I love yoga and have been practicing regularly for the past 20+ years. I prefer Iyengar yoga because it emphasizes alignment and because, for me, it is a style that helps me feel grounded and centered. I have not experienced the same effect from Ashtanga-style yoga. Here is an article wriitten by Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, a naturopath and licensed acupuncturist.
Yoga isn’t simply a series of exercises in which you learn to twist your body into a pretzel; it’s also known to have remarkable health benefits. In its original form, practiced for thousands of years in Hindu tradition, yoga was seen as an integral part of a transformative way of life. Although it has been significantly modified in its adoption by Western culture, yoga as we know it today can still help people support their health and well-being.
Yoga has the potential to not only increase your awareness of your body, but also to help you be more conscious as you move through life. Researchers have found that yoga, like meditation, has significant effects on decreasing stress and tension. It can also promote greater vitality and increase your quality of life in the following ways:
1. Increased flexibility. By doing yoga regularly, you can “recruit” new elastic tissue to your tendons and muscles, which in turn can allow you to move in ways that you may not have been able to move in years. This can significantly decrease your risk of getting injured while working out or having fun. One study found that people who practiced yoga regularly for only 8 weeks had a 35 percent increase in flexibility. With improved flexibility, you may notice that chronic aches and pains subside or disappear entirely. Remember “the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone”? Well, when you create greater overall flexibility, a pain you’ve been feeling in your knee may go away simply because you’ve loosened your lower back, buttocks and thigh muscles. Joint pains are often related to reduced flexibility, which can lead to poor structural alignment, and yoga is the perfect exercise for ironing out all those aches and pains from your body.
2. Support for your posture. Many yoga exercises build muscles in your core that are important when you’re sitting or standing. And since yoga brings awareness to your bodily movements, it can help you “check in” with your body when you’re slumping or slouching, so you can make the right corrections. When you have great posture, you feel better, you’re less prone to injuries, you look better and less energy is required to hold your body in one position for long periods of time.
3. Prevention of arthritis. People often get arthritis because of uneven wear and tear on their cartilage, due to poor structural alignment and lack of use. When you do yoga, you can put your muscles and joints through their full range of motion, which bathes these tissues with blood, oxygen and nutrients. You can also loosen your tendon and ligament attachments, which creates additional space for your joints to go through even further range of motion.
4. Helping to build and maintain bone. Some yoga poses are weight-bearing, which means they stress your muscles in ways that stimulate your bone cells to lay down new bone. This can help you prevent osteoporosis, or porous bones, in your senior years. Because yoga also reduces stress, it could have additional positive impacts on bones by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, which in excess can reduce bone density.
5. Increased sense of peace and happiness. When you practice yoga consistently, you can affect many brain chemicals that promote sensations of well-being. Yoga has been shown to not only decrease cortisol, but also increase serotonin (your “feel-good” neurotransmitter) and boost dopamine (a brain chemical that can induce feelings of happiness and hopefulness).
Yoga is delightfully accessible; it doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment. You can go far with just a yoga mat, some yoga straps and a few yoga blocks. You can do it at any age, and do it anywhere that allows you enough space to move. To get started, you can purchase a yoga DVD, follow a book’s guidelines, or take a class. Remember that yoga can be more than just a form of exercise. It can be a time you set aside to check in with yourself – and ultimately it can become a way of life.