This post was contributed by Centered Yoga.
An ancient art that has become a modern fitness trend, yoga is well-known for its ability to reduce stress levels, induce deep relaxation, enhance flexibility, and promote an overall sense of wellness. However, many people are unaware of just how much yoga can do to improve physical health. Here are 3 surprising health benefits of a regular yoga practice.
1. Immune Boost
Western science is just beginning to unravel the myriad complicated effects that yoga has on the body and mind. However, increasing numbers of scientific studies are showing that regular yoga practice has a tremendous effect on the immune system. The act of moving and flowing through a sequence of poses helps drain lymph, ridding the body of toxins and improving the ability to fight infections.
Meditation and guided imagery are key components to many people’s yoga practices. These intense sessions of mental focus help you target the areas of your body that need a boost and direct your energy toward healing. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, meditation can help you decrease the over-functionality of your immune system and return your body to homeostasis. When fighting a chronic disease, healing from an injury, or recovering from surgery, meditation and guided imagery can direct your healing and minimize recovery times.
Even yoga’s powerful ability to induce deep relaxation and wipe away stress can help your immune system function more effectively. Chronic anxiety and stress have been demonstrated to slow the healing response and increase the likelihood of developing infections. The peace that a yoga practice brings to your life gives your body the best chance to heal itself.
2. Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Management
Although it does not typically take away the need for stabilizing medications, yoga is a tremendous supportive treatment for those with elevated cholesterol levels or diabetes. The practice promotes safe and healthy weight loss, reduces such brain chemicals as adrenaline and cortisol, and improves how well cholesterol and diabetes medications work. Yoga practice encourages healthier, more nutritionally dense eating, while the deep sense of peace and contentment minimizes emotional eating. There is even some evidence that yoga decreases blood pressure, further lowering your chances of serious complications from these common conditions.
3. Chronic Pain Relief
Regular yoga practice can have a dramatic effect on chronic pain. Suffering from a pain disorder can cause your body’s protective instincts to go into overdrive, mounting a full-blown response to even minor sensations of pain. This creates a vicious cycle of escalating pain, fear, and misery. Yoga helps the body unravel these learned responses, creating a calm and peaceful mental state that helps you manage pain more effectively.
In addition, chronic pain has a proven effect on both the gray matter and white matter in the brain. The resultant changes lead to anxiety, depression, and the “brain fog” that is reported by many who suffer from chronic pain. Yet brain scans of those who practice yoga regularly show the opposite. Yoga induces positive changes in the gray matter and white matter that improve mood, cognitive abilities, and pain tolerance. In a sense, regular yoga practice undoes the brain changes that are associated with chronic pain, lifting the fog and giving you a renewed ability to cope rationally and effectively.
Of course, everyone’s subjective experiences of illness and pain are different, even among those diagnosed with the same condition. The picture is even more complicated when you have more than one chronic illness or injury. If you have been diagnosed with any injury or illness, speak with your doctor before beginning your yoga practice. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without your doctor’s approval, and ask whether there are any poses or sequences you should avoid.
Also have a conversation with your yoga instructor. Most teachers are aware of the limitations that different health challenges can pose, and will make suggestions based on their experiences. Never push yourself to the point of pain. Yoga is not about learning poses or making it through a high-impact class. Instead, it focuses on your connection to yourself and the world around you.
Established in 1999 by Paul Dallaghan, Centered Yoga is fully affiliated with the prestigious Kaivalyadhama, a research institute in India dedicated to studying yoga from both classical and scientific viewpoints. When you feel ready, we invite you to start your journey to becoming part of this distinguished legacy by submitting your application for the 200 hour level residential training.