Say Yes to Yoga!

 Gym people in a yoga class

 

If you don’t know about yoga, get in the know—NOW! If you haven’t noticed, most everyone who practices yoga is addicted, and with good reason! Not only is yoga a fun, healthy, and relaxing activity, it’s extremely beneficial for your mind and body. Find out why yoga is for you!

What is Yoga?

Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years, and about 11 million Americans practice yoga regularly today. It combines meditation with exercises to improve flexibility and breathing, decreasing stress, and maintaining health. The central belief is that the mind and body are one.

Types of Yoga

Hatha yoga involves breathing and exercises (postures) that stretch the body. Most Westernized yoga classes focus on physical poses, called asanas, and breathing/meditation techniques. Some yoga is for relaxation only. But other types move your body in different ways to increase flexibility, strength, and balance. There’s also “hot” yoga which is practiced in a very warm and humid room.

Benefits of Yoga

1)    Flexibility: Practicing poses (asanas) safely stretch your muscles to release lactic acid build up, which decreases stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. Yoga helps increase joint circulation and lubrication, allowing more fluidity and ease while moving your body. Soft tissues are also stretched including ligaments, tendons, and fascia sheath surrounding muscles.

2)    Strength: Ashtanga and power yoga increase muscle tone and strength, while more relaxed types of yoga like lyengar or hatha can provide endurance. When holding poses for multiple long breaths, you build hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, and core strength. Try downward dog, upward dog, plank, and chair poses.

3)    Posture: Increased flexibility and strength naturally improves posture. You also increase your body awareness so that you don’t slouch around—whether subconscious or not!

4)    Breathing: Yoga practices deep, long, mindful breathing that increases lung capacity. Deep and long breathing can relax your body and breathing process.

5)    Stress Relief: Yoga enables your brain to quiet the noise, which is often an ignored factor in stress. Deep breathing enables the mind to be calm. Yoga brings a decrease in catecholamines (hormones produced by adrenal glands when under stress). Yoga also lowers levels of hormone neutotransmitters dopamane, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, creating a calming effect.

6)    Concentration and Mood: Increased concentration, focus, and positive moods result from yoga’s ability to boost oxygen levels to the brain. Some cases have been shown to relieve obsessive-compulsive disorder.

7)    Heart Happy: Yoga has been proven to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate, which fights against heart disease and stroke. Yoga has also shown to decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and boost the immune system.

8)    Other Medical Conditions: Western medical studies show that yoga is therapeutic by relieving asthma, back pain, arthritis, insomnia, and multiple sclerosis. Studies show that yoga helps lower blood pressure, improves your sense of well-being, better regulates breathing and helps asthma, and improves fatigue. Yoga has also been shown to slow the aging process, improve learning and memory, increase energy levels, and improve self-esteem.

Yoga Safety

Although most perceive yoga to be a non-physical type of exercise, there are still risks associated with the practice. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that most yoga injuries result from overstretching and repetitive strain of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees. Certain types of poses can increase injury if you have, or are susceptible to, osteoporosis, high/low blood pressure, ear problems, spine problems, and pregnancy (including risks to unborn child).

Reduce Yoga Risk

Follow these tips to reduce the risk or injury from yoga:

1)    Consult your physician before starting yoga. A health care professional can better determine the best type of yoga for you. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have a pre-existing health condition.

2)    Don’t learn on your own. It’s important to work with an experienced, credentialed instructor to learn the right way to perform the exercises.

3)    Know your limits. Don’t overdo yourself when first beginning yoga.

4)    Slow and steady wins the race. Start off with the basics like breathing and maintaining balance before attempting stretches and poses.

5)    Warm up beforehand. Prepping your muscles increases their temperature which helps with flexibility.

6)    Dress appropriately. Wear clothing that’s comfortable and enables you move freely.

7)    Stay hydrated. Keep your body cool and nourished to move better and think clearer.

8)    Listen to your body. Yoga should not hurt. If you feel pain, stop. If you feel faint or dizzy seek immediate medical attention.

 

The only way to be certain that yoga can benefit you is to try it for yourself! Breathing while stretching enables you to relax your muscles, maintain posture, and focus your mind. Get started today and feel great!

 

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/the-health-benefits-of-yoga

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/tc/yoga-topic-overview

 

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