How Yoga Improves Our Health
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
Health is not just freedom from disease. For good health, we need balance and harmony between the physical, psychological and physiological workings of the body.
For example, when our physical body is suffering (due to tension, inflexibility or joint aches), it causes an imbalance in our physiological state (the inner workings of the body), which in turn has a knock on effect on our mental state (psychological), causing stress, envy, doubt, worry, regret, anger or fear – basically the list of emotions that make us feel down.
The practice of yoga helps us to correct this imbalance.
And it starts with correcting our physical state.
The first thing we learn through yoga is how to train our body to breathe consciously. Breathing consciously means that we tend to take fewer breaths, and of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient for the body. Yoga also promotes breathing through the nose, which filters the air, warms it, and humidifies it, removing pollen and dirt and other things we'd rather not take into our lungs. (Cold, dry air inhaled through the mouth means our respiratory system has to work harder.)
Once we learn to breathe consciously, we then start to move the body physically through the yoga postures (asanas).
Practicing asanas like twists, forward bends, balancing poses, stretches and inversions – together with pranayama (conscious breathing), improves our physical ailments by increasing our flexibility, strengthening muscles and bones and correcting our posture, thus protecting us from conditions like arthritis and back pain.
Poor posture, for example, which can contribute to back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems, can be greatly improved from practicing yoga. These days, we live a largely sedentary lifestyle and slump over our phones, which causes our body to compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in the neck and lower back. This compensation can cause pain in various parts of the body. But by having a well-balanced asana practice in our lives, including bankbends, forward bends and twists we help to keep our muscles strong and supple.
In contrast, if we only went to the gym and lifted weights, we might build strength, but not as much flexibility.
Regularly practicing yoga will also improve our balance. People with poor posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor balance or lack of awareness of their body, which can be linked to knee problems, tight hips and back pain. Better balance means we feel steadier not only on the yoga mat, but in life in general too.
As well as improving our physical body with better flexibility, balance, muscle strength and breathing; yoga also improves our body physiologically (the inner workings of the body).
For example, through a regular practice of yoga we can improve our blood circulation, lower our blood pressure and blood sugar, regulate the glands and endocrine system, improve the lymphatic system, maintain the nervous system and improve the digestive system.
Twisting asanas are thought to wring our venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Yoga also boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. And it helps thin the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers. And when practiced with a trained teacher, inverted poses, such as headstand, handstand and shoulderstand 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.
When we come in and out of yoga poses we contract and stretch muscles, but we also move organs around, which can increase the drainage of our lymphatic system, helping us to fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.
Added to that, by practicing conscious breathing, as well as relaxation and meditation at the end of a yoga practice, we can learn to better maintain our nervous system, thereby reducing stress levels, and improving things like our sleep, our digestive system and our overall happiness.
On top of the physical and physiological benefits to our health, yoga also improves our psychological health, by stemming feelings of doubt, confusion, indifference, laziness, self-delusion and despair that assail us from time to time.
A lot of people I’ve practiced yoga with have said that one of the biggest changes they feel, once they bring a regular practice of yoga into their lives, is an improvement in their self-esteem. And this is truly one of the beautiful benefits of yoga for our mental health.
Due to the pressures of modern society, many people suffer from chronically low self-esteem, which is often handled negatively, by overdrinking, overeating, working too hard, or house-hatching in front of the TV. Through these reactions, people pay the price with ever decreasing health, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually too. If we take a positive approach however, by practicing yoga regularly, we sense a shift in our mental wellness.
Yoga gives us peace of mind and increases our self-esteem; it helps us to focus, concentrate and live more joyfully in the present moment. When we are feeling sad, for example. If we sit in Lotus Pose, or rise up into a backbend, or practice meditation, we will feel a positive difference in our mood.
Yoga also slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that can cause stress. Slow effortless exhalation during the practice of asanas brings serenity to the body cells, relaxes the facial muscles, and releases all tension from the organs of perception – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. And since stress is implicated in so many health problems—from migraines and insomnia to lupus, MS, eczema, high blood pressure, and heart attacks—if we can learn to release stress, we are more likely to live longer and healthier.
By practicing yoga regularly, with an intention of self-examination and betterment, and not just as a substitute for an aerobics class, we can access a different side of ourselves. We can create balance and harmony within our body, experience feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a sense that we are part of something bigger than our own mental reality.
Have yourself a great day :)