Written by R. S Jacobs
When you hear the word “yoga”, what comes to mind? Some people might think it’s for our “tree-hugging” brothers and sisters, or for the hipsters who say “Namaste” as a greeting. Perhaps you might tag it as an arty farty exercise or some kind of spiritual ritual performed by Buddhists. Another one is, most men assume it is mainly for women. What many people fail to appreciate is that yoga is one of the most dynamic forms of exercise that can literally change your life forever. The history of yoga was coined back to the 11th century, so it’s pretty safe to say that this exercise has truly stood the test of time. Yoga is the classic example of not judging a book by its cover.
I have been involved in fitness for roughly a decade and I saw yoga in not such a positive light. For some reason, it seems like an activity for those who didn’t want to exert themselves, or for those who wanted to embroil themselves in fitness without the hardcore dedication and effort. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I decided to give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. I can honestly attest, as a huge sceptic, my mind was literally changed almost overnight. The way I felt physically was indescribable, and it was remarkable that my seemingly powerful body was not as tough as I thought it was.
The strength that yoga graces you with is totally different from the kind of strength you gain from lifting weights or running. I have a very poor coordination in general, particularly hand-eye coordination, but within a month, I was able to do 45 degrees one leg squats, stable handstand that was actually vertical and even small things like stretch out until I can rest my head on my knees. The beauty of yoga is that it transforms your body into a powerful entity with the added bonus in form of flexibility and power to withstand a high level of endurance and pressure. For me, this creates a sense of balance between mind and body in the whole system of de-stressing and relieving any tension physically or mentally.
One of the best ways for the body to relieve stress is through stretching and allowing it to properly rest and recuperate. Yoga provides this in abundance and works every part of your body to encourage a state of recalibration – It is almost like pressing an internal reset button! Naturally, stretching propels the body to release pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins, which activates positive receptors in the brain to create cell revitalisation. Pain sensations are reduced throughout the body and this is why many people suffering from conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis often testify to the healing power of yoga.
Another amazing reason to incorporate yoga into your daily routine is for good heart health. This form of activity results in a lower pulse rate, which encourages the heart to pump blood around the body with fewer beats. In addition, this process also boosts circulation to skin, muscles, bones, cells, tissues and every other part of the body. Yoga discourages the formations of clots in the blood vessels, which could potentially be fatal if they make their way to your heart or lungs. With a few minimal yoga sessions weekly, you will begin to see significant changes in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Who should be doing yoga? If I was a minister for health, I would strongly recommend that everyone should be doing a form of yoga every day for about 5 mins – 20 mins. Children from the age of 5 can start benefitting from yoga. On the other end of the scale, older people can get amazing results as their body starts to show signs of wear and tear from years of use. Many testimonies from older people attest to the improvement of mobility and general health after adopting this practice. Yoga maintains strength, flexibility, power, coordination, concentration, breathing, balance and posture. These are fundamental attributes that dictate the quality of life a person has. There are over 100 different types of yoga, therefore you can choose one that fits your personality, requirements and fitness goals.
Health Benefits of Yoga.
* Improves flexibility. This is certainly the most obvious benefit of doing yoga. With practice, over time your body tissue and muscle would start to become very flexible which will make your movement more fluid. Anyone who has suffered from stiff joints or muscles knows how much pain comes with it, and they only worsen with age. One of the most common complaints is back pain, and it is one of the top reasons that people use to justify not exercising. If only they realised that low impact yoga techniques will significantly reduce their problem, potentially eliminating it altogether.
* Regulates Suprarenal Glands. Suprarenal glands release cortisol which helps us when we are in a crisis situation. Too much of this cortisol can cause havoc to the immune system and sometimes distort the functions of other systems in the body. Yoga has been proven to lower cortisol levels when they are too high. Typically, ten-minute session of yoga stretches can help to normalise high cortisol levels.
* Promotes Sleep. Some studies indicate that the effect of yoga before bed is similar to the effect sleeping pills has. Yoga helps the secretion of melatonin which triggers the body to sleep, so the daily practice of yoga stretches before bedtime would ensure good night sleep. If you are suffering from insomnia or not getting enough sleep, try ten minutes of yoga before going to bed.
* Toned Body. Yoga increases blood circulation to the muscles and skin which helps to reduce the formation of cellulite. The stretching and twisting motion makes muscle tissue stronger due to the tension, which inadvertently gives the skin a more toned appearance. Most people work hard on their diet and exercise specifically to achieve a toned physique, why not take your foot off the intensive cardio accelerator and switch lanes into a more controlled low impact but just as effective activity.
* Stronger Bones. Yoga triggers functions within the body that support extra calcium to be retained from your food to make the bones stronger. When you do weight-bearing exercises, your brain’s job is to activate sensors to communicate with your bone cells, particularly the osteoclasts. Continuous yoga exercises make the bone cells retain calcium for longer, which fortuitously make your bones stronger helping to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, fracture and osteopenia.
* Maintains Weight. This form of exercise burns fewer calories than some traditional high-intensity workout, but the exceptional quality of yoga prompts the body to switch from fat storage mode to fat burning. Yoga increases insulin sensitivity which manages how effectively your food is processed. With enough insulin, your body will burn food as fuel rather than convert it into fat. Endeavour to do some yoga and eat the right amount of calories required for your size to maintain body weight throughout your life.
* Helps Digestion. It is no surprise that yoga helps digestion because it improves circulation in the body. This means your body metabolism is optimised and food enzymes are being produced according to required demands. The stretches and twisting create a kind of internal massage for the intestines, giving them a workout too. Whenever you feel a bit bloated or even constipated, try a short yoga routine and things should start to feel more comfortable in no time!
As you can see, there is more to yoga that meets the eye. This dynamic exercise is designed for us to make life a lot easier. Challenge yourself to try it for a month and you might be surprise at how well your body feels. Research one that works for you and if you don’t like the type of yoga with music or meditation, there are many less ‘arty farty’ free yoga tutorials available online. There are also some great ones created specifically for kids, pregnant women, people with injuries or disabilities and also old people. It’s certainly worth giving it a shot, and I can assure you that you will not regret it.
Stay strong, warriors.
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