The Mental + Physical Benefits of Yoga
By Kathy Salvo, Director of Evolve Yoga, Pilates & Barre
One of The Great lessons of Yoga: Everything is Connected
There are 11 major organ systems in the human body and yoga is one of the few things that can touch them all and make them work together. There are yoga poses and practices for the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, excretory, nervous, endocrine, immune, integumentary, skeletal, muscle and reproductive systems. Not only does yoga work these systems getting them stronger and working more efficiently, yoga, which means to yoke together or unite, helps these systems work together. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive effects on both the mind and body. Experts have long publicized the advantages of yoga for your mind and body because yoga is so customizable, it’s ideal for people of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels.
Perhaps most significantly, yoga can have a substantial impact on your mental health and well-being. Because yoga teaches you to manage stress, focus on breath, and incorporate meditation, regular yoga practice can help you cope with stressful situations, manage anxiety, and maintain clarity in the face of challenging situations. Yoga helps you remain calm, present, and mindful, even in the face of pain or hardship.
Mentally, it can make us feel like we have a sense of empowerment and mastery. It can also help us feel in control of ourselves. Consistent yoga practice provides the physical and mental equilibrium required for a balanced, healthy existence, no matter what life brings.
The Top 10 Physical Benefits which lead to a healthier mental well being
1. Improves your flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. Can’t touch your toes or do a backbend, no worries. Once you start your practice you will start to gain flexibility and if you stick with it, you'll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You'll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That's no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture. Remembering everything is connected the entire body will start to feel the shift.
2. Builds muscle strength
Strong muscles do more than look good. They also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain, and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility. In a truly balanced body, your strength and your flexibility should be equal.
3. Perfects your Posture
Your head weighs anywhere between 10-12 pounds, when it's balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. You hold a forward-leaning head for eight or 12 hours a day and it's no wonder you're neck and shoulders are tiered. Fatigue might not be your only problem. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
4. Increases your Blood flow
The relaxation techniques and poses you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet. Yoga also helps to get more oxygen to your cells, which result in better functionality. Twisting poses are thought to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inversions, such as headstand, handstand, and shoulderstand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga also boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. Yoga thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.
5. Drains your Lymph nodes and boosts immunity
When you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga poses, you increase the drainage of lymph. This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.
6. Regulates your Adrenal Glands
Yoga lowers cortisol levels. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. If your cortisol levels stay high even after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Excessive cortisol levels have been linked with major depression, osteoporosis (it extracts calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with the laying down of new bone), high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortisol levels lead to what researchers call "food-seeking behavior" (the kind that drives you to eat when you're upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.
7. Drops your Blood pressure
Two studies of people with hypertension, published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number—and the higher the initial blood pressure, the bigger the drop.
8. Lowers Blood Sugar
Yoga lowers blood sugar and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and boosts HDL ("good") cholesterol. In people with diabetes, yoga has been found to lower blood sugar in several ways: by lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging weight loss, and improving sensitivity to the effects of insulin. Get your blood sugar levels down, and you decrease your risk of diabetic complications such as heart attack, kidney failure, and blindness.
9. Helps you focus
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time and memory. People who practice meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better.
10. Relaxes your system
Yoga helps you to relax, slow your breathing down, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rates, decreases blood pressure, and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs—comprising what Herbert Benson, M.D., calls the relaxation response.