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Yoga – Benefits Beyond the Mat

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Yoga, an ancient practice and meditation, has become increasingly popular in today's busy society. For many people, yoga provides a retreat from their chaotic and busy lives. This is true whether you're practising downward facing dog posture on a mat in your bedroom, in an ashram in India or even in New York City's Times Square. Yoga provides many other mental and physical benefits. Some of these extend to the kitchen table.

Types of Yoga

There are many types of yoga. Hatha (a combination of many styles) is one of the most popular styles. It is a more physical type of yoga rather than a still, meditative form. Hatha yoga focuses on pranayamas (breath-controlled exercises). These are followed by a series of asanas (yoga postures), which end with savasana (a resting period).

The goal of yoga practice is to challenge yourself physically, but not to feel overwhelmed. At this "edge," the focus is on your breath while your mind is accepting and calm.

A Better Body Image

Yoga develops inner awareness. It focuses your attention on your body's abilities at the present moment. It helps develop breath and strength of mind and body. It's not about physical appearance.

Yoga studios typically don't have mirrors. This is so people can focus their awareness inward rather than how a pose — or the people around them — look. Surveys have found that those who practised yoga were more aware of their bodies than people who didn't practice yoga. They were also more satisfied with and less critical of their bodies. For these reasons, yoga has become an integral part of the treatment of eating disorders and programs that promote positive body image and self-esteem.

Becoming a Mindful Eater

Mindfulness refers to focusing your attention on what you are experiencing in the present moment without judging yourself.

Practising yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness not just in class, but in other areas of a person's life.

Researchers describe mindful eating as a nonjudgmental awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. They developed a questionnaire to measure mindful eating using these behaviours:

  • Eating even when full (disinhibition)

  • Being aware of how food looks, tastes and smells

  • Eating in response to environmental cues, such as the sight or smell of food

  • Eating when sad or stressed (emotional eating)

  • Eating when distracted by other things

The researchers found that people who practised yoga were more mindful eaters according to their scores. Both years of yoga practice and number of minutes of practice per week were associated with better mindful eating scores. Practising yoga helps you be more aware how your body feels. This heightened awareness can carry over to mealtime as you savour each bite or sip, and note how food smells, tastes and feels in your mouth.

A Boost to Weight Loss and Maintenance

People who practice yoga and are mindful eaters are more in tune with their bodies. They may be more sensitive to hunger cues and feelings of fullness.

Researchers found that people who practised yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practised yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga. Researchers attributed this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.

Enhancing Fitness

Yoga is known for its ability to soothe tension and anxiety in the mind and body. But it can also have an impact on a person's exercise capacity.

Researchers studied a small group of sedentary individuals who had not practised yoga before. After eight weeks of practising yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Several small studies have found yoga to have a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors: It helped lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension. It's likely that the yoga restores "baroreceptor sensitivity." This helps the body senses imbalances in blood pressure and maintain balance.

Another study found that practising yoga improved lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as patients with known coronary artery disease. It also lowered excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduced their need for medications. Yoga is now being included in many cardiac rehabilitation programs due to its cardiovascular and stress-relieving benefits.

posted May 28 by Syed Zubair

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If you are over 50 (or over 90), it is the perfect time to start a yoga practice. Now. In fact, the Yoga Sutras, a text with 196 aphorisms compiled around 400 CE begins, “Now, the teachings of yoga.” The word “now” is so imperative. There is no sense of regret, no “Why didn’t I start sooner?” Now is the time you practice. Now is a perfect time.

7 Important Health Benefits Of Yoga For People Over 50

In fact, if you find yourself in some age you might classify as chronologically enriched, you have even more reason to practice. Here are some of the many benefits, right now:

1) Your balance will improve. Balance is all good and well when you are 20 and can show off your arm balance skills as your party trick. However, yoga works your proprioception, or your sense of your body in space. Without regular attention, this can diminish with age, but it doesn’t have to. With much of proprioception in your ankles, standing yoga poses ensure that you maintain your sense of balance. This may help you to walk gracefully for years to come.

2) Yoga strengthens bones. Bones are not really something young people think about, yet men and women have their maximum bone density at the age of 30. After that, it is all about maintenance, and some studies have suggested that yoga can help with gaining bone in the spine and the hip. Strength building yoga is an important part of this equation.

3) Your memory will stay sharp. No one wants to become the person who can’t remember where their keys are on a regular basis. Yoga provides added benefits in visual-spatial memory, with one study claiming that it fared better than crossword puzzles. Consider it fitness for your brain.

4) Yoga can protect your joints. As with any exercise, it can also harm your joints, so moderation and a qualified teacher are key. Keeping the fluidity of your joints may feel like a bonus when you are young, but as you get older you will notice it more, especially in the morning. Not only will yoga boost the synovial fluid to your joints, but it will also train surrounding tiny muscles to help stabilize the load.

5) Yoga can provide weight loss benefits. Yoga has a host of benefits, such as normalizing digestion, boosting the metabolism and toning muscles. All of these things can help with weight loss and yoga’s mindful training may help you to recognize when you are eating straight out of the bag of chips. Midlife weight gain has causes, and by dealing with some of them head-on you will be less likely to carry excess weight.

6) Yoga can aid with menopausal discomfort. Regular yoga practice is not going to cure all that ails you, but according to some studies, yoga may relieve some symptoms of menopause, including fewer hot flashes. (I think most women would sign up at the words “fewer hot flashes.”)

7) Yoga can moderate chronic pain. Chronic pain does become more common as we age, but this does not mean you are doomed to suffer. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that for people with chronic lower back pain, yoga increased mobility more than standard medical care. The less pain you are in, the more you will be likely to move. And the more you move, the less pain you are likely to be in. You see where I am going with this.

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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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