The health benefits of yoga include control of diabetes, control of hypertension, a stronger heart, reduced back pain, relief from osteoarthritis, improvement in gastric conditions, control of asthma and bronchitis, and weight loss in a healthy way.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a comprehensive and ancient approach to full-body health that combines postures, meditation, breathing exercises, and deep relaxation. Yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years in many forms, and it has recently gained massive popularity in North America and other western regions.
It is considered the first step in spirituality. The word yoga means “union” or “being united” with the Divine Spirit. According to Patanjali, the father of yoga, it is a way through which the control of the material world over the human spirit can be eliminated. Yoga is meant to bring inner peace and equilibrium, apart from the chaotic world outside. It is a practice involving both the mind and body and is used to achieve improved health and relaxation.
Research is currently being done to analyze the health benefits of yoga postures and Pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. Patanjali describes yoga as possessing ‘Ashtaangas’ or eight limbs.
- The first limb, or the anga, is about ethics and morality. The practitioner should conduct their daily routines in the most ethical way possible.
- The second limb is about observances. The practitioner must make sure one’s body and mind are not polluted after purification. This part is mostly about the worldly influences on the human mind and body.
- Having realized the first two steps, the third step is about ‘asana’ or physical postures. These asanas increase the strength, endurance, and resistance to various diseases, thus empowering the body, mind, and soul.
- Pranayama, the fourth limb, is regarded as the most important step in yoga. ‘Prana’ is the life force and ‘ayama’ is an extension. Pranayama means the “extension of breath”. Sages in ancient times found that oscillatory breathing has a good influence on the mind.
- The fifth limb is called pratyahara, which is the process of withdrawing the senses. Our sensory organs are fueled by the world around us, which can lead to suffering and pain.
- Concentration, or dharna, is the sixth limb and is one of the hardest steps. Yoga experts and gurus suggest concentration on breathing can help in holding focus in one direction.
- Meditation, the seventh limb, can be different from concentration. In concentration, one has to focus on something, while in meditation, the focus is not on any object or thought.
- The eighth and final limb is Samadhi. This is the final step of the practitioner. The practitioner enters a state of tranquility where he seems to be in deep sleep but is actually fully awake and aware of his surroundings. It is believed that he has united with the divine spirit.
According to Patanjali, physical yoga facilitates the more complex meditation and spiritual perfection. It is believed that a true yoga practitioner can achieve a state of thoughtlessness in their mind.
As per the National Health Interview Survey in 2007, yoga is among the top complementary health practices used in the USA.
Health Benefits of Yoga
Daily yoga practice can bring in a number of benefits to practitioners. Yoga not only helps control diseases but also plays an important role in achieving relaxation and physical fitness.
BKS Iyengar’s yoga has yogic postures for eliminating stress from the body and mind. Yogic postures such as corpse posture, child’s posture, forward-bending posture, legs up the wall, cat’s posture, back-bending, and headstand are considered good for eliminating depression and stress. Tests have shown positive feedback for yoga’s impact on depression and stress because participants reported a marked decrease in depression levels.
Yoga practice and the relaxation techniques in yoga have a positive effect on blood pressure. The regular practice of postures such as shavasana, padmasana, and baddha padmasana, along with pranayama techniques such as chandravedi and sheetali, help in reducing blood pressure. These postures keep the body and mind in a relaxed state. A study on yoga’s role in controlling blood pressure showed more positive results compared to the placebo treatments.
Yoga and a change in lifestyle can help in keeping a healthy heart and body. Ujjayi pranayama and bhramari pranayama are beneficial for the heart. Other postures such as vajrasana, janushirasana, padahastasana, and baddha padmasana, along with pranayama techniques like sarala pranayama and chandra bhedi pranayama can be practiced for a healthier body. A study on people with coronary artery diseases showed that by including yoga in their normal routine and a healthy diet, as well as a change in the lifestyle, the incidence of coronary artery disease was reduced drastically.
Regular yoga practice can also help in controlling diabetes. Some of the postures that can aid in controlling diabetes include pavanamuktasana, ardhamatsyendrasana, gomukhasana, koormasana, bhujangasana, dhanurasana, and mayurasana. Apart from these postures, pranayama exercises such as suryabhedi, ujjayi, and bhastrika have also been prescribed for diabetes. Controlled tests on diabetic patients resulted in improved diabetic conditions for the majority of people who had undergone some sort of yoga training.
Relieves Back Pain
Yoga may benefit individuals with lower back pain as well. Some yoga poses or postures, such as mountain pose, pigeon pose, wall plank pose, back traction, and child’s posture, can provide relief from lower back pain.
Cures Stomach Disorders
Gastric troubles can be relieved by practicing yoga. Certain asanas, or postures such as pavanamuktasana, padahastasana, and padangusthasana help in controlling gastric troubles, tone up abdominal muscles, increase gastric juices, and improve digestion. These postures are simple forward-bending postures where one has to touch one’s feet without bending the knees and take it forward to an extent that the palms must come under his or her feet with ease. This can help you get relief from a wide variety of gastrointestinal issues.
Yoga works well in controlling musculoskeletal pain as well, especially osteoarthritis. The efficacy of yoga on osteoarthritis was studied in people suffering from osteoarthritis in hands. The tests showed that practicing yoga is effective in providing relief from hand osteoarthritis.
Treats Asthma and Bronchitis
Pranayama, or breathing exercises, in yoga are good for asthma patients. Yoga postures such as half-spinal twist, wind-relieving posture, and corpse posture, along with alternating nostril breathing technique can act as remedies for asthma and bronchitis.
Surya Namaskara is considered to be beneficial for weight loss. Pada hasthasana and trikonasana can also be helpful in losing weight.
Reduces Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition characterized by pressure on the nerves in the wrist. These nerves are responsible for the feeling or sensation and movement in hands. This condition causes weakness, numbness, and tingling and may also cause muscle damage in the hand or fingers. Yoga can reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome significantly.
There are specific yoga postures that positively affect various joints and stress points of the body. Yoga enhances lubrication of these joints, ligaments, and tendons, making them flexible and functional.
Detoxifies the Body
Yoga ensures gentle stretching of muscles and joints, along with the comprehensive workout of various internal organs, which in turn improves the optimum blood supply. A healthy blood flow is essential in flushing out the toxins and providing nourishment to every cell in the body for a zestful life. Yoga can slacken the pace of aging and ensure vitality.
Yoga during Pregnancy
Surya namaskara, also known as sun salutation, is a series of 6 yoga exercises that is composed of rapid movements. It is an effective technique that acts to tone up muscles, speeding up and intensifying the respiration and cardiac rhythm. At the same time, it keeps away the body from building up lactic acid in the muscles, which results in fatigue and pain. This also facilitates optimum oxygen supply to the lungs and the entire body. Regular practice of this technique strengthens and flexes the muscles around the neck, shoulder, arms, wrists, thighs, calves, and ankles. It also increases lung capacity, stamina, and cardiac development. Surya namaskara controls diseases such as hypertension, palpitation, backaches, insomnia, memory improvement, and compression in the abdominal region. It also provides relief from constipation, dyspepsia, and thyroid problems.
Easy to Practice
Yoga is simple and ideal for every age group as it involves slow and static movements. It has a minimal risk of muscle injury and does not require a huge calorie consumption, while the main thrust area includes breathing techniques.
Things to Remember
Yoga must be learned under the guidance of an expert instructor. Though yoga can be practiced by everyone, irrespective of age or sex, make sure to take your physician’s opinion if you are suffering from heart ailments or any acute or chronic medical conditions that demands caution.
Do not practice yoga after consuming hard alcohol or mind-altering drugs.
Doing yoga in direct sunlight is not recommended. Select comfortable locations for practicing both outdoors and indoors.
Try to concentrate on each and every posture. Do not get distracted by others in the room or around you.
Proceed slowly and steadily by following the instructions precisely.
Do not overstrain yourself, and take breaks between each practice session.