Yoga: More than Breathing and Stretching - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 23, 2015

Yoga: More than Breathing and Stretching

Yoga is credited with helping reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function.

Yoga is credited with helping reduce stress,
lower blood pressure and improve heart function.

When you think of yoga, you may picture a thin woman in designer yoga pants twisted into a pretzel-like shape “om-ing” herself into mental clarity and nirvana. But, the reality of yoga is very different.

Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines controlled breathing, relaxation and stretching exercises. While it is a form of exercise, yoga is more and more frequently considered a complementary and alternative medicine practice.

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is credited with helping reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function. There have been a number of studies showing that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety as well as enhancing your mood and overall sense of wellbeing.

Yoga may help reduce the risk factors for chronic disease like heart disease and high blood pressure. It may also alleviate chronic conditions, including depression, pain and insomnia.

And then there’s the fitness aspect of yoga – it can improve your flexibility, range of motion, strength and balance. Not only will those benefits make you feel healthier and fit, but they can lower your risk of being injured while performing daily activities.

Yoga, by increasing your strength and flexibility, can improve your posture. Many poses develop your core strength, requiring you to engage your core muscles to maintain and support certain poses. A stronger core means you’re more likely to stand and sit tall, with good posture.

And you don’t have to be flexible or an experienced “yogi” to do it. If you find yourself dealing with stress and anxiety on a regular basis, you may just want to give yoga a try.

Unlike some other forms of exercise, there isn’t just one type of yoga – it has many different styles, forms and intensity levels. One of the most common styles of yoga is hatha yoga, which is good for beginners and those looking for stress relief.

What to Expect During a Yoga Class

Hatha yoga is characterized by a slower pace and easier movements. Whether a hatha or a general yoga class, these are the core components you can expect:

Poses

Yoga poses, which are also known as postures, can range from lying on the floor completely relaxed to more difficult postures that involve you stretching to your physical limits. These series of movements typically flow naturally from one to the next, increasing your strength and flexibility. Poses can help you move better and feel less stiff or tired.

Nearly all yoga poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles. Poses such as downward dog, upward dog, and the plank pose, build upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, can build strength in your leg muscles, specifically your hamstrings and quadriceps. Poses that strengthen the lower back, improving your posture, include upward dog and the chair pose.

Breathing

This is where “om” comes into play. Controlling your breathing is an important element of yoga. Breath signifies what is referred to in yoga as your “vital energy.” In yoga, you’re taught that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind, ultimately helping you relax.

Interestingly, yoga has become more popular and more mainstream as most people’s lives get more and more frantic. It’s a chance to do something physical and relieve – and it might just be worth a try.

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