HAPPY INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY!
A few years ago, yoga was a weird thing that weird people did. They did a lot of bending and breathing and perhaps a bit of chanting… we weren’t sure, but it just seemed weird.
These days yoga has become much more mainstream, with classes available at every gym and leisure centre and even mainstream fitness professionals taking it up on their rest days. As a culture we seem to be looking more towards mindfulness and spirituality, and yoga has been a massive part of that.
Yoga is not just the physical movement you see in yoga classes; it’s actually an entire way of life, of which the physical practice is just a small part. Many people begin yoga out of a need to stretch or recover after months of pounding on the treadmill, only to find they fall in love with the mindful breathing and meditation aspect of it. There are so many benefits to yoga aside from just becoming more flexible. Here are five other major benefits of adding yoga to your regular exercise schedule:
It might not seem like standing with your arms out can make you any stronger, but holding yoga poses can really improve overall muscle strength. It also balances this with flexibility, which you don’t get with strength built by lifting weights which is often done at the expense of flexibility.
Poor posture doesn’t just make us look fatter, shorter and less confident; it can also be painful and cause all sorts of aches and pains. Your head is heavy, like a big bowling ball balanced on top of your neck and shoulders. If it’s balanced perfectly on the top with good posture, it doesn’t take much effort from your muscles to keep it there. But if it’s just a few centimetres forwards or backwards, it can strain muscles and make you incredibly tired. In fact, poor posture can cause your body to compensate by flattening the normal curves of your neck and lower back – and this can cause degenerative arthritis of the spine. Yoga helps to correct our posture, and to build muscles to hold us in the correct position.
When we contract and stretch our muscles, move through yoga poses and move our organs around in the process, this increases lymphatic drainage, which helps our lymphatic system to fight infection, to dispose of waste products of cellular functions and even to destroy cancerous cells.
Studies have found that a consistent yoga practice can improve depression and lead to a significant increase in serotonin levels while also decreasing cortisol. In this modern age of rushing to and from everything, the very act of concentrating on your breathing and moving slowly with intention can have a very positive effect on mood and wellbeing.
Yoga teaches us to stay in the present moment. Regular practice can improve our coordination, reaction time, memory and some even say it can improve IQ scoring. Practising staying in the present moment helps us to focus our thoughts, and this focus carries on after we’ve stepped off the yoga mat. Learning to stay in the present moment doesn’t only help us to focus on what we’re doing (because we’re not being distracted by other thoughts); it also helps with general mood and sleep.
If you’ve not tried yoga before, why not use Yoga Day as a reason to give it a go? It can be a lovely, relaxing way to stretch out your muscles between workouts, and you might find you want to make it a regular thing!