Chances are good that you know someone who practices yoga. You’ve heard them talk about how great they feel, you’ve heard them use strange-sounding words, and you’ve managed to successfully dodge all of their invitations to join them for that supposed “free introductory” class.
But, why haven’t you tried it yet?
Research shows that among the many dozens of health benefits that can be attributed to regular yoga practice, included in that long list are lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, increased flexibility and muscle tone, posture perfection, and better bone density. If that is not enough to convince you, however, we’ve listed what we consider the most compelling reasons we keep showing up and unrolling that mat.
Yoga will give you long, lean muscles
The difference between building strength through yoga and building strength through weight training is significant. Resistance training constricts and shortens the muscles while building strength. Yoga, on the other hand, lengthens the muscle tissue building functional strength, which is the kind we use in our everyday lives.
Picking up our children, carrying groceries, and sitting at our desks with proper posture are all examples of the types of functional strength that begin to decline as early as our thirties. Regular yoga practice can help to not only maintain those abilities, but even to increase them.
Can stave off osteoporosis and arthritis
Regular weight-bearing exercise has been proven to increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Yoga takes this benefit one step further by lowering the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your bloodstream, which is known to deplete calcium in the bones.
Yoga is also an aid in keeping the bones of the spine supple, and preventing degenerative cartilage diseases, such as arthritis, through a process called “squeezing and soaking.” Cartilage needs to be used (squeezed out) on a regular basis so that it can then “soak up” fresh nutrients. When these areas are left unused, they do not have a chance to squeeze out and therefore do not soak up fresh nutrients and energy. This can lead to arthritis and other joint pain.
Good for your heart AND helps prevent cancer
We all know the benefits of cardiovascular exercise on the heart, but few realize that yoga can be just as beneficial. While some yoga poses and practices can get your heart into the cardio zone, even the slower moves are beneficial in some other ways. Yoga practice actually lowers your resting heart rate by concentrating on breathing, increasing the oxygen uptake, and increasing endurance, which are all part of cardiovascular health.
Additionally, your body’s blood supply gets physically moved around during headstands, handstands, twisting and inverted poses, and this helps to decrease blood pressure. These same moves twist and contract muscles groups, causing the lymph nodes to drain, disposing of toxic waste and fighting cancer at the cellular level.
Helps control hunger (which can lead to weight loss)
Cortisol is the hormone that is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands when we are in an acute state of stress, and it can be very beneficial to us if in a crisis situation. Unfortunately, most Americans reach that level of stress on a regular basis and live in a state of constant heightened cortisol. This can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and depression.
High levels of cortisol also trigger something called “food-seeking behavior” which causes you to eat for reasons other than hunger, such as anger or stress. Your body then takes those extra calories and stores them as belly fat. Regular yoga practice significantly reduces the level of cortisol in the bloodstream, which alters this food-seeking behavior and reduces hunger, which can lead to a decrease in weight. This weight reduction then reduces the risk for all of the above weight-related maladies, including heart disease.
It Makes You Happy
Serotonin is one of the body’s best weapons against cortisol. As we discussed above, sustained high cortisol levels can do real damage to our physical health, but one thing we have not discussed yet is our mental and emotional health. Consistent practitioners of yoga have shown to have much higher serotonin levels. These higher levels of serotonin result in lower reported levels of depression, higher reported levels of general happiness, and even greater immune function.
The practice of breath awareness teaches maintained focus, as well as relaxation techniques, which are known for their mental benefits throughout the world of psychology. At the same time, yoga has the added benefit of increased blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, the intestines, and the nervous system, which helps all of these systems to relax on a physical level, and promotes deeper, healthier sleep.
You can begin practicing yoga at any time, at any age, and at any fitness level. Houston is lucky enough to be home to some of the most cutting-edge yoga instructors in the nation. From small boutiques to multi-location home-grown chains, there is a studio for you. Class prices range from pay-what-you-can per class to full-service monthly and annual memberships. And while it’s never too late to start yoga, it’s also never too soon.
Find a class near you and start the road to better mind and body health today.