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Yoga + Benefits for your Body

Yoga, we've all heard of it. What is it? What's the purpose? 

Well, we're about to find out!

Yoga is a discipline, an ancient practice and meditation. It's a system, not a belief, "of techniques and guidance for enriched living." A system for well being on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The practice includes a focus on breath control, simple meditation and specific body postures. 

Yoga and Health Benefits

1. Improves Flexibility: One of the most obvious benefits of yoga is becoming more flexible. Sticking with a consistent routine of classes will have you noticing gradual changes in your flexibility and mobility. Loosening you up and those once impossible, crazy poses won't seem so impossible! Improved flexibility can (and will) help alleviate some aches/pains. Tight hips can strain the knees, tight hamstrings can lead to back pain, and in general inflexible muscles can lead to poor posture.

2. Helps Strengthen Muscle: Having a strong body helps with arthritic pains and prevents falls. Yoga helps strengthen muscles in a very different way than weight lifting does. It teaches the body how to utilize its own natural strength and build a healthy foundation. In an 8 week study of a small group of sedentary people who had never done yoga before, going at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes participants already showed greater muscle strength and higher muscle endurance.

3. Helps Correct Posture: Poor posture can cause neck and back pain along with joint/mobility issues. Slumping and going about daily activities with poor posture will inevitably have your body compensating in other areas- flattening normal curves in spine/neck/low back. Yoga will develop that strength foundation and help improve posture overall. Proper posture = greater body functionality.

4. Protects your Spine: The spine as a whole needs movements. Movement helps strengthen the muscles around disks and keeps them healthy and balanced. When the disks (shock absorbents) between vertebrates  aren't healthy it can result in herniated discs and compression issues.

5. Improves Circulatory and Cardiovascular  Health: Studies have shown that yoga has a positive effect on cardio risk factors: lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension. It's likely that the stretching and meditation associated with yoga helps restore Baroreceptor sensitivity- helping your body sense imbalances in blood pressure. Lipid profiles were improved in patients with known coronary artery disease and lowered excessive blood sugar levels. Yoga also helps get your blood flowing and gets more oxygen to your cells which leads to better functioning. Twisting and stretching allows oxygenated blood to flow once positions are released. Specific poses can help venous blood flow back to the heart to be pumped freshly.

6. Improves Balance: Regular practice increases the ability to feel your body and understand it in space. Proprioception is increased and balance can improve. Better balance (along with the strength increases mentioned earlier) could mean less falls and less knee/back pain. For older people this translates into what we all grasp to the most, our independence.

7. Mental Benefits: Yoga doesn't only provide phenomenal physical benefits, it's also known to have massive effects on the mind. Incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve mental well being. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Natalie  Nevins, a board certified osteopathic physician. Being clear mentally allows for self awareness and can particularly be beneficial in helping to detect any early physical problems.

There's too much research done and available that shows yoga deserves a permanent spot at the top of the health and fitness charts. In 2010, University of Maryland school of Nursing published a comparative analysis study. Basically, yoga against aerobic exercise and the health benefits of each. Research found that yoga out performed aerobic exercise at improving balance, flexibility, strength, pains levels among seniors, menopausal symptoms and daily energy levels. However, it's not a choice you have to make, it's not one or the other. This doesn't mean you should stop doing your walks,runs or hikes which all have their own health benefits. Yoga is exercise, lets get that clear. It's not something you should look at as girly, sissy, or worthless anymore. 

Give it a shot, add it to your routines even if only once or twice a month. I'd guarantee you'll be adding it in more as you get into it.

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