Many people hear “yoga”, and think Zen gardens, meditation, and free spirits. But you may be surprised to find that one recent study showed that those who incorporated yoga into their life had improved stress levels and lower blood pressure. Yoga was ultimately developed to combine controlled breathing and poses to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual strength and unity. In fact, Michelle Obama even attributes her sleek physique to frequent yoga sessions. There are multiple types of yoga, but Hatha Yoga is the most commonly practiced type in the United States.
Here are some surprising health benefits of practicing yoga that you may have never known!
Relief of Back Pain: More than 60 million Americans suffer from chronic back pain. Yoga is one of the best exercises to help alleviate pain. This is due to the increase in core stability (abdominal muscles) and the reduction of pressure across the lower back and surrounding muscles. Yoga also helps to release endorphins throughout the body that can calm inflammation. Practicing yoga for just two sessions a week may reduce or even eliminate back pain. Many individuals also report an increase in pain tolerance after attending sessions for only three weeks.
Heart Healthy: Further research also demonstrates that even one yoga session can produce a calming effect on the body, and individuals in one study showed reduction in their systolic blood pressure after only 12 weeks of two yoga sessions per week. Additionally, incorporating yoga into a cardiac rehabilitation program after a heart attack or bypass surgery has also shown promise in maintaining lower levels of stress and healthy blood pressure levels.
Increased Flexibility: You may be thinking, “No Duh”, on this one, but the benefits may be surprising. Practicing poses like downward dog, and tree pose can improve balance and flexibility. This can directly strengthen and protect your larger joints (knees, hips, back, neck) from injury and reduce inflammation in the smaller joints (fingers and ankles). This can also help reduce falls in the elderly, and ultimately avoid fractures in this age group.
Mood Booster: In addition to mental clarity and relaxation, yoga has been shown to improve depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. A small German study reviewed in the Harvard Mental Health Letter demonstrated that at the end of a three-month period, women perceived less stress, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. A few yoga classes could leave you happier and less stressed. Increased happiness alone is reason enough to give it a try!
As with any new exercise, always consult your physician before you begin. This is to ensure your body can safely complete the activity. I also recommend you attend a beginner class or view a video with some common poses. This will make you feel more confident during your first class and ensure you obtain the most benefit.