Movement

Yoga: Low impact, great health benefits

Movement

Yoga: Low impact, great health benefits

Yoga is an ancient physical and spiritual discipline that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Today, millions still believe in the power of yoga to increase flexibility, strengthen muscles and reduce stress. 

How does yoga work?

Yoga postures focus on specific body parts and breathing techniques that integrate the body with mind and soul.

Yoga is rising in popularity for its health benefits:

  • 20 million Americans practice yoga or other mind-body exercises.

  • People report using yoga for wellness, health conditions and specific body aches and pains, like back or neck pain.

  • 90 percent of yoga participants feel their practice is very or somewhat helpful.

Health benefits of yoga

Note: If you have been diagnosed with any of the following conditions, talk to your physician before beginning a yoga practice or any other type of exercise.

Yoga can have a positive impact on the body in the following ways:

  • Blood pressure. Breathing techniques help reduce stress and improve blood flow, which may lower blood pressure. 

  • Bone disease. Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to be beneficial to bone remodeling. Yoga accomplishes this in a non-impact manner that is less harmful to joints.

  • Diabetes. In people with diabetes, yoga has been found to lower blood sugar levels, encourage weight loss and improve sensitivity to the effects of insulin.

  • Strength. Each pose is typically held for several long breaths, which promotes strength, balance and flexibility, particularly in the abs, hamstrings, quadriceps, arms and lower back. Another bonus: better posture.

  • Flexibility. Yoga poses stretch your muscles, allowing you to move more freely and feel less stiff. It also increase lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendons.

  • Mood enhancer. Yoga helps decrease tension, fatigue and anxiety while increasing energy and feelings of well-being.

Yoga has been linked to other health benefits: reduction in asthma symptoms, less pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improved immune system function.

Is yoga right for you?

There are dozens of types of yoga, but they all strive for the same outcome: A unification of mind, body and spirit. A few of the most popular styles of yoga include:

  • Hatha: A hatha-style yoga class is typically gentle, focusing on classic postures and breathing exercises. Great for beginners.

  • Vinyasa: This style incorporates faster-paced movements to match the breath, including sun salutations. Expect to increase your heart rate.

  • Ashtanga: This form focuses on strengthening the muscles with moves that get tougher as you go. Ashtanga follows the same set of intense poses each time.

  • Bikram: A type of “hot yoga,” this form is practiced in a room heated to 95 to 100 degrees, which is believed to loosen the muscles. This method is based on 26 poses, but some classes vary the moves.

“As a general rule, yoga is safe. That being said, as with any physical activity, people can get hurt during the practice,” says Scott Kimmerly, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Piedmont. “Common injuries occur due to repetitive muscle strains and over-stretching of the neck, legs and knees. It’s important to have an experienced instructor (you can inquire about your instructor’s credentials) and alert them to any pre-existing injuries. Awareness of one’s own physical limitations (not all positions are obtainable!) is also important for an injury-free yoga experience.”

Many people can benefit from practicing yoga. With a wide variety of styles, classes, DVDs and online videos, you are likely to find a form that works for you.

See more fun, feel-good ways to get moving.

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