6 Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is all about mastering the connection between the mind and body at a deeply spiritual level. Globally, roughly 2 billion people practice Yoga. The reason Yoga continues to be so popular around the world is because it works. Yoga is not a recent phenomenon. It originated in India thousands of years ago.

Yoga provides you with a much-needed introspective view. Breaking down mental blockages through meditation, mindfulness, and reflection. Improving your physical well-being through a variety of poses and breathing exercises. There are 11 major types of Yoga, containing their own style and variations and their own benefits.

This article will highlight three physical benefits and three mental benefits of Yoga.

(1)  Weight Reduction and Maintenance

For many years now, there has been a lot of debate whether Yoga is effective in losing weight and this is because it is claimed that Yoga is not fast-paced enough to burn calories when compared to aerobics or running. That claim has now been revoked. On a physical level, Yoga helps to reduce weight and maintain a balance via the asanas (poses). There is a multitude of asanas and each has their advantages in aiding weight-loss. These poses teach us to breathe deeper causing a detoxifying effect thereby eradicating toxins from the body.

Power Yoga and VinyasaFlow are two efficient types of Yoga for weight-loss. They are fast-paced and contain cardio and strength-training poses, resulting in an increase in lean mass. Some of the styles require a bit of vigour on the part of the practitioner. The more vigorously you practice it the more you improve your muscle tones. Those who wish to improve strength and endurance should practice specific styles of Yoga such as Iyengar Yoga.

The poses worth trying during a Yoga session for weight-loss include:

Paripurna Navasana pose

Chaturanga dandasana pose

(2)  Improved Breathing

Nowadays we are surrounded by alarming levels of pollution worldwide, leaving us vulnerable and with less and less fresh air to breathe in. On another note, mental issues such as anxiety and panic disorders share a common symptom, which is shortness of breath. Yoga helps to improve breathing by increasing the lung capacity. Among other things, our lungs are responsible for bringing oxygen into our bodies; expelling carbon-dioxide; regulating cellular metabolism and pH levels. A decreased lung capacity leads to high-risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, regardless of one’s smoking status. However, Yoga helps to improve the lung capacity through pranayama (breathing exercises) and poses by deepening and lengthening the breath.

The poses worth trying during a Yoga session to improve breathing include:

Parivrrta Trikonasana pose

Anjaneyasana pose

Pranayamas for Improved Breathing

Pranayamas (breathing exercises) are an integral part of Yoga and how we breathe should be important, especially since it deals with our survival.  Below you’ll find three breathing exercises that help to improve breathing and contain other major health benefits too.

Nadi Shodhana – Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is a simple yet powerful ancient yogic breathing technique. The main function of this breathing exercise is to clear and purify and is suitable to be practised by almost anyone. Here are some of the benefits of this pranayama: it enhances concentration levels by improving attention and fine-motor co-ordination; infuses the body with more oxygen, thus clearing and releasing toxins; calms and rejuvenates the nervous system; balances hormonal levels; helps to alleviate respiratory allergies like hay fever, sneezing or wheezing; and it promotes mental clarity and alertness.

Ujjayi – Victorious Breath

Also referred to as the ‘oceanic breath’. This pranayama contains a balancing influence on the entire cardiorespiratory system. Here are some of its many benefits: it helps to release feelings of irritation and frustration; calms the mind and body; regulates blood pressure; detoxifies the body; builds up energy; relieves tension; relieves headaches; relief from sinus pressure and it strengthens the nervous and digestive system. This pranayama is best practised together with Hatha Yoga.

Kapalabhati Breath – Skull Shining Breath

This is a more advanced pranayama hence you are strongly advised to read further about this type of breathing technique before deciding to practice it. Nonetheless, Kapalabhati breathing helps to purify, rejuvenate and invigorate both the mind and the body. It can also help us to release negative emotions, shake off fatigue and re-energize. It helps to cleanse the lungs and respiratory system; strengthen the diaphragm and abdominal muscles; increase the oxygen flow, therefore, purifying the blood; improve digestion and aid the metabolism.

(3)  Improves Cardio Vascular Health

Yoga helps the circulatory system by boosting blood circulation, building muscle, decreasing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and by increasing lung capacity. The American Heart Association approved that Yoga is beneficial and aids heart health and have recommended a 25-30-minute Yoga practice, at least 5 days per week for an overall cardiovascular health.

The poses worth trying during a Yoga session to improve cardiovascular health include:

 Tadasana pose

One legged Wheel pose

(4)  Reduces Stress, Enhances Calmness

Yoga is both a mind and body practice that causes us to mentally quiet down all the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, by placing all awareness and focus on our breathing. As a result of that, it helps to quiet the never-ending mind chatter that often acts as proof of stress. Hatha Yoga is perfect for people who live or work in highly stressful surroundings.

The poses worth trying during a Yoga session to reduce stress include:

Savasana – Corpse Pose

(5)  Sharpens Concentration

 A study conducted in May 2013 revealed that Yoga sharpens concentration levels when compared to other exercises. The study involved 30 female participants within the average age of 20 years who all completed a yoga exercise session, an aerobic exercise session and a baseline assessment. The results revealed that cognitive performance after the Yoga session was significantly superior with shorter reaction times and increased accuracy.

Additionally, it helps us feel much better and happier by sending more oxygen to the brain. Thus, being able to focus on the most important stuff. Yoga helps alleviate the effects of depression too.

(6)  Improves Sleep

One of the main ways that Yoga improves our sleep is through physical fatigue, the tiring out of the body, which helps us to fall asleep easier at night. Another way is through meditation, by easing and calming the mind causing a sense of total relaxation. The breathing exercises help to increase oxygen levels which then relaxes the nervous system, thereby creating the ample state in order to induce sleep.

The poses worth trying before calling it a night include:

paschimottanasana pose

Padmasana pose

These are just some of the physical and mental benefits of this ancient Indian practice. Yoga is a wholesome practice incorporating both the mind and the body. It is evidential that each of its benefits are interconnected with one another. If you’re thinking of taking up Yoga, I hope that this article will convince you to do so. Please make sure you consult your physician before you attempt any of the poses or the breathing exercises outlined above.

Click here for Five Restorative Yoga Poses to Relieve Stress & Anxiety

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Vanessa Koonjul

Vanessa Koonjul is a freelance writer, photographer, artist and an intuitive Tarot reader. Her interests also include research, music, yoga and foreign languages. She graduated from Maynooth University with a double honour in Civil Law and History and holds a Master’s Degree in International & Comparative Law from Trinity College, University of Dublin.

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