With stress, fatigue, and illness on the rise. It's no wonder, more and more people are seeking a sense of relaxation and personal awareness. Originally from ancient traditions of India, yoga has long since provided people with a refuge away from the everyday confusion and stress, by transporting people to a peaceful oasis within. It has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and now, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying yoga's health benefits. Most yoga classes focus on learning physical poses, which are called asanas. They also include some breathing techniques and possibly meditation techniques. Some yoga classes are designed purely for relaxation or building strength/endurance.
Yoga and Flexibility
When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a human pretzel. That makes them worry that they're too old, unfit, or "tight" to do yoga. The truth is you're never too old to improve flexibility. The series of yoga poses, asanas, work by safely stretching your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion and lubrication in the joints (great for arthritis). The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time.
Yoga and Strength
Some styles of yoga, such as ashtanga and power yoga (hot yoga), are more vigorous than others. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles of yoga, such as Iyengar or hatha, which focuses on less movement and more precise alignment in poses, can provide strength and endurance benefits. Many of the poses, such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. This becomes important as people age. The standing and balance poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. Poses that strengthen the lower back include upward dog and the chair pose. When practiced correctly, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles. With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. That's because you're counting on your deep abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you're more likely to sit and stand taller.
Yoga and Breathing
Because of the deep, mindful breathing that yoga involves, lung capacity often improves (great for ex-smokers). This in turn can improve sports performance and endurance. But yoga typically isn't focused on aerobic fitness the way running, zumba, or cycling are. Taking an intense power yoga class that gets you breathing hard in a heated room, however, can increase aerobic stamina.
Yoga and Stress
Yoga relaxes the body and the mind. Even newcomers tend to feel less stressed and more relaxed after their first class. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant "mind chatter" that often causes stress. Other yoga styles depend on deep breathing techniques to focus the mind on the breath. When this happens, the mind calms. Among yoga's anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) creates that feeling of calm. Some research shows a boost in the hormone oxytocin, this is the so-called "trust" and "bonding" hormone that's associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.-WebMD Yoga can also help control breathing and clear the mind of cluttered thoughts during our daily stressful lives (outside of the yoga studio).
Yoga, Concentration, Mood, and Energy
Some studies have suggested that yoga may have a positive effect on learning, memory, concentration, and the ability to focus mentally. The same is true with mood. Nearly every yoga student will tell you they feel happier after class. Meditation, focuses the mind, taking it away from the distractions of the highly-materialistic world and leading it to genuine happiness. Recently, researchers have begun exploring the effects of yoga on depression, a benefit that may result from yoga's boosting oxygen levels to the brain. Yoga is even being studied as a therapy to relieve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yoga can increase your energy level and productivity too. For as little as 20 minutes, Yoga can replenish the mind and body with precious energy needed to respond to daily tasks and challenges.
Yoga and the Heart
One of the most studied health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Yoga has also been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.
Yoga and Other Medical Benefits
Yoga has been known to benefits other chronic medical conditions, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, back aches, depression, and osteoporosis. Yoga improves your resistance to disease. The postures and movements in yoga, massage the internal organs, enhancing blood circulation and functionality, in turn, lessening the risk of illness. Yoga is also used to help during pregnancy and deliveries. Researchers have been studying whether yoga can slow the aging process too (bonus). Yoga has been said to increase spiritual awareness as well. Yoga can also help normalize body weight. Overweight or underweight, yoga exercises can help achieve the desired weight. The principles of balance and moderation in physical activity and diet under yoga can also lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Yoga and Me
I practice yoga for all of the above reasons, and then some. I enjoy the relaxation and mental clarity I get after each yoga session. I practice yoga a few times a week. It helps me to stretch out my body, and provides a great cross-training. As a runner, I found yoga really stretches my muscles and helps to relieve the lactic acid in my legs. I have to admit, after a workout, I usually rush through stretching, yoga helps to make up for my lack of stretching. I travel with yoga DVDs, p90x yoga and AM/PM yoga for beginners are my favorites. I also enjoy the meditation aspect of yoga, I meditate in class, and twice a day (if not more) outside of class. (Photos taken by my 5yr old daughter, Jordan)
I don't think yoga can ever be called a trend. Yoga may seem like an elixir of life - a cure-all solution to our daily problems and concerns such as illness. But actually, the benefits that Yogis or Yoga practitioners have been experiencing for thousands of years are finally being proven by medical science. So, yes, it can be a cure-all, if you let it. The only way to be certain of what yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see. Yoga is truly a key part of living a healthy lifestyle, Self Soul, and Space.
Sources: Webmd.com, ABC-of-Yoga.com