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10 Surprising Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

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Yoga and meditation typically go hand-in-hand and have been around for thousands of years. They have been used as an alternative form of exercise to keep the mind and body healthy and happy. Practicing yoga improves balance, endurance, flexibility, and strength, while meditation helps keep the mind sharp, relieves stress and anxiety, and can strengthen your immune system.

Following a few simple poses, breathing techniques, and positive coping skills can help retirees manage stress, improve mental clarity, manage chronic conditions, and promote a healthier lifestyle. With so many health benefits linked to these traditional practices, many Baby Boomers are taking notice and incorporating these techniques into their lifestyle. Check out these ten surprising benefits of yoga and meditation

Treats Back Pain

Believe it or not, doing a few yoga poses throughout the week can help with chronic back pain. Studies have shown that stretching exercises and poses have improved spinal flexibility and helped ease lower back pain problems in people after just one week of yoga.

Helps with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Iyengar yoga, which is a type of yoga that uses blocks, belts, and other positioning props, has been shown to help people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Hot yoga, like Bikram and gentle yoga, has also been shown to help because of its slow, easy-paced poses and movements that benefit the joints, bones, and muscles.

Hangover Cure

While you may not want to move or get out of bed when nursing a hangover, experts say that doing yoga can detox your system and get you feeling fresh much faster. Certain yoga poses like “plow”, “bow”, or “shoulder stand” work on the thyroid gland, which improves the metabolism to kick those toxins out of your system. By reversing the blood flow and bringing more circulation to the brain, your body will create balance and spring back to life. Not only are you getting rid of your hangover faster, but also blasting fat and cellulite.

Improves Heart Health

When it comes to heart health, Baby Boomers need to be wary and maintain a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. Thanks to yoga and meditation, keeping your heart healthy is easy. Studies have shown that yoga is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease because of its cardiovascular benefits that eliminate arterial plaque. Meditation also helps lower heart rate and improve blood circulation. Meditating one time a day for ten minutes can help you relax, reduce stress hormones, lower your blood pressure, and allow for better blood flow.

Helps with Asthma

If you suffer from asthma then you might want to take up yoga. Research has shown that adults with mild to moderate asthma who did an eight-week session of yoga combined with their regular meds saw a marked improvement. Pranayama is a type of yoga that focuses on breathing techniques that have shown to be especially effective against asthma.

Improves Digestion

If you have trouble with your daily fiber intake and can’t get things moving easily then practicing yoga can be a tremendous help. There are many yoga poses, twists, and moves that massage internal organs that help food move along in your digestive system. Yoga also stimulates the lymphatic system that helps flush out toxins, making your body cleaner. Meditation can also help with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) by reducing the frequency of stress-related flare-ups.

Sleep Better

In order to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle you need to get enough rest so you can function the next day. If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia, yoga can greatly improve your sleep quality. Doing yoga twice a week helped people sleep better, reduce stress, and lower anxiety. Meditation and breathing techniques also help clear your mind so you can relax and slow down your thoughts, allowing you the peace of mind to get a good night’s sleep.

Mood Booster

Yoga and meditation have been linked with emotional health boosts. Studies have shown that yoga and meditation help improve cognitive-behavioral performance as well as aid with mood swings, menopause, schizophrenia, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Practicing yoga in a group setting also stimulates the production of oxytocin, which is the love hormone, and it also produces higher serotonin levels, which is the happy hormone. Combined, these hormones dramatically improve someone’s mood.

Combat Migraines

No one likes to endure the pain of a migraine. That’s why it’s beneficial to practice yoga to fight them off. One of the recommended moves that alleviate migraines is the “bridge pose.” You lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart on the floor. With your hands on the floor, press down into your legs and draw your hips up. The trick is to relax the tension in your muscles from your neck and shoulders, which can be misaligned or stressed from hunching over a computer or phone all day long.

Mental Clarity

A healthy dose of yoga and meditation will keep your brain sharp and clear. Simple yoga practices and breathing techniques allow you to free your mind from “clutter” that trickles down to your physical well-being. Slow breathing and yoga poses will help your memory and keep your thoughts more organized once you get rid of stress, anxiety, and negative thinking. Reaching a place of quiet peacefulness is the key to healthy memory function.

References

www.55places.com/blog/10-surprising-benefits-of-yoga-and-meditation
posted Mar 24, 2018 by M.r.suji Raga Priya

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Many of us attend weekly yoga classes, which are good for our general health and wellbeing. However, practising yoga on a daily basis will make you reap even more health benefits. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, it's easy to squeeze in just 15 minutes a day. Here's why it's worth it.

1. Improve muscle flexibility, strength, and posture

Daily yoga will help stretch and tone your body muscles. Popular poses like the plank will simultaneously work on strengthening your arms, legs, shoulders and abs. Don't think you have to be super flexible to practice yoga, the beauty of yoga is that it can be practised at all levels of ability. A few minutes a day practising poses like the warrior or the downward facing dog, will soon make you really feel the difference in your flexibility, whether you're pretty bendy already or not.

Daily yoga also helps improve your body posture, making you walk taller and sit up straighter at your desk. Aches and pains caused by incorrect body posture such as back pain will be alleviated.

2. Better all-round level of fitness

When thinking of improving your fitness, most of us think of huffing and puffing away at the gym. But that is not necessarily the only way to work out. Yoga gives you all that a gym can, but in a peaceful, safe and more holistic way. It combines aspects of cardio, functional and strength training all in one. What more could you ask for? The best part about this workout is that it can be done at your own pace in your own home.

3. Lose weight

You don't have to practice Hot Yoga or be able to bend double in a yoga pose to lose weight. An everyday gentle yoga practice will fuel the metabolic system and will help burn fat, leading to weight loss. Daily yoga can also help restore the hormonal balance in your body, which can normalise your body weight.

Levels of cortisol, the hormone that is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration, will be lowered, leading to less overeating. Daily yoga also strengthens the overall mind-body connection and helps you deal more effectively with unpleasant emotions rather than reaching for food to suppress those feelings.

4. Increase your energy

Just a few minutes of yoga every day will provide that much-needed energy boost in our busy lives and will keep us fresh for longer. Yoga, with its unique synergy of body and breath work, is perfect when your reserves are running low. Daily yoga practice will awaken the main energy centres (called chakras) in our body. Great poses for extra energy are those that extend the spine, such as the tree pose, allowing energy to circulate throughout the whole body and poses that open the chest, like the cobra pose, encouraging the intake of more breath.

5. Reduce stress

Many workplaces now offer lunch-time yoga sessions because it's been shown that yoga is an amazing stress buster. Any yoga practice, even a short daily one, should be made up of three elements; poses, breathing and meditation. Studies have shown that those people who regularly practice all three elements are better able to regulate their heart-rate variability (HRV). This generally means that their heart rate is lower, giving the body the ability to respond to stress in a more flexible way.

Are you coping with so much stress that it's keeping you awake at night? Studies have shown that practising daily yoga can reduce or even fully prevent insomnia. When experiencing insomnia, practice relaxing asanas or postures, such as forward fold (uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall. Relaxing yoga poses such as the forward fold or lying on your back with your feet up the wall can calm both your body and mind.

6. Breathe better

Breathing deeply and calmly is an essential part of every yoga practice. Yogic breathing techniques (called pranayama) focus on trying to slow down the breath and on breathing fully from the pit of your stomach to the top of your lungs. These methods will make you feel more relaxed and balanced and will help you face the day with confidence and calm. They also have some great side benefits including increased lung capacity and more tidal volume (the total amount of air your lungs can hold at any one time).

You can adopt these techniques whenever needed in daily life. They can help you stay calm in emergency situations, think clearer in stressful situations and they can help reduce pain.

7. Be happier

Adding a few yoga poses to your daily routine can make you an emotionally stronger and happier person. A recent study has shown that practising regular yoga and meditation results in higher serotonin levels(the happiness hormone). The same study showed that long-term yoga practitioners have more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment. Another study has shown that the brain's gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels are higher after practising yoga. Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. To put it simply, just 15 minutes of yoga a day can start changing your brain chemistry and improving your mood.

8. Become more mindful

Yoga and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. When practising yoga, you will shift your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose. That awareness will bring the mind back to the present moment – the main aim of mindfulness - where it can stay happy and focused. Practising mindfulness has lasting physical and psychological benefits that are very much in line with the benefits of yoga. You will feel more calm and relaxed, and less stress and anxiety. You will experience higher levels of energy and enthusiasm and more self-confidence and self-acceptance.

9. Improve concentration and think clearer

Yoga poses and meditation require you to concentrate on your breathing. This process of observing your breath calms your mind and makes you more mentally relaxed. As a result of this mental stability, you'll able to recollect and retain more information. Meditating for just a few minutes in the morning can result in better concentration throughout the day. By reducing mental stress and physical tension, we are able to recall easier and have more organised thoughts. Improved cognitive function happens when we are able to clear our minds and refresh. From a place of peace and calm, we are able to use our mental facilities more efficiently."

By reducing mental stress and physical tension, we are able to recall easier and have more organised thoughts. Improved cognitive function happens when we are able to clear our minds and refresh. From a place of peace and calm, we are able to use our mental facilities more efficiently. Overall, by reducing mental stress and physical tension through daily yoga, you'll be able to think sharper and have more organised thoughts.

10. Live Longer

As you now know, everyday yoga will help you increase your level of fitness, regulate your heart rate, reduce your stress levels and make you a happier person. All those elements may add valuable years to your life. It's also known that yoga decreases the risk of heart disease, and it reduces the pace of your breathing which has been directly linked to a longer lifespan. Recent studies have shown that the meditation element of yoga might help delay the process of ageing by protecting the telomeres (caps) at the end of our chromosomes, too

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The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits. Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.

You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration. People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance. 

This article reviews 11 health benefits of meditation.

1. Reduces Stress

Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.

Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. 

In an eight-week study, a meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Another study in nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress .

Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.

2. Controls Anxiety

Less stress translates to less anxiety. For example, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks (9).

Another study followed up with 18 volunteers three years after they had completed an eight-week meditation program. Most volunteers had continued practicing regular meditation and maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term (10). A larger study in 2,466 participants also showed that a variety of different meditation strategies may reduce anxiety levels.

For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and physical activity 

Meditation may also help control job-related anxiety in high-pressure work environments. One study found that a meditation program reduced anxiety in a group of nurses 

3. Promotes Emotional Health

Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life. Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.

One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.

Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies suggests meditation may reduce depression by decreasing these inflammatory chemicals. Another controlled study compared electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and the brains of others who did not. Those who meditated showed measurable changes in activity in areas related to positive thinking and optimism.

4. Enhances Self-Awareness

Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.

Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns. A study of 21 women fighting breast cancer found that when they took part in a tai chi program, their self-esteem improved more than it did than in those who received social support sessions.

5. Lengthens Attention Span

Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention. For example, a study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants' ability to reorient and maintain their attentionA similar study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task for longer. These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation.

6. May Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss

Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young. 

Kirtan Kriya is a method of meditation that combines a mantra or chant with repetitive motion of the fingers to focus thoughts. It improved participants' ability to perform memory tasks in multiple studies of age-related memory lossFurthermore, a review of 12 studies found that multiple meditation styles increased attention, memory and mental quickness in older volunteersIn addition to fighting normal age-related memory loss, meditation can at least partially improve memory in patients with dementia. It can also help control stress and improve coping in those caring for family members with dementia.

7. Can Generate Kindness

Some types of meditation may particularly increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others. Metta, a type of meditation also known as loving-kindness meditation, begins with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward yourself. Through practice, people learn to extend this kindness and forgiveness externally, first to friends, then acquaintances and ultimately enemies.

Twenty-two studies of this form of meditation have demonstrated its ability to increase peoples' compassion toward themselves and othersOne study of 100 adults randomly assigned to a program that included loving-kindness meditation found that these benefits were dose-dependent.

In other words, the more effort people put into Metta meditation, the more positive feelings they experiencedAnother group of studies showed the positive feelings people develop through Metta meditation can improve social anxiety, reduce marriage conflict and help anger management. These benefits also appear to accumulate over time with the practice of loving-kindness meditation.

8. May Help Fight Addictions

The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviours. Research has shown that meditation may help people learn to redirect their attention, increase their willpower, control their emotions and impulses and increase their understanding of the causes behind their addictive behaviours. One study that taught 19 recovering alcoholics how to meditate found that participants who received the training got better at controlling their cravings and craving-related stress. Meditation may also help you control food cravings. A review of 14 studies found mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce emotional and binge eating.

9. Improves Sleep

Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn't. Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn't meditate.Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or "runaway" thoughts that often lead to insomnia. Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you're more likely to fall asleep.

10. Helps Control Pain

Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions. For example, one study used functional MRI techniques to observe brain activity as participants experienced a painful stimulus. Some participants had gone through four days of mindfulness meditation training, while others had not. 

The meditating patients showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain. They also reported less sensitivity to pain.One larger study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants. It found that meditation was associated with decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent painAn additional study of meditation in patients with terminal diseases found meditation may help mitigate chronic pain at the end of lifeIn each of these scenarios, meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.

11. Can Decrease Blood Pressure

Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart. Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to poor heart function. 

High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. A study of 996 volunteers found that when they meditated by concentrating on a "silent mantra" — a repeated, non-vocalized word — reduced blood pressure by about five points, on average.

This was more effective among older volunteers and those who had higher blood pressure prior to the studyA review concluded that several types of meditation produced similar improvements in blood pressureIn part, meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, tension in blood vessels and the "fight-or-flight" response that increases alertness in stressful situations.

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It often feels like there are just not enough hours in a day and not enough days in a week to get things done. The forty-hour work week is a distant memory. We barely find the time for all our chores and errands, let alone to unwind with our family and friends. The absence of space for self-care can add to the stress, and stress, if not checked early enough, can develop into depression.

With so much to do and so little time, you naturally may wonder if it’s worth the effort to make space for meditation. Especially in the beginning, when your mind tends to jump from to-do lists to unfinished business and back again, simply sitting can feel painfully unproductive. This might be a good time to learn a little bit about what happens when you’ve been meditating for a long time.

Long term effects of meditation

Long Term Benefits of Meditation
  1. Better sleep

Studies have shown that people who practice meditation report improved sleep. It’s one of the most wholesome and best-appreciated long-term benefits that meditation provides. Medical professionals are now encouraging patients who suffer from insomnia and similar sleep disorders to try different techniques, especially certain forms of guided meditation, to help manage their symptoms. The American Journal of Medicine once reported on a study that aimed to determine the effects of meditation on insomniacs. The results were incredible – all of the patients involved in the study reported improved sleep quality, and 91% reduced their sleeping pill intake or stopped using them altogether.

  1. Enhanced memory, concentration and perception

If you’re curious about what happens when you meditate for a long time, consider the scientific studies involving Buddhist monks and possibly borrow a leaf from them. A good number of Buddhist monks and lay practitioners have perfected the art of meditation over many years. Studies conducted on some of the monks highlight the long-term effects of meditation on the brain. They showed signs of elevated brain activity within the cerebral regions associated with relaxation, happiness, concentration, self-awareness, and other positive emotions and qualities. Conversely, the brain areas responsible for stress and anxiety were less developed.

  1. Increased levels of happiness and compassion

Increased levels of contentment and compassion are among the most desirable long-term benefits of meditation. According to Rachel Parrish, a seasoned meditation instructor, your ability to exhibit true compassion isn’t based on your situation but rather on your complete openness. Compassion is a remarkable trait that’s hard-wired into all of us. Meditation will give you the tools you need to dig deep and access the happiness and compassion that await discovery within. Looking to external sources for comfort and well-being is a deeply ingrained habit, but if you meditate regularly, you’ll surely come to agree that true happiness comes from within.

  1. A healthier immune system

Just as they calm the mind, long-term effects of meditation also benefit the entire body. Some studies have indicated that people who practice meditation produce a higher number of antibodies more rapidly than those who don’t. More antibodies mean you’ll fight diseases more effectively – pathogens will be detected and eliminated with much more efficiency. So meditation not only improves your state of mind, but it also strengthens your body’s disease-fighting mechanisms. A healthy body is one reflection of a peaceful mind.

  1. Improved alertness and ability to focus

We all need to be able to focus in order to carry out our different responsibilities. Any activity that is performed without the proper focus and attention is bound to produce lacklustre results. It’s hard to do a good job when you’re stressed and exhausted, and even more so when you can’t concentrate on the task at hand. At work, factors like stress and exhaustion can lead to a lack of discernment and mistakes. Happily, studies have shown that one of the long-term effects of meditation is improved concentration. Experts now recommend mindfulness meditation to help pacify the mind and increase our ability to remain alert. Luckily, many of our everyday activities at home or at work are fertile ground for the practice of mindfulness. Instead of multitasking, try picking one job or activity and apply yourself to it. With practice, this will improve your productivity and give your intelligence and creativity plenty of space to express themselves.

If you aspire to a better quality of life, meditation is the way to go. Don’t worry, your meditation practice won’t monopolize all of your free time – even sitting for 5 minutes a day can improve your cognition and reduce anxiety and depression. 

 

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