If you’ve seen people at the gym or health center doing yoga but never participated yourself, you might think it doesn’t look like much more than guided stretching. You may be wondering, “what is the big deal?” The answer: It offers many key health benefits.
What we think of today as yoga is based on a tradition that goes back thousands of years and originated in ancient Indian philosophy. The practice has evolved over millennia, and while the yoga practiced today is certainly different from the original tradition, it nevertheless retains the essence of the traditional ways.
Exercise for the mind
One reason yoga is so popular is that it combines exercise with meditation. During a yoga class you will be asked to hold different poses while also focusing on your breathing. This is intended to develop not only muscle strength, but also mindfulness — which is described as a mental state that promotes awareness of your body and the feelings, thoughts and sensations going on within it.
While “mindfulness” may be considered as a buzz word these days, studies have shown that yoga, like other meditative practices, has a demonstrable effect on wellness. Yoga is known to reduce stress, which in turn reduces the negative effects stress can have on your body, such as reduced immune system effectiveness or mental health issues.
People who practice yoga also regularly report feeling more relaxed, attentive and confident in their everyday lives. In addition, studies have shown that consistent yoga practice leads to increased serotonin levels, which can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Strength through stretching
Beyond the mental health benefits of yoga, the practice also offers numerous physical health benefits. Often the most obvious of these are improved flexibility and improved or maintained muscle strength due to the core actions of yoga: holding and flowing through poses. In part because of this increased flexibility and strength, yoga practitioners also often experience a reduction of aches and pains in their body.
In addition, yoga has been shown to increase blood flow, which enhances bodily function by getting more oxygen to your cells. It can decrease blood pressure, which may reduce your risk for heart issues such as heart attack or stroke. Yoga is also commonly used to reduce symptoms of lower back pain, and studies have even shown yoga to be more effective in reducing chronic back pain than traditional medical care.
If you’re interested in seeing the health benefits of yoga firsthand, Augusta Health’s vinyasa yoga classes are a great place to start. Whether you are a beginner and need some help getting started, or you’re looking for a more advanced routine, you’ll be able to find a class that is right for you. For more information, see the Augusta Health Fitness calendar or contact Augusta Health Fitness at (540) 332-5433 (Staunton) or (540) 932-5433 (Waynesboro).