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Benefits Of Yoga

Published 4/27/13

What Is Yoga?

Yoga is the generic term used to describe the physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that originated in ancient India. It comes from one of the six orthodox schools that make up Hindu philosophy. Throughout history, various forms of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  The ultimate goal of yoga is to reach a state of “moksha,” in which there is liberation from “samsara,” the continuous cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. There are several systems of yoga that include Yoga Sutras, focusing on the discipline of the mind, and Hatha yoga, focusing on the physical health and purity of the body. The expansion of yoga to the west is credited to Hindu monks towards the end of the 19th century.

Yoga Benefits

The most popular benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, strength, and balance as well as increased relaxation as a result of reduced stress levels.  The group of yoga poses called “asanas” help stretch the muscles. These specific poses help release built up lactic acid in the muscles along with improving range of motion in joints and improving the flexibility of the soft tissues in the body such as ligaments, tendons, and fascia sheath. The “ashtanga” and “power yoga” styles of yoga are some of the more vigorous forms of yoga and help increase muscle tone. Poses such as downward dog, upward dog, or the plank build upper-body strength and endurance while standing poses help increase muscle tone in the hamstrings, quads, and abs. If done properly, all yoga poses should work the deep abdominal muscles and improve core strength.  The combination of increased flexibility and strength results in improved posture. The muscles that get worked out with each yoga pose are the deep abdominal muscles, and with a stronger core one is more likely to quit slouching and beginning to sit or stand properly. Yoga also increases body awareness, which makes it easier to notice a slouching or slumping posture.

Many people experience the sensation of stress relief after completing a yoga session. The slow and deliberate breathing practice as part of yoga helps stimulate a relaxation response as opposed to the flight-or-flight adrenaline rush that high levels of stress can cause. The deep and long breathing that requires the mind to focus on the breath often improves lung capacity and can improve overall athletic performance and endurance. Yoga also induces biochemical responses that provide anti-stress benefits. A yoga session can reduce the number of catecholamines in the body, which are hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands in response to high levels of stress. Yoga can also spark an increase of the hormone oxytocin, which is often referred to as the trust hormone that is associated with a feeling of being calm and relaxed. As a result of lower stress levels, yoga has a tremendous beneficial effect on heart health. The lower stress levels reduce blood pressure and can decrease the heart rate, both of which are associated with lower risks of heart disease.

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga, commonly referred to as Bikram yoga, is a form of yoga created by Bikram Choudhury that experienced a boost of popularity in the 1970’s. Hot yoga follows a very rigid structure with each session lasting exactly 90 minutes and incorporating 26 poses and 2 exercises focusing on breathing. The sessions are held inside a room heated to roughly 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity, which is where the name “hot yoga” comes from.

Side Effects Of Yoga

When performed consistently, yoga is an excellent exercise to partake in that benefits every system in the body. There are potential side effects that can arise whether the poses are being practiced correctly or not. Some people may experience a headache, light-headedness, or nausea when practicing yoga. If this occurs, a short break is recommended until the symptoms cease. More serious side effects can occur if the poses are not practiced correctly. A period of warming up is high recommended to ensure that the body is ready to be exerted for an extended amount of time. If not properly warmed up, one can experience internal bleeding, muscle strains, ruptures, or broken/fractured bones.

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