By Kerry-Lee Jesson
Yoga can both prevent disease and help you recover from it.
If you are a passionate yoga practitioner, you’ve probably noticed the ways yoga works – maybe you are sleeping better or getting fewer colds or just feeling more relaxed and at ease. Western Science is starting to provide some concrete clues as to how yoga works to improve health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay.
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. It is no coincidence that with practice aches and pains starts to disappear. 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.
Strong muscles do more than just look good! When you build strength with flexibility, you protect the body from conditions such as arthritis and back pain, and help prevent falls in elderly people.
Poor posture can cause back, neck and other muscle and joint problems, which causes pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine. The head is like a big bowling ball, round and heavy and when it is balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your back and neck muscles to support it.
Yoga practise takes your joints through a full range of motion, which lubricate the cartilage with fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage eventually wear out and exposes the underlying bones like worn out brake pads.
Your spinal disks crave movement – they are the shock absorbers between your vertebrae that can herniated and compress nerves. If you practise a well balanced routine of asanas with plenty of backbends, forward bends and twists, you will keep your disks supple.
Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight, which strengthens bones and help ward off osteoarthritis. Yoga also reduces the stress hormone cortisol in the body , which in turn helps keep calcium in the bones.
Yoga gets more oxygen to your cells through its ability to get your blood flowing through your body – especially your hands and feet. Twists wring out venous blood from the internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inverted poses 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. Yoga increases the haemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. Yoga also thins the blood and makes the platelets less sticky and cuts the level of clot promoting proteins in the blood. This results in lowered risk of heart attack and strokes.
Contracting and stretching muscles, moving organs around and coming in and out of yoga postures helps with lymph drainage. This helps the lymph system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells and disposes of waste products of cellular functioning.
Yoga practice lowers the resting heart; increases endurance and improves your maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise.
Consistent yoga practice improves depression and leads to increased serotonin levels and a decrease in monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol.
Regular yoga practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. Yoga inspires you to be a more conscious eater.
Yoga lowers blood sugar and LDL (bad) cholesterol and boosts HDL (good cholesterol). This occurs due to : 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 the risk of diabetic complications such as heart attack, kidney failure and blindness.
Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous systems (central and peripheral). Yoga provides relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Restorative yoga, guided relaxation encourages a turning in of the senses, which provides down time for the nervous system.
Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation – all can be exacerbated by stress. So if you stress less – you will suffer less! Yoga relieves constipation and theoretically reduces the risk of colon cancer, because moving the body facilitates more rapid transport of food and waste products through the bowels.
Yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind – it slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desires that cause stress. And since stress is linked to so many health problems – from migraines to insomnia, lupus, MS, eczema, high blood pressure and heart attacks – if you learn to quiet your mind, you will be likely to live a longer healthier life. Yoga encourages you to experience feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a sense that you are part of something bigger.
If your medicine cabinet looks like a pharmacy, maybe its time to try yoga – you will save money and are less likely to suffer the side effects and risks of dangerous drug interactions!
Yoga and meditation build awareness. Chronic anger and hostility are as strongly linked to heart attacks as are smoking, diabetes and elevated cholesterol. Yoga appears to reduce anger by increasing feelings of compassion and interconnection and by calming the nervous system and mind. It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life, to remain steady in the face of bad news or unsettling events. You can still react quickly when you need to – and there is evidence that yoga speeds up reaction time- but you can take that split second to choose a more thoughtful approach, reducing suffering from yourself and others.
A good teacher can do wonders for your health. Exceptional ones do more than guide you through your postures. They can adjust your posture, gauge when you can go deeper in poses or back off, deliver hard truths with compassion, help you relax and enhance and personalise your practice.
A respectful relationship with your teacher goes a long way in promoting your health.
Love may not conquer all, but it certainly can aid in healing. Cultivating the emotional support of friends, family and community has been demonstrated repeatedly to improve health and healing.
A regular yoga practice helps develop friendliness, compassion and greater equanimity.