Health benefits of yoga go beyond the mat

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From stretching and strengthening to de-stressing, there’s a lot to love about yoga. But its benefits go much deeper than that     ; its effects are as much internal as external.

The purpose of yoga is to build strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body. Here are just some of the physical and mental benefits of yoga.

There are many different types of yoga, all with their own advantages. Some are fast-paced and a great cardio workout, others are gentle and encourage relaxation.

The most popular include:
Hatha
The form most often associated with yoga. Hatha is usually done at a slower pace, focusing on stretching, alignment and moving with the breath

Vinyasa
A dynamic practise that can be very strong but still has a playful quality. It’s often referred to as a moving meditation as the poses link smoothly together. Its ability to speed up the heart rate benefits the body and mind.

Power
Considered a ‘contemporary’ style of yoga, power yoga is a faster, high intensity      practice that builds muscle. A good way to describe it is a vigorous, fitness-based form of yoga. You’re almost guaranteed to work up a sweat but will also be focusing on your breath as you move.

Ashtanga
A physically demanding practise that synchronises breath and movement to purify the body. It is great for building core strength and toning the body. Prepare to sweat.

Bikram
Also known as      ‘hot yoga’,      it’s a series of 26 challenging poses performed in a room heated to a high temperature.

Iyengar
Atype of yoga that uses props      such as blocks, straps, and chairs to help you move your body into the proper alignment. There is an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in Iyengar yoga with little to no freedom of movement.

Physical benefits of yoga

Improves flexibility
Flexibility is just the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range and is perhaps the most obvious and well-known benefit of yoga.

Whether you want to be able to touch your toes, reduce tightness in your hips or feel less stiff overall, yoga can help. And it’s always good to remember that flexibility is a by-product of yoga, not a prerequisite.

Increases muscle tone
Some styles of yoga,      such as power and ashtanga, are very physical and will help to improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles can provide strength and endurance benefits. Spend a few moments in downward dog and you’ll soon realise how much strength yoga requires, and how much can be gained through regular practice.

Better posture
Many yoga poses help to develop core strength, which is vital to maintain correct posture. You’re more likely to sit, stand and walk upright when you’re aware of your body and how good it feels when it’s in alignment.

Correcting posture imbalances will also help to prevent and relieve chronic back pain.

Lowers risk of injury
Developing greater strength and flexibility in your muscles will consequently reduce your risk of injury and will allow greater movement in your body to help you perform better physically.

Improves heart health
Yoga can boost cardiovascular fitness and circulation while lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. All these things combined can decrease the risk of hypertension, stroke and heart disease.

Mental benefits of yoga
Along with the multitude of physical benefits, a new study from the University of South Australia      shows that the ancient practice of yoga could provide a sustainable exercise alternative for thousands of people isolating at home.    

The world first study,      conducted in partnership with the Federal University of Santa Maria, UNSW Sydney, Kings College London and Western Sydney University, found that movement-based yoga improves the mental health of people living with a range of mental disorders, with the benefits being incremental      depending on the amount of yoga they      practised.

Lead researcher      UniSA PhD candidate      Jacinta Brinsley says it’s a welcome and timely finding given social distancing measures that limit exercise options.

“As self-isolation escalates and people find themselves working from home and unable to physically catch up with their friends and family, we’re likely to see more people feel lonely and disconnected,” Ms Brinsley says.

“Exercise has always been a great strategy for people struggling with these feelings as it boosts both mood and health. The limits around gym sessions and exercise classes mean that people are looking for alternatives, and this is where yoga can help.

“Our research shows that movement-based yoga improved symptoms of depression (or improved mental health) for people living with a range of mental health conditions including anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and major depression. So, it’s very good news for people struggling in times of uncertainty.”

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined 19 studies (1080 participants) across six countries (US, India, Japan, China, Germany and Sweden), where individuals had a formal diagnosis of a mental disorder, including depression and anxiety.

The researchers defined movement-based yoga as any form of yoga where participants are physically active at least 50 per cent of the time,      i.e. forms of yoga that emphasise holding poses and flowing through sequences of poses.

Globally, around 450 million people suffer from mental health issues, with the World Health Organization reporting that one in four people will be affected by a mental health condition or a neurological disorder at some point in their lives. In Australia, almost half of adults (aged 18     85 years) will experience mental illness.

Assoc Prof Simon Rosenbaum says that while the results are promising, challenges remain.

“Importantly, the most vulnerable in our community are often the least likely to have access to exercise or yoga programs despite the potential benefits,” Assoc. Prof. Rosenbaum says.

“Our results have significant implications and demonstrate that you don’t necessarily need to go for a jog to benefit from movement.”

Have you ever tried yoga? What style do you prefer? Do you do yoga at home or in a class setting?

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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