THE BENEFITS OF YOGA
Whatever your age, the benefits of a regular yoga practice stretch far beyond improved flexibility. A holistic practice will bring plentiful health benefits such as improved brain function, sleep, balance, bone strength and lung capacity as well as help to relieve chronic back pain and anxiety, lower blood pressure and stress levels and your risk of heart disease.
Life begins and ends with breath. Most of our bodily functions are involuntary but breath is both involuntary and voluntary, that is, most of the time it works without us ever having to worry about it (phew) but we can also consciously control it if we wish and this enables us to effect how much oxygen our blood – and therefore bodies and minds – receives; influencing our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for controlling the body's unconscious actions) and influencing the health of our bodies and our state of mind.
In yoga we learn methods of controlling the breath, often referred to as a 'pranayama' practice. We also learn to merge movement and kinetic processes with specific breath patterns.
Learning to breathe well can have a huge impact on one's health.
• increases vital energy (which helps the body heal and detoxify)
• relieves stress (as it helps to regulate the nervous system)
• speeds up recovery from illness
• provides relief from respiratory difficulties
• increases mental clarity
• aids emotional stability
• improves circulation and eases the strain on the heart
• helps to sustain proper diaphragmatic action (which in turn helps to massage the internal organs significantly improving their functions)
• improves the condition of the skin
• improves mental concentration, productivity and observation,
• increases awareness, self-love and self-acceptance
Hatha yoga focuses on movement which honours both effort and surrender and the merging of these dualities is what makes for a balanced body and mind. In yoga we move with our breath. Breath is what leads us into (and out of) each posture (asana). Here we consciously align ourselves in an interconnected state.
The health benefits of movement in yoga are improved flexibility, posture, muscle strength, bone health, blood flow, blood pressure, focus and balance.
Evenness / balance of opposites are important in a yoga practice. A posture is not just practiced on just one side of the body, but both. This is important because for a holistic practice we want to balance both left and right sides of our bodies and minds. Lift your left hand and it the right hemisphere of your brain that has been engaged, lift your right hand and it's the left hemisphere of your brain that has been engaged. This back and forth between left and right brain occurs continually but in our yoga practice we try to bring evenness to these otherwise mostly uneven, unconscious actions, leading us into a more balanced state and helping us achieve a sense of oneness in meditation.
For many, a yoga practice is mostly just about reaping the health benefits that moving through a series of postures can bring. And if you just stop there, that's absolutely fine. However, traditionally, yoga postures were just a stepping-stone to a deeper goal, a state of oneness and interconnectedness achieved through meditation. The benefits of cultivating a regular meditation practice are pretty much endless but here are a few of the main benefits:
• relief from stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness and depression
• improved mood, focus, resilience against pain and adversity, immune system, energy levels and breathing
• reduced symptoms of menstruation and menopause, inflammatory disorders and asthma
• increased mental strength, cognitive skills, creative thinking, decision making and problem solving
• increased sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-acceptance
• increased sense of happiness; helping one to feel more connected, balanced and centered which in turn can also help to improve one's work and personal relationships