How Yoga can benefit your health

Did you know that some of the benefits of yoga include improving your immune system, reducing muscle pain and weight loss?

Yoga is more commonplace these days, and no longer seen as just for women or something where you sit crossed-legged, contort yourself into a pretzel shape and chant! Interestingly, thousands of years ago, only men were allowed to practise yoga, women were banned! The physical postures were only practised to enable the body to sit for long periods of time in meditation.

How things have changed! Over the past several years, yoga has become increasingly more popular in the western world and with medical professionals and celebrities. Western science is starting to provide some concrete evidence as to the efficacy of yoga: how it works to improve health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay.

There are so many styles to choose from too it can seem a little confusing. We now have Pre and Post-Natal Yoga, Hot Pod Yoga, Laughter Yoga and Remedial Yoga to name just a few. Hatha yoga is one of the most popular forms – and the type we use in our classes – combining physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and relaxation (savasana).

Here are some lesser known benefits of yoga that are sure to leave you surprised :

Improves the immune system

Your immune system literally needs to be fighting fit to ward off disease. Antibiotics and other medicines can help the body recover from disease but they don’t help improve the body’s immunity. If taken too regularly, antibiotics can also kill of some of your healthy gut bacteria, compromising the body’s natural defence system. Yoga is one of the most effective natural immunity boosters that strengthens the body and relaxes the mind.

Toxins and constant stress can weaken and drain your immune system and make them susceptible to disease. Viruses and bacteria reside quietly within us until something in the body’s internal environment becomes imbalanced, at which point they rally into action and attack. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that can weaken the immune system.

The physical postures help by massaging the internal organs and the squeezing action helps move the lymph, which unlike the blood doesn’t have a pump. This then helps to move toxins along the lymphatic system and release them from the body.

Yoga for cardiovascular fitness and Weight Loss

Who would have thought that standing still in a yoga pose could increase your heart rate and help to lose weight?! One of the most powerful sets of muscles are the thighs and they require a lot of oxygenated blood to power them. Have you ever done one of those fit bike tests only to find your legs give in before your lungs?

Many of the standing yoga poses actually create heat, burn calories and increase your heart rate as if you’d been for a very brisk walk/light jog. In particular, one of the yoga flows (called the sun salutation) can leave you feeling like you’ve had a workout when repeated 6-10 times, yet at the same time invigorates you without the wear and tear of some other sports.

You can also lie down, relax and lose weight too! Stress can create high cortisol levels which in turn can cause weight gain if not released from the system. Partially inverted postures help greatly too.

Reducing muscle pain by Mindfulness

Lots of research has gone into reducing/eliminating pain by practising Mindfulness. Somatic yoga is mindful yoga coupled with the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais. This unique type of yoga helps to retrain the brain to teach the muscles to let go of chronic tension and pain. It breaks patterns of tension which have arisen from habitual movements, accidents or injuries. I have seen some outstanding results with this, including on myself in curing my frozen shoulder.