Reasons to Practice Yoga for Health and Longevity

Women practicing downward facing dog in yoga class
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The practice of yoga dates back thousands of years. In India, the practice was based on a comprehensive philosophy of man striving for harmony with himself and the world and as such was and still is a practice that incorporates breathing, meditation, and exercise.

In the U.S. and other Western countries, yoga is generally considered a form of exercise despite its deeper origins. Yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas. The word "asana" is used to indicate the physical practice of yoga poses or it can also be used to describe a single yoga pose. What most people call "yoga" could more specifically be called "asana." 

Yoga has eight limbs. Besides asana, yoga also encompasses pranayama (breathing exercises), dhyana (meditation), yamas (codes of social conduct), niyamas (self-observances), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), and samadhi (bliss)." There are many reasons to incorporate these eight limbs into your practice for improved wellness and longevity.

7 Reasons to Practice Yoga for Health

No matter your skill level or the type of yoga you practice, yoga can do wonders for your health and wellbeing both today and tomorrow. A regular yoga practice can also slow the physical effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle as well as the aging process. Better yet, yoga is adaptable for all skill levels and ages, meaning your body, mind, and soul can benefit from yoga well into old age. Here are seven great reasons to start and keep up with your yoga practice for health and longevity.

Flexibility

A typical Western yoga practice usually consists of a series of poses that are held for varying lengths of time. Many of these poses will support building strength and flexibility that you might not yet have. While yoga can take you to your physical limit, it can also expand it.

After just a couple of sessions, you may notice that the poses become more accessible as you build strength and flexibility, allowing you to go deeper into the posture. The physical practice of yoga may also ease aches and pains in old age. Maintaining your flexibility and range of motion into your older years can also keep your body healthy and increase your quality of life.

Strength and Muscle Tone

While yoga increases your flexibility, it also simultaneously increases your muscle strength. Yoga makes us stronger through the sustained holding of poses, controlled transitions, and, of course, the poses themselves. Most importantly, yoga engages muscles that you may not use or strengthen on a daily basis, adding to overall tone and strength and even giving a vital boost in bone density.

Balance

With so many older Americans suffering fractures and other serious health issues after a fall, it should be no question that we should all work to maintain not only our strength and flexibility into old age but our balance as well. Yoga incorporates all types of asana, including several basic balancing poses, which can provide the safe balancing practice we all need. With better balance comes increased communication between the two hemispheres of the brain and a much more confident and sure-footed way to enter our older years.

Weight Loss

With approximately one-third of American adults considered overweight or obese, we must find a way to combat the deadly epidemic. Most experts agree that the way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight must include both dietary and lifestyle changes including increased physical activity and exercise. While yoga is open to people of all shapes and sizes, the practice can aid in weight loss and the management of a healthy weight in several ways:

  • Yoga helps people be more aware of their bodies and the need to take care of themselves, including exercising and eating in a healthy way.
  • Yoga can help people gain a sense of control over their bodies and their food choices, as well as reducing the anxiety that often leads to overeating.
  • It is said that many of the asanas (poses) stimulate organs and even glands, such as the thyroid gland, which can help increase metabolism and promote balance in the body.

Detoxification

Yoga is said to aid in detoxification of the body as many of the poses stimulate blood flow to the different organs, effectively aiding the body in the natural process of flushing out toxins. Yoga also strongly emphasizes breathing techniques which not only provides a guide during the physical practice but also increased oxygenation of the body. Some of the poses, particularly the twisting asanas, also stimulate the digestive tract, which can improve digestion.

Stress Reduction and Relaxation

Yoga teaches us to be in the moment and to focus on ourselves and our breathing. The practice has the capacity to give practitioners a greater sense of awareness of life situations and the strength and peace of mind needed to let go of those things that cannot be controlled. Some even refer to their yoga sessions as "therapy." The stress reduction and relaxation benefits associated with a regular yoga practice are known to lower high blood pressure and improve the quality of sleep, which can not only increase your life but can make each of those gained years happier.

Self-Awareness

Yoga is a powerful tool that can bring harmony and a deeper awareness of your mind, body and even your emotions. Some research has suggested that yoga can minimize stress and increase productivity, encourage a good mood, increase mindfulness, and promote a healthy dose of self-compassion.



Common Sense Cautions

While yoga has the potential to provide health benefits for almost all people, you should always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. Those with the following conditions should consult their physician before beginning a yoga practice:

  • High blood pressure that's difficult to control
  • A risk of blood clots
  • Eye conditions, including glaucoma
  • Osteoporosis
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