After the program, the symptoms of the eating disorders were generally minimized and cravings for food drastically lessened.
Reduces Chronic Pain and Migraines
Every day millions all over the world suffer from chronic pain, which can be caused by a variety of possible reasons, like osteoarthritis or injuries. Fortunately, there is growing evidence indicating that yoga could help lessen different types of lingering pain. Through developing mindfulness and breathing techniques, one can even increase one’s tolerance for pain.
Practicing yoga can also help manage migraines, which are severe chronic headaches. The pain one can experience from a migraine is so severe it can become a debilitating condition. Day or night, it can hit you at any time. It can last for a few minutes, a few hours, and in some cases, even days.
Pills and other medications are typically used to relieve migraines and manage symptoms, but studies have also shown that yoga can be an adjunct therapy in decreasing the frequency of the migraine.
Promotes Sleep Quality
The quality of a person’s sleep can say a lot about one’s general disposition. If one usually gets enough sleep, it can mean the person is in good shape. Adults are required to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep. But if a person is chronically sleep-deprived, it could lead to high blood pressure, eating disorders, anxiety, or to other more serious mental illnesses.
While some yoga poses are said to help promote better sleep, you don’t have to resort to the complicated ones as the benefits, according to researchers, come primarily from its meditative properties and breathing techniques.
Also, getting a good night’s sleep is a good start to having a good day.
Improves Respiratory Health
Yoga poses and breathing techniques (called pranayama, or yogic breathing) help maintain healthy lungs, which is one indication of a generally healthy body. Yoga poses that stretch the muscles all around the upper torso keep respiratory muscles flexible while breathing exercises keep the muscles strong.
To test this, one study in 2000 put 89 male and 198 female college students in a fifteen-week yoga class. The result of the study indicated a remarkable increase in the students’ vital capacity. Vital capacity is a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs and is an essential concern for those with heart problems, asthma, and other lung ailments.
Improves Flexibility and Balance
One of the most apparent benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. Your first few tries performing poses might not quickly result in backbends or the crane pose, but gradually you’ll start to notice your muscles and joints loosening and different body pains going away.
Nowadays, even fitness buffs incorporate yoga to their regimen to improve flexibility and balance. Yoga poses not only stretch the muscles but also exercise the joints without putting too much pressure on them. For workout junkies or anyone undergoing strenuous training, practicing yoga also prevents muscles from being sore, and it promotes faster recovery between sessions.
Practicing yoga for fifteen to thirty minutes daily can definitely make a big difference in improving balance and increasing flexibility.
Another obvious benefit of yoga is improved posture. Lack of physical activity, even as simple as stretching, can cause your spine and neck to strain. Imagine your head as a big heavy bowling ball put on top of one of the most important bone structures in the body and you standing for eight to twelve hours a day. Imagine the pressure on the spine and muscles.
Poor posture can eventually lead to back, neck, and joint problems and fatigue. Go back to the image of the heavy bowling ball on top of your spine—no wonder you feel tired. Yoga poses, along with the breathing exercises, can lessen these aches and eventually correct your posture while giving you an added boost of energy for the day.
Muscle atrophy is a major concern as people grow older, especially those who are not physically active. The muscles waste away due to lack of physical activity. This is a serious condition as it makes one prone to accidental falls and injuries.
Along with eating nutritious food, practicing yoga can slow down the progression of muscle deterioration. Certain poses are also designed to increase muscle strength. Aside from the aesthetic value of having visually toned muscles, doing yoga poses daily ultimately gives your muscles the needed workout to carry you through different activities throughout the day with fewer aches and worries.
Many now view yoga as a complementary therapy to improving one’s overall quality of life—or ultimately, as a way of life. People are going back to its original Indian concept of it being both a physical practice and a spiritual experience, with improved mood and a more positive outlook.
Yoga not only conditions the physical body but more importantly, it alleviates the spirit and conditions the mind to be its own source of healing and its own fountain of youth.