When the majority of people think of yoga we tend to think of stretching and easy exercise designed to make us more pliable for longer.......
The real benefits of yoga extend far beyond the stretching aspects although lengthening of soft tissue and correcting posture is a benefit of the practice.
I intially started Yoga when my girlfriend at the time (now Fiancee) suggested I came along to a led Ashtanga class at my local leisure centre. I had done various 'Yoga based' movement for the previous 2 years but never fully committed to the practice, nor understood the extensive benefits both on a physical level and mental level.
During my first class I found relatively easy postures like stress positions and I enjoyed this as I felt it was pushing my body to new limits. I felt that the practice provided a perfect balance of strength, mobility and balance of all bodily functions. As time has continued I have seen greater mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, control of my breathing, increased speed and reactions times and tuning in to the inner core.
Yoga boasts many long term health benefits........
1 - Increased Flexibility - releasing tension placed on joints allowing them to work correctly.
2 - Improved Posture - lengthening of the spine and the keeping the head on top of a spine means that is correctly balanced and not placing undue tension on the volatile and mobile cervical spine vertabrae.
3 - Muscular strength - this is required and will also continue to develop with a regular practice. Anyone who returns to a 'half pushup' (Chaturanga) over 50 times within a 2 hour session will definitely start to feel the effects. Most importantly Yoga builds strength from the inside out, reinforcing the body and creating strength from the spine to the exterior muscles that we all see; for example 'the obliques or 'six pack'. Later in the practice comes inversions and far more difficult postures which in time will create a functional body with a high power to weight ratio.
4 - Balance - this is seen in nearly every posture with nearly ever angle of the body being targettted through a range of postures. The Ashtanga practice moves through standing, seated, deep floor seated, backbends and finishing asanas challenging ones proprioception, strength, endurance, mobility and mental toughness.
5 - Preventing the degradation of joints - taking the joints through their full range of motion on a regular basis helps to squeeze and flush them full of blood and essential nutrients. Any downward force from supportive postures helps to strengthen the bones and studies are showing a reduced risk of osteoporosis with a regular yoga practice over years.
6 - Yoga gets more oxygen to your cells - which function better as a result. Twisting poses are designed to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inverted poses, such as headstand, handstand and shoulderstand encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga also boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. And it thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.
7 - Drainage of Lymph and waste products - the removal of waste products is done through the great range of postures and helps to reduce the risks of cancer and illness throughout life leading to an effecient immune system....
8 - Aids immune system - lowered Cortisol levels occur through a redution in stress and this works the other way round aswell. We need cortisol now and then to bring on a reaction in a stressful situation aswell as boosting immune function. Yet, chronic adrenal fatigue will occur through heightened levels, destroying hormal balance and secretion. Cortisol also plays havoc with the regeneration of bone and recovery of the body, extracting calcium from the bones and increasing blood pressure.
These are just a few of many physical benefits that a regular yoga practice provides. Seek a recommended accreditted Yoga instructor local to you and start seeing the benefits today. I intend to continue learning for aslong as I can imagine, as this is a life system not just exercise, even though the physical benefits are so vast.