Getting Your “ASANA” in Gear: The Benefits of Yoga

I know that many of you may associate yoga with new age mysticism, or even a sissy way to avoid really working out.  However, yoga is actually an ancient practice that connects the mind, body, and spirit through a series of poses while utilizing efficient and effective breathing techniques and meditation.  So open your mind a bit and take a look at some of the amazing benefits you could gain by incorporating yoga into your weekly routine.  Chances are, if you have continually scoffed at participating in a yoga class or find excuses not to try it…you probably are in desperate need of adding yoga to your workout repertoire.

So let’s begin by looking at the benefit most people associate with yoga, improved flexibility.  By properly working through the asanas (yoga poses), the lactic acid that builds up in muscles causing stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue, is released.  This combined with the addition lubrication of the joints that yoga brings, increases your range of motion.  And keep in mind, that the active form of stretching that yoga offers also stretches, ligaments, tendons, and fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles.  Imagine if you did some foam rolling to release the trigger points, and then did a yoga class!  OMG…you might begin to actually gain the mobility you have needed all along.

While some styles of yoga focus more directly on improving strength and endurance, the less vigorous styles of yoga focusing more on precise alignment in the asanas can provide strength and endurance benefits as well.  The weight used for this form of strength training is your own body.  Trust me, controlling your body through some asanas will challenge even the most buff person.  Yoga will certainly push you to have balanced strength, including through the core.

As your flexibility and strength improve, you will notice a change in your sitting, standing, and moving postures.  Learning to utilize your deep core muscles to maintain the various asanas creates more body awareness.  This awareness will let you know when you are slouching and you will automatically adjust your posture.  Yeah….your mother (and Rebecca) will finally stop hounding you about your terrible posture.

Continuing with the foundational theme; as your flexibility, strength, and posture improves, your balance will improve.  Since yoga will put you in almost every body position known to man, you will therefore practice finding your balance in almost any position possible.  Doing a single leg dead lift will seem easy peasy after tackling side crow.

I know there are some you believe that doing deep diaphragmatic breathing is just for touchy feely wimps who just can’t handle the stress of the world.  Imagine the dreadful thought of taking two to five minutes away from your precious Smartphone or laptop to practice proper breathing that could reduce your stress, clear your mind, and make you more productive…what a waste of time. Yoga will teach you to deepen and lengthen your breathing.  While most forms of exercise stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the flight or flight response, the slower breathing from yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce blood pressure.  Slower breathing and reduced blood pressure allows for relaxation and healing of the body.  This leads to a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress.  Stress isn’t good for ya folks…it leads to a host of other health issues.  So learn to breath doggone it!

A bit more difficult to pin down scientifically is the overwhelming positive response people seem to have in terms of their mental and emotional capacity.  The breathing and meditation techniques quiet the constant “mind chatter” that often underlies stress.  The boost of brain oxygen that yoga offers seems to be one of the main reasons people experience improved concentration and ability to focus.  Recently, researchers have begun exploring the effects of yoga on depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Again, the increase in brain oxygen levels is one explanation for yoga students to feel happier and more content after yoga class.

It’s never too late to improve your flexibility, strength, posture, balance, breathing, stress levels, blood pressure, concentration, mood, and overall health and well-being.  This all gives you an integrated functionality of the body, mind, and soul.  The truth is…you can’t afford not to add yoga to your weekly regimen.  So get your “asana” in gear and get into a yoga class this week!

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