Can yoga help you live a healthier life? You better believe it! Medical studies are beginning to prove the many constructive benefits of yoga that experienced practitioners have long heralded. “All of yoga’s medical benefits are a result of a heightened sense of self-awareness,” says David Lurey, certified yoga teacher, trainer, and cofounder of the Green Yoga Association. “They all require discipline and dedication to reach them.”
1. Perfects your posture
Your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy. When it's balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it's no wonder you're tired. And fatigue might not be your only problem. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
The slow, controlled movements of a yoga practice have been shown to decrease chronic pain and joint swelling in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
3. Back pain
A study at the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that, after practicing yoga for three months, people reported 70% less lower-back pain, and 88% of them reduced or stopped taking pain medication. Alignment and body awareness during yoga practice has been shown to reduce numerous types of acute and chronic back pain, including scoliosis, sciatica, and herniated discs.
4. Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by "squeezing and soaking" areas of cartilage that normally aren't used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.
5. Depression and anxiety
Boston University’s School of Medicine discovered a 27% increase of the neurotransmitter GABA within the brain after just one sixty-minute yoga practice. Low levels of GABA have been tied to anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Yoga’s mood-enhancing benefits are similar to those for asthma—slowing the breath and heart rate to reduce the body’s stress response.
Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous system. Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Restorative asana, yoga nidra (a form of guided relaxation), Savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara, a turning inward of the senses, which provides downtime for the nervous system. Another by-product of a regular yoga practice, studies suggest, is better sleep—which means you'll be less tired and stressed and less likely to have accidents.
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported a unique connection between a regular yoga practice and eating healthier. Yoga is believed to increase mindful eating: being aware of why you eat and when to stop. Curiously, no other type of physical activity produced the same mindful eating effects.
And there are many many more benefits...So next time your questioning whether to get on the mat just keep in mind the positive impact the class will have on you !