Anecdotes about the life changing benefits of yoga have been around for a long time. But now modern science is beginning to back the stories.
Researchers worldover are uncovering the fascinating ways in which this ancient system works on our body, mind and spirit as a whole.
The many benefits of yoga include:
Improved Physical Health
Yoga asanas work with our body weight while encouraging the various joints to go through their full range of motion. This increases flexibility and builds musculoskeletal strength. Essential for maintaining good health right into our old age.
According to yoga, a man is only as old as the age of his spine. And indeed, scientists who studied the spine health of two groups found that the discs of those who practiced yoga versus other stretching exercises showed less degeneration with age. It appears that yoga poses are designed to nourish the vertebrae by increasing blood flow and drawing nutrients to them.
Relaxed the Nervous System
Yoga combines static poses with movement, breathing and deep relaxation techniques to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to switch off and relax. A stressed out nervous system often leads to autoimmune diseases and conditions like CFS and Fibromyalgia.
Toned Endocrine System
Different asanas stimulate and massage the various glands in the body like the Thyroid and Thymus glands, the adrenals and also the pineal and pituitary glands. All of this encourages optimal secretion of hormones and drainage via the lymphatic system. Hormones are critical to the functioning of the body, our immunity and brain health.
Better Mental Health
Conscious, mindful movement is shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of our brain that experiences raw emotions and triggers the flight or fight response.
At the same time it activates the prefrontal cortex which encourages rational thinking. Regular practice increases awareness, reduces anxiety and stress, even lowers depression.
A relaxed body, mind and nervous system automatically lead to better sleep. Yoga is known to cure insomnia. Better sleep reduces inflammation in the body and helps restore it.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that a group of regular yoga practitioners had much lower blood levels of an inflammation-promoting immune cell called IL-6 than a group new to yoga.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that meditation increases the activity of the left prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that’s associated with positive moods, equanimity, and emotional resilience.
Long-term practitioners see changes in brain structure that correlate with their being less reactive and less emotionally explosive. In other words, meditating regularly can help us ride life’s ups and downs with greater ease, suffer less and feel happier in our daily lives.
Recent studies have also found that yoga practitioners have increased levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with a positive mood and a sense of well-being.
Yoga is more than just exercise, it is a philosophy, a way of life designed to bring us into harmony with ourselves and our surroundings. To be in harmony is to experience the connectedness of all things, the Oneness.