West End Healthline
by Conor Richardson, MD
The practice of Yoga is more than 5,000 years old — from ancient Yogis, to people in the 21st century, Yoga continues to be a part of daily routines, with an estimated 300 million people practice Yoga across the globe. Why are so many people unrolling their mats and flocking to Yoga classes? To experience the many physical and mental benefits that come with a consistent Yoga practice.
One of the most obvious benefits is an increase in flexibility. Many Yoga poses help to loosen tight muscle groups and increase the range of motion in joints. Sitting at a desk all day shortens your muscles — attending a Yoga class or practicing poses at home is a great way to stretch out the body, lengthen your muscles, and release tension. In addition to lengthening muscles, Yoga is a wonderful way to build strength. From improving athletic performance, to preventing injuries, or protecting against conditions like arthritis, our bodies depend on strong muscles to live active and healthy lives. Yoga poses work many different muscle groups, including stabilizing muscles that are key to coordination and helping us balance.
Muscles aren’t the only part of the body to benefit from Yoga. Your bone and joint health improve with consistent practice. Yoga poses that require you to lift your own weight, such as downward-facing dog, help to strengthen bones and ward off the thinning of bones as we age. Many Yoga sequences take your joints through a full range of motion, which help to prevent bone and joint breakdown.
While Yoga is a great way to exercise your body, it’s also a way to find relaxation. Yoga reduces the physical effects of stress on the body, which starts a chain reaction of positive effects. By encouraging relaxation, yoga helps to lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can result in lower heart rates and blood pressures. Making it to your mat can have a profound impact on your mental health. Yoga encourages us to let go of thinking about the past or the future and focus on the current moment. In the day and age of constant multitasking and ever-present devices and social media, the reminder to slow down the mind and focus on one’s breath is important. In addition to helping us unplug and focus on what’s happening in the current moment, this element of mindfulness is associated with increased brain activity, as well as reduced anxiety and depression.
If you’re looking to improve your health and make a positive change in your life, chances are, Yoga can help. From flexibility, to increased strength, to heart health, Yoga is an approachable way for people of all ages and athletic abilities to experience great health benefits. From beginners to seasoned Yogis, the benefits of Yoga are many and don’t end when you leave class. So, next time you’re looking to release stress, feel better in your body, and calm you mind, unroll your Yoga mat and get your “ommm” on.