For National Yoga Month, adopt a regular practice to reap the health benefits of mindful stretching and meditation.
By Dr. Grace Derocha
Over the years, yoga has become an increasingly popular form of exercise and relaxation. In fact, 80 million Americans reported they were likely to do yoga within the year, according to a 2016 study by the Yoga Alliance. When practiced regularly, yoga can provide many overall health and wellness benefits, which is why each September is celebrated as National Yoga Month. There are several variations of yoga. Each maintains the shared goal of creating a sense of harmony, peace and strength in the mind, body and spirit. To achieve this, sessions include holding a series of positions that help you stretch your body, strengthen muscles, focus on breathing and learn the art of meditation. Some of the benefits gained through yoga include:
Some variations of yoga can serve as a very effective cardio workout to get the heart rate up without putting as much stress or pressure on the body as more intense, fast-paced types of exercise. The movements and holding deep yoga positions have been shown to increase flexibility and tone as well as build muscles, improve balance and endurance, and boost energy levels with as little as two to three sessions per week.
Creating a healthy mindset is one of the most unique and special benefits of yoga. With its heavy focus on meditation and calming breathing techniques, yoga can relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety. A Duke University School of Medicine study found additional benefits for those living with depression, schizophrenia, sleep problems and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mindfulness is one of the guiding principles of yoga. Through increased focus, deep breathing and body awareness, those who practice yoga are often more attuned to their body’s natural hunger cues and feelings of satiety. This enhanced awareness prevents mindless eating and creates a more positive relationship with food and the body.
Increased flexibility and muscle strength from regular yoga can reduce chronic pain that is commonly experienced in the lower back and reported with various types of arthritis. The gentle movements help build strength in sensitive or painful areas without risking further injury. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants showed improved back function after only a few months of regular yoga sessions.
Yoga is an all-inclusive exercise that can be modified to fit the needs of all ages and fitness levels. To reap the many benefits of this type of exercise, try incorporating poses into an exercise routine two to four times per week for about 15 to 30 minutes. Yoga can easily be practiced at home; however, local neighborhood classes and outdoor yoga activities can provide great social experiences, and an in-person practitioner may be helpful for beginners who require additional guidance.
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.