Yoga is one of the most underutilized and underrated medical therapies in the U.S. It is cheap and requires no special equipment, memberships or expensive outfits. Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and close to 28 million Americans enjoy its health benefits*.
When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a gymnast. That makes them worry that they’re too unfit, overweight or just not flexible enough to do yoga. The truth is you’re never too old to improve flexibility. The series of yoga poses called asanas work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and can cause stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion and lubrication in joints. Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of the body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds muscles. And no matter the level of yoga, benefits occur in a very short period of time. In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga. The greatest gains were in shoulder and trunk flexibility.
2) Reduce Stress
Even beginners tend to feel less stressed after their first class. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant “mind chatter” that often underlies stress. Among yoga’s anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine — creates a feeling of calm. Some research points to a boost in the hormone oxytocin. This is the so-called “trust” and “bonding” hormone that’s associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others. That may be why so many romances start in the yoga studio.
3) Improves health
Studies have shown that yoga improves many physical areas of the human body. In one study of 2,700 adults who added just two hours per week of yoga showed that participants experienced significant improvements in back disorders, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and even reduction of cancer symptoms.* Perhaps one of the most studied of these areas being heart disease. Yoga has long been known to slow the heart rate; a slower heart rate can benefit hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
So, whether you’re just looking for more serenity in your day, are a gym dropout or want to address a specific health condition, yoga is for you.
*Timothy McCall, MD, New England Journal of Medicine.
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