Beyond the mat, yoga offers many benefits for the body and brain.
Yoga's history dates back to a five-thousand-year origin, pointing to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India, but many believed this practice has been around for a longer time. The word itself was part of the Rig Veda, one of the oldest sacred texts in India. Initially, Brahmans used yoga in their meditative rituals until, over time, it was developed into something everyone can perform and enjoy. On December 2016, UNESCO listed yoga as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The American Osteopathic Association has listed various benefits of yoga, including better vitality and energy, weight reduction, improved flexibility, stronger muscles and calmer moods. These benefits may rely on a specific practice which focuses on various strengths. For example, Pranayama is a breathing-controlled exercise implemented on Hatha, which requires you to hold a pose in a number of breaths. Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic discipline that involves movement and breath together in fluid, dancing patterns. Unlike Hatha, pace can be quicker in Vinyasa, which is regularly accompanied by music. Iyengar centres on body alignment and uses blankets, ropes, blocks and even a wall to help one perform a series of movements.
But other than its meditative exercises, yoga also influences one's inner consciousness. It helps you stay in the present, directing you to listen to your body as you breathe, stretch, tense and relax. More than a regular workout, yoga practice has also influenced one's inner awareness, which positively boosts one's self-esteem, strengthen respiratory and cardiovascular health, and may even treat eating disorders.
Food for the fit
Mindful eating is one of the crucial benefits of yoga practice – long-time yoga student Dr Alan Kristal authored this study which linked weight loss to increased body awareness, thanks to yoga. A follow-up study confirmed their initial discovery.
Adults who practice yoga gained less weight over a decade than those who did not, the study revealed. This was credited to mindfulness, a skill learned through yoga, which ultimately affects one's eating behaviour. Their Mindful Eating Questionnaire, a 28-point survey, measured various factors which affects eating – including emotional response (which can be associated with stress eating), disinhibition (eating even when full), distraction (eating while paying attention to other things), and awareness (focusing on the visual, textural and fragrance of the food).
Body mass index (BMI) was the key in determining the answer. 300 yoga students in Seattle area were given the survey, and it resulted in a whopping conclusion: higher scores were associated with people who practice yoga, compared to other workout disciplines. Thus, Kristal and his group recommends yoga to weight-loss programs as it positively influences one’s choice of food, and how to eat it.
Makes one stronger, inside out
Arndt Büssing of Witten Herdecke University authored a report that compiled the effects of yoga on physical and mental health. Systematic reviews listed bodily indications matched with yoga-based interventions. According to this research, yoga can be used to treat depression, stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, menopausal symptoms and improve physical fitness. Yoga can also be assistive to glucose regulation, hypertension, cardiovascular endurance, pulmonary function, musco-skeletal treatments, epilepsy, and even avoid cases of cancer.
These effects influenced by different elements: the type of yoga practice, frequency, and physical and mental conditions. Generally, the researchers are led to believe that asanas offer fitness, flexibility and positive influence in the mental state, while pranayamas offer better relaxation that will lead to lesser stress, greater awareness and better quality of life.
Should you start yoga?
Maybe you should – and it's for many reasons. For one, the effects are felt as soon as the class ends. The University of Illinois divulged that a mere 20-minute session of Hatha can improve your memory skills, accuracy and speed. In an experiment published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 30 female undergraduates were asked to join a progression of seated, standing and supine postures with regulated breathing. They were also asked to complete a regular exercise for the same amount of time. At the end of the research, the participants showed better accuracy and faster reaction times after yoga practice compared to the aerobic session. The study concludes that the students were able to focus their mental resources and process information more effectively – thanks to the breathing and meditative procedures that calm the mind.
Yoga is also known to reduce stress. The Journal Psychoneuronendocrinology published a study which involved caregivers to dementia-suffering patients. After eight weeks of 12-minute Kirtan Kriya yoga sessions a day, it was found that the proteins which plays a role in inflammation – an occurrence which can be directly linked to stress – had lesser activity.
Those who suffer from back pains, take heart. Yoga may be able to help you. According to the researchers at West Virginia University, Iyengar yoga reduces pain in medication and improves your overall mood (goodbye, depression), while improving functional ability.
A meditative practice rich in history and benefits, yoga fosters holistic living and a peaceful state of mind. Whether you choose to enrol in a class or start at your own pace, this workout gives you a plethora of advantages you could reap from day to day.