It isn’t news that exercise is an excellent way to not only physically stay in shape, but also mentally. There is a wide array of research that has been conducted in the past few decades that allude to the fact that exercise is a crucial element in the lifestyle of a person in order to stay healthy.
However, while going for a three-mile jog every morning before work is great, and hitting the gym every night after dinner to lift weights and do a series of cardio exercises is beneficial, yoga is often overlooked as a serious work out. There are a number of misconceptions on the practice of yoga.
I know that before I started practicing yoga, I would think of relaxation and meditation – something that doesn’t necessarily qualify as an intense exercise – as more of a peaceful activity that focuses on the mind rather than physical, grueling intensity. I used to foolishly associate yoga with something that puts people to sleep. However, there is actually a multitude of benefits that yoga brings, psychologically and physically-speaking. Here are some of the benefits of yoga:
1. Physical strength and overall health
Yoga consists of a wide array of poses – each one focuses on different areas of the body and all are meant to strengthen. Because each pose, even the simplest of poses, directly targets specific groups of muscles, muscles are toned in both the upper and the lower body. Yoga also helps with flexibility, which in turn helps to improve one’s posture, because poses focus so much on proper alignment and allow for more synchronized movements of the body. In addition, research has concluded that yoga reaps important physiological benefits, by helping to lower blood pressure, releasing toxins from the body, flushing out the lymphatic system and promoting a healthy heart overall.
According to Live Science, as well as some other studies that have been conducted in recent years, yoga has been found to improve memory. This may be a result of the fact that yoga heavily draws on repeated movements and visualizations. These strengthen both verbal and visual skills, as well as help with overall awareness and attention. People who have participated in these studies were found to have improvements in image association, as well as name and facial recognition.
3. Mental health
There are multiple studies out there that have shown that yoga helps relieve stress, depression and anxiety. With its focus on controlled, gentle breathing, as well as its precise postures and its emphasis on deep concentration, yoga has been found to lower depression, especially for those who practice consistently. Dr. Chris Streeter, who specializes in psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, states that yoga is a better alternative to taking antidepressant drugs, which bring a slew of side effects. Yoga targets the autonomic nervous system, and according to Streeter, if the autonomic nervous system is balanced out, “the rest of the brain works better.”
According to the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, and other independent studies that have been conducted, people who practice yoga and meditation are more likely to get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Even researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that daily yoga practice results in significant improvements in the quality and quantity of sleep. Thus, yoga is a great way to help remedy insomnia, which leads to a long list of health problems, including obesity, depression and high blood pressure. Yoga is a great alternative to sleep medication, and can help reduce feelings of fatigue.