Hailing from North India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga has been practised in the pursuit of increasing longevity and rejuvenating the body. Today, yoga is practised all over the world - a recent study by the Yoga Journal revealed that more than 36 million people practice yoga in the United States today. We even had an interview with a dedicated yogini, Shanti Milla who has ascertained the joys that yoga bring, alongside her practice of Tibetan medicine.
Yoga's benefits have been touted far and wide by people all over the world - but what exactly is it about holding poses and stretches that is so amazing? Well, lucky for us, we don't have to be hardcore yogis to be able to reap its benefits. Read on to find out 10 things that make yoga so amazing for both our fitness and mind. Before you know it, you'll be stepping onto a mat!
A huge part of yoga consists of holding poses for a period of time, and thus stretches and loosens the muscles in our body. While you might not be able to do some stretches when you first start out, as long as you continue pushing, your muscles will loosen with time. The increased flexibility from constant stretches can help to relieve frequent pain and muscle aches. One of the most common causes of back pain is tight hamstrings, which results in flattening of the spine. So, hang in there with your poses - don't give up, for a little goes a long way!
Thanks to all our bad habits in our daily lives - like craning our necks to look at our phones, or sitting for hours at a desk - we develop bad postures that take a toll on our spine. By incorporating various yoga stretches into our daily routine, we build an awareness of our body that we previously did not have, allowing us to be more mindful of our posture, and whether we are slouching. Of course, with more stretching, our muscles open up and knots untangle, leading to better postures and a more relaxed spine. Try out the Tadasana (mountain pose), or the Vriksasana (tree pose) for 15 minutes a day, and you'll see an improvement in your posture in no time.
Apart from boosting our physical health, yoga also has an endless number of benefits for our mental and emotional health. A huge part of yoga encompasses a concept called mindfulness - the act of bringing our awareness to the present and accepting what is occurring without any judgment or reaction. By practising mindfulness through meditation, problems and conflicts we face in our life will seem easier to solve, or get through. Through mindfulness, we learn how to redefine the way we deal with our problems - instead of actively trying to reduce or fight against it, we accept it - and as our perspectives shift, we realise that these problems that are causing us to be unhappy aren't that important after all.
A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School revealed that yoga tremendously improves sleep quality and quantity for people who suffer from insomnia. Having a meditation and asana routine before bed can help to slow down our mind and body processes, easing the transition into sleep and allowing us to relax just in time for bed.
The different stretches and poses in yoga aid in relaxation, which promotes blood circulation around the body. Twisting poses such as the Revolved Triangle Pose help to push out venous blood from organs, and allow freshly oxygenated blood to be pumped back into the organs once the pose is released. Also, inverted poses, such as the handstand, pumps blood from the legs and pelvis to the heart to be oxygenated. This can aid if you are facing swelling in your feet or knees.
A huge part of yoga revolves around meditation and concentrating on what is going on right now - which is also known as mindfulness. By regularly training our minds to focus on one thing, we learn how to organise our thoughts and reduce our mental stress from other irrelevant matters. This eventually leads to a more peaceful and stable mind - which allows us to recall things more easily and effectively.
Although yoga is rarely aerobic in nature, high intensity yoga classes such as Ashtanga classes can boost your heart rate into the aerobic range and get your blood pumping. With a better blood circulation, the risk of heart disease is lowered. Even for patients who have just recovered from a heart attack or heart surgery, yoga is perfect as a form of cardiac rehabilitation as it is less strenuous.
By practicing yoga regularly, it encourages us to lead a more active lifestyle which burns more calories and increases our fitness levels. In addition, practicing mindfulness can aid in cultivating healthy eating habits by being aware of our cravings, and thereby reducing the desire to binge or snack due to stress or unhappiness. With an increased sensitivity to hunger cues and a more active lifestyle, a boost to weight loss can be expected.
Now that you're more than acquainted with the immense benefits of yoga, it's time to close your laptop and step onto the mat. Namaste!