5 Surprising Health Benefits of YogaApril 19, 2012
There was a great interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” recently about the surprising health benefits of yoga. Western science/medicine is learning more about the health benefits of this ancient spiritual practice. Yoga is not just about flexibility and meditation, it can also lower your blood pressure, improve cardiovascular function and lower the risk of various diseases.
Eli Broad, a science writer for the New York Times, has written a new book called The Science of Yoga, which explores the history, risks and rewards of yoga. There is much more to yoga than most people might expect.
Here are a few of the ways that yoga can improve your health:
- Cardiovascular health: Most exercise is about boosting your heart rate – getting your blood pumping. Yoga has the opposite effect – it tends to lower the heart rate and reduce blood pressure. But this can be hugely beneficial to your health because yoga relaxes you, lowers your blood pressure, and relaxes your heart. Yoga has also been linked with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Emotional health: Many people suffer from stress, depression and anxiety. These mental illnesses can also have physical repercussions, as people try to relieve their emotional symptoms by eating too much, drinking too much, or not taking care of their bodies because their minds are unwell. Yoga can help relieve emotional distress by helping people feel calmer, more relaxed, more at peace. Yoga can increase feelings of pleasure and well-being, making it easier to take on the challenges of daily life.
- Flexibility: Yoga increases the flexibility of the spine and other bones and muscles throughout the body. By holding various yoga poses, you strengthen your core and other muscles that you probably don’t get to use very often. It’s a full body workout! In one study, people gained a 35% increase in flexibility in just 8 weeks of practicing yoga.
- Posture: If you tend to slouch or suffer from back pain, neck strain or soreness in your shoulders, yoga can help you sit and stand straighter. The reason is that yoga develops the deep core muscles like the abdominals. Yoga also makes you more aware of your body so you can correct your posture and prevent slouching.
- Breathing: Yoga can increase lung capacity by deepening and lengthening your breathing.
One of the interesting ideas from the NPR interview with “Science of Yoga” author William Broad is that in the not-too-distant future, yoga might be prescribed by Western doctors as a way to treat chronic health conditions. Just as dentists recommend that people brush their teeth each day, doctors might soon recommend that people practice yoga each day as a way to maintain good health, lower their heart rate and reduce their emotional stress.
Medical science is still learning a lot of fascinating new information about how the ancient practice of yoga can benefit people’s health. Even though yoga has been practiced (starting in India) for 5,000 years, perhaps it will become “new” again not only as a popular fitness activity, but as a therapeutic way to improve people’s health.
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