Yoga teaches us to control the body in ways that improve your health and well-being. You can learn to relax your neck and face muscles, stop holding a telephone or steering wheel with a death grip or lower the blood pressure of your heart.
Yoga can be done by everyone regardless of age or fitness level. The trick is finding the right type of yoga and listening to your body.
The big muscles of the legs, back and arms get a workout through yoga. And the small support muscles, which are harder to target with conventional strength training, will also become stronger as yogis work into poses that require them.
Many styles of yoga offer a good mix of strength and flexibility, including power yoga, Rocket Yoga, Ashtanga and Jivamukti. For example, Iyengar yoga, which makes use of props to allow yogis to hold poses for longer than in flow classes, builds endurance and is great for strengthening the wrists and fingers.
Practicing yoga strengthens your balance, too. That may help prevent falls in older people, which can be a leading cause of serious injury. It’s also helpful for improving the condition of spinal disks, which can herniate if they are not moving enough. This is important because movement is the only way that the disks can get nutrients, and a well-balanced yoga practice provides plenty of spine-friendly movements.
Yoga involves poses that are designed to strengthen the muscles and joints, improve posture, balance, and flexibility. It also encourages a deep breathing technique called pranayama that can help you relax and reduce your stress levels.
While any type of movement can boost your mood, twisting into a forward fold or soarling into King Dancer Pose is especially effective for those with the blues. This is because it helps the body spend more time in the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and less in the sympathetic (fight or flight) response, which can lower your immune system.
When choosing a yoga class, choose one that is suitable for your fitness level and abilities. “Any good yoga instructor should be able to make modifications for all kinds of bodies, so beginners can get the same benefits as more experienced students,” says Krucoff. You should also find an instructor who can help you with proper form and alignment to prevent injury.
Yoga can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It improves circulation by stimulating your lymphatic system and boosting your metabolism. Yoga postures can help to ease pain from chronic conditions such as arthritis and back problems. The breathing exercises and relaxation techniques taught in yoga can reduce your overall stress level.
The physical activity in yoga can help improve your sleep, enabling you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. Getting enough sleep can also make you more resilient to stress, help you manage your emotions better and makes it easier to concentrate.
Some types of yoga are particularly good for reducing stress, including hatha, iyengar and restorative yoga. Most yoga classes are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, and instructors are trained to work with beginners as well as advanced students. But always seek out a qualified instructor and check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Yoga’s history and philosophies incorporate spiritual growth, but the practice has long been known to bring mental health benefits as well. The physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques promote relaxation while strengthening the muscles. As a result, stress is reduced and balance and strength are improved.
Several studies show that regular yoga improves mood and reduces anxiety and depression. Depression is often a result of high levels of the hormone cortisol, and research has shown that practicing yoga decreases this level. Yoga also increases the production of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Some therapists have even started to use yoga as a complementary treatment to psychotherapy for their clients. This is particularly true for clients dealing with chronic stress and emotional difficulties, like anxiety and depression. Practicing yoga can help manage these conditions, and strengthen the immune system. It can also lower heart rate and blood pressure and alleviate headaches, back pain and knee osteoarthritis.