It's time for another guest post from Healthline. I posted one about Clean Eating from them a while back, so if you haven't checked it out yet, do it now!!
Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Yoga
For centuries, Yoga has been dubbed as the the mind-body exercise with both mental and physical benefits, namely strength and cardiovascular health, as well as an activity that can boost mood, relieve stress and even protect against mental illness. In fact, yoga can do a whole lot for your mind, from centering your focus to releasing powerful hormones and endorphins good for the health of your brain.
Much study has been initiated on the subject of yoga. According to clinical research involving brain imaging, they show that the practice of yoga has produced positive alterations to neurochemistry, improved mood and a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
Medical experts agree that those with symptoms of mental illness and emotional distress have demonstrated that as little as a single session of yoga exercise produced significant improvement in tension, mood and lowered anxiety. The answer seems to lie in changes of neurochemistry due to a sustained yoga practice. Ultimately, a disciplined yoga regimen can make differences in mental health not seen before by any other treatment.
Apparently, low levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain are connected with anxiety and depression. The opposite seems to be true with higher levels of GABA, where these neurotransmitters work as an endogenous antidepressant, combatting bouts of sadness and hopelessness .
A recent university study at Boston Medical measured how GABA levels in the brain were affected by sustained yoga exercise. After 12-weeks of the experiment, where half of the subjects practiced yoga and the other half were assigned to traditional cardio and walking exercises, the yoga participants exhibited greater improvements in mood and greater reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms than did subjects in the walking exercise group. Additionally, brain imaging done on the yoga participants revealed increase levels of GABA neurotransmitters in the thalamus of the brain, which as mentioned, can significantly decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Yoga for Mental Health
Practicing yoga will give you an increased awareness of your own body because you are often called upon to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment. Over time, this will increase your level of comfort in your own body, which can lead to greater self-confidence and improved posture.
Secondly, Yoga is intensely physical. Concentrating so intently on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing a calmness to the mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as watching the breath and how to disengage from your thoughts. These skills can prove to be very valuable in intense situations like stress at work, anxiety attacks, insomnia and even childbirth.
Physical activity is good for relieving stress, and this is particularly true of yoga. Because of the concentration required, your daily troubles, both large and small, seem to melt away during the time you are on your yoga mat. This provides a much-needed break from your stressors, as well as helping to put your problems into perspective. The emphasis yoga places on being in the moment can also help relieve stress, as you learn not to dwell on past events or anticipate the future. You will leave a yoga class feeling less stressed than when you started. Reducing stress can even make a big difference for people struggling with infertility.
Breathing and Meditation
Two large components of a yoga practice are breathing and meditation. Those with a possible mood disorder should think about trying yogic meditation and breathing exercises. Together with physical activity, the ADAA lists meditation as a stress-relieving activity.
Many yoga classes use meditation and inhaling combined exercises. For instance, an instructor may have students concentrate on smoothing out their breath, pacing and holding the breath for a set amount of seconds during inhales and exhales. The action of concentrating on the breath helps students be present, and that is the essence of meditation.
Yoga for Physical Health
The physical benefits of yoga are unparalleled. Many yoga poses require you to support the weight of your own body in new ways, including supporting yourself with your arms or balancing on one leg. Holding poses over the course of several breaths builds a ton of strength, especially core strength. As a by-product of getting stronger, you can expect to see increased muscle tone as well. You’ll also improve your balance, which is one of the most important benefits of yoga as you get older.
Moving and stretching in new ways will help you become more flexible, bringing greater range of motion to tight areas. Over time, you can expect to gain flexibility in your hips, shoulders, back and hamstrings. As we age, flexibility naturally decreases, which leads to pain and immobility. Yoga can turn the clock on flexibility issues, and help you to lead a significantly more mobile life. Additionally, people with arthritis often see marked improvement in their pain and mobility with regular gentle yoga practice.
Finally, increased flexibility and strength can help prevent the causes of some types of back pain. Many people who have back pain spend a lot of time driving a car or sitting at a computer. That can cause spinal compression and tightness, which you can begin to address with yoga. Yoga also improves your alignment, which helps prevent many other types of pain.
Yoga- For Mind and Body
Experts say the promising findings of yoga exercises, and the strong anecdotal evidence suggesting that yoga works well as a treatment for depression and other mental illness, is rather convincing. Many in the medical community think that yoga could be the most promising non-drug intervention around as it relates to mood disorders.
The Institute of Mental Health lists mild exercise in an effort to cope with depression, and yoga does this in a big way by providing you breathing exercises, meditation, stretching, strengthening, balance and body posture benefits. It’s like having several disciplines in one, working your entire body through flexibility, strength building, mental prowess and cardiovascular exercise. This says nothing of the fact that yoga can create inner harmony as well.
Many yoga masters suggest specific poses for the relief of depression and anxiety symptoms, such as those that stimulate the parasympathetic central nervous system. Even the ADAA (The Panic disorders Association of America) advises that certain forms of exercise, like specific yoga poses, alleviates stress and produces endorphins in your body.
A regular practice can offers all kinds of mental and physical health benefits. Some, like improved flexibility, are clearly evident. Others, including mental clarity and stress reduction, may be more subtle but are just as powerful. When put together, all the benefits below contribute to an increased feeling of well-being, which helps explain why so many people find yoga so addictive. So give it a try. You might find that yoga is the central answer to many of the mental, physical and emotional barriers you’ve been struggling with.
David Novak is a international syndicated newspaper columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV around the world. His byline has appeared in GQ, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, USA Today, among others, and he has appeared on The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show and Paul Harvey Radio. David is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/.