The Healing Power of Yoga – Not Such a Stretch
Like many forms of exercise, regular yoga participation can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. In addition to potentially increasing your flexibility, improving balance, strengthening bones and contributing to maintaining a healthy weight, the physical benefits of yoga can include lowered blood pressure, improved lung capacity, reduced chronic pain and lowered blood sugar levels in those with diabetes.
All in Your Head?
Consider yoga a kind of physical meditation. It takes concentration to coordinate your movement and breath as you glide between asanas or poses. With practice, that kind of focus allows the cares of the day to slip away until it’s just you and your mat.
Research into the mental benefits of yoga is still underway; however, studies find that people who practice yoga have higher levels of gamma-Amniobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter often found lacking in those with depression. Regular practice is also linked to reduced levels of the protein cytokine, an enzyme usually triggered by tension that may make you irritable and tired.
Yoga is noncompetitive and linked to body acceptance and increased bodily awareness. As a result, yoga is thought to reduce anxiety and improve mood.
Choose the Right Practice
There are more than 100 kinds of yoga, from Bikram or “hot” yoga done in a heated room to encourage you to sweat, to aerial yoga, a series of poses done while suspended in a cloth sling a few inches above a padded floor.
The right class for you is one that meets your physical needs and expectations. Classes marketed as Hatha yoga generally include gradual introductions to common poses, while Iyengar yoga focuses on proper alignment using props such as bolsters and straps. Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga classes, on the other hand, are known for a smooth flow between poses and can be more physically demanding.
If the first class you try isn’t a good fit, try another. In general, yoga is an extremely inclusive activity, suitable for adult enthusiasts of all fitness levels.
Yoga is not recommended for those younger than age 16, and certain practices may not be appropriate for those with medical issues or pregnant women. Your physician can help make sure you are healthy enough for exercise before you begin taking yoga classes or try any other fitness program.