Whether you’re looking to take up a new hobby, want to make positive changes to your health regime, or are simply looking for an excuse to get out of the house, yoga could be the solution you’ve been looking for.
The ancient artform has been practiced since 3000 BC and studies estimate that there are currently around 300 million people practicing yoga worldwide. But what are the benefits? Is it really as good as it seems?
To explain why yoga really is all that, Stephen Virtue, Fitness Experience Manager at Total Fitness, the North’s leading mid-market health club, reveals 10 benefits of the practice that you might not know about, to help you decide if yoga is the one for you…
1. Release Tension
If you’ve ever found yourself with a sore back or aching shoulders from being hunched over a desk all day, yoga could be the release you need. It offers a huge array of stretches to improve mobility and release tension throughout the body. Shoulder flossing is one example of a technique that most of us in office jobs could benefit from implementing on a daily basis. This simple stretching technique mobilises the entire shoulder joint throughout its full range of motion. It does this by freeing up space behind the joint – a heavily congested area associated with neck and thoracic spine stiffness if not managed correctly. Regular stretching improves flexibility which in turn reduces the chances of overuse injuries and injury through muscular strain. Maintaining a good level of flexibility will certainly help you stay healthy, not to mention independent, later in life.
2. Boost Immunity
If you’re prone to colds, headaches and sore throats then chances are you’re doing one, if not all, of the following; working long hours, not getting enough sleep, or burning the candle at both ends. Spending a little time each day practicing gentle yoga has been proven to lower stress levels, which in turn gives your body space to breathe and recover, instead of working around the clock. Deep breathing during yoga ensures enough oxygen is being sent to the parts of your body that need it most, whilst many of the poses increase blood flow to the sinuses, helping to ease congestion.
3. Increase Brain Function
Studies have found that experiencing a meditative state through practicing yoga can thicken the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that controls awareness, attention, memory, thoughts and language – when practiced over a long period of time. Exercising the brain through meditation in this way is shown to improve brain performance in those key cerebral cortex areas and aids learning new skills. So, in essence, yoga could actually make you smarter!
4. Beat Bloating
Ever wished there was a quick way to relieve bloating? Yoga poses can be used reduce bloating quickly and efficiently. Activities that improve blood circulation and stretch out the body will help to release the build-up of gas and fluids in the body. Simple yoga poses can prove very effective for this. Try lying on your back and hugging your knees into your chest to achieve a nice stretch and get that circulation moving.
5. Improve Breathing
Once again, those of us in office jobs are found to be at a disadvantage and in this instance may not be breathing correctly. Humans aren’t evolved to be sat down for a significant part of our day and as such those of behind desks are more prone to a collapsed posture, therefore not taking full breaths. Breathing deeply has a huge impact on our bodies and brains, so it’s important to ensure we’re doing it correctly. Practicing yoga stretches out the body, opening the chest area to allow for full, deep breaths and a healthy intake of oxygen. Practicing regularly strengthens the lungs and improves posture for a better quality of respiration, even when away from the mat. Breathing from the diaphragm – a technique practised within Yoga – has also been shown to unlock localised spinal stiffness.
6. Sweat Out Impurities
Sweating through exercise is a good way to cleanse the skin of nasties, so why not take it to the next level with hot yoga, like Bikram or Vinyasa, to up the ante? Practicing at a higher temperature demands more energy and encourages the body to sweat more, which has fantastic detoxifying benefits as it removes toxins, grime and bacteria from the pores. It also stimulates blood flow to the skin cells which in turn gives the skin a natural, radiant glow.
7. Find A Style That Suits You
If hot yoga isn’t your cup of tea then why not try one of many cooler practices of yoga. Alongside Bikram and Vinyasa there is also, Hatha yoga, which covers any style of yoga involving breathing and simple poses – this is a good one for beginners and those wanting to enter a relaxed state of mind. For something more energetic why not try Ashtanga or Power yoga? These are challenging forms of practice that will give your abs and core a good workout, but ultimately leave you feeling meditative. There are plenty of different types of yoga so you’re sure to find a style that suits your individual needs. Call into your local health club or gym to find out what yoga classes are available.
8. Practise Mindfulness
The 21st century is fast-paced. We could all benefit from slowing down and taking a little time for ourselves here and there. Spending half an hour to an hour practicing yoga a few times a week is a great way to slow down and be mindful of our surroundings. Yoga encourages those practicing to elongate the spine, open out the chest and breathe deeply and slowly to increase oxygen supply to the brain. Sitting and breathing in this way helps us to enter a mindful state, increasing attentiveness and reducing stress.
Yoga classes like the ones offered at Total Fitness are a great way to meet new people or commit to regular face-to-face time with friends. Practicing with a friend or meeting someone at your local class will help you commit to that regular exercise regime as it gives you a reason to not skip your practice – you can hold each other accountable for showing up to class each week.
10. Yoga Is For Everyone
Historically, there has been a stigma surrounding yoga, with many believing it to be a woman’s activity. However, a recent study by Total Fitness concluded revealed that this sentiment is outdated and there is in fact a significant percentage of men who have practiced or would like to practice yoga – 34% to be exact.
So, there you have it – grab a mat (for runners, mats like this one from Dosha can really help to ease sore muscles), get signed up and start your yoga journey.
*Please note that this article contains affiliate links