Every morning you’ll find me walking on the Rio Tomebamba. I try and make my walking hour aerobic, and use my walking sticks to “pump it up,” (you wouldn’t believe the strange looks I get — I guess I’m the strange-looking one). When I return home I try and stretch for about 10 minutes.
But, stretching, although good, is not good enough. And although I’ve let myself get a little lazy at the end of the year, I’m back in gear, and making time for one of the best activities known to women and men. Yoga.
What is yoga? Well…it’s not one single thing. According to YogaBasics.com, “Yoga is a vast collection of spiritual techniques and practices aimed at integrating mind, body and spirit to achieve a state of enlightenment or oneness with the universe.”
And if you don’t think yoga is for you, that it’s too “internal”, or not challenging enough for your goals, be assured that yoga is good for every body (and I’m separating ‘every’ and ‘body’ deliberately).
Young, old, men, women…regardless of your weight or physical fitness, yoga imparts many health benefits. Here are the Top Five reasons that everyone should do yoga, and regularly. Plus a bonus reason!
#1. Flexibility. Yoga poses, or asanas, help to stretch and strengthen muscles, increase range of motion, and are said to open energy channels and increase prana, or energy. With regular practice, yoga improves your flexibility, and as you become more supple and flexible, you are less prone to injuries. Even if you’re not flexible, once you start practicing, you also gain strength, improved balance, better coordination, and clarity of mind.
#2. Breathing. We take breathing for granted, but controlled breathing is another thing entirely. As Dr. Andrew Weil explains, “When we direct our breathing, we can actively influence our subconscious, autonomic nervous system, and when you regulate your breathing, you can regulate your mind and emotions too.” Breath awareness, or working with the breath, is called pranayama, and when you breathe properly you send oxygen to your entire body’s cells. Read more from HuffingtonPost.com, and learn how conscious breathing can “act as a medicinal tool, increasing well-being and peace of mind.”
#3. Sleep. In a survey reported by Harvard Health in 2016, 94% of U.S. citizens who practiced yoga do it for wellness reasons, and 55% reported improved sleep. Eighty-five percent reported reduced stress too. Learning and practicing controlled breathing relieves tension and reduces stress — improved sleep is an added benefit. Livestrong.com cites research comparing an herbal sleep remedy to yoga. Not only did those practicing yoga fall asleep more easily, they slept longer. Better sleep truly translates into a better quality of life — all around.
#4. Strength. Kelly Turner, an ACE-certified personal trainer writes that unlike working out with weights, yoga is a more balanced way to strength-train. Yoga is a form of functional fitness, using both large and small muscles and moving in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.). Unlike weight lifting, which is back and forth on a one-dimensional plane, as in the forward-back motion of a bicep curl, yoga typically isolates and flexes one muscle or muscle group at a time. Yoga tones muscles all over your body, and increases muscle endurance because you typically hold any given pose for a period of time, repeating the asana often several time during the yoga workout.
#5. Relieve Chronic Pain. As reported in Harvard Health, research shows that yoga helps people who suffer from arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and other chronic pain conditions. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that among 313 people with chronic low back pain, a weekly yoga class increased mobility more than standard treatment. The article also cited a meta-analysis of more than 1,600 people that showed yoga improves daily function in people suffering from fibromyalgia osteoporosis-related curvature of the spine, with the added bonus of “improved mood and psychosocial well-being.”
A typical yoga session lasts approximately one hour or a little more, beginning with breathing exercises to relax the body and mind, then proceeds through a series of poses, or asanas, which may be seated, standing, or lying prone. Some asanas are held for a few seconds to a few minutes…some are repeated, sometimes not. Unlike the ill-advised “no pain, no gain” in yoga, pain is an indication that you’re not doing the pose correctly, and a good yoga instructor will correct your posture. Class typically ends with breathing and quiet contemplation.
You don’t have to be experienced to benefit from yoga: the minute you get started, the benefits start. No matter your level of fitness, or even if you have a disability, yoga can be adapted to you.
ANY time spent doing yoga is useful. And, as it is with most skill-based endeavors, the more a person practices,the better the results. Over time, as a body changes, the practice changes.
If you can’t get to class, take some time to practice at home — as my former yoga teacher Kris Loomis said, “Yoga can fit into very busy schedules — five minutes are better than no minutes. And you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. All you really need is the desire to better yourself and an open mind.”
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For those who regularly practice,yoga can lead to stronger bones and reduced risk for fractures, lower risk for heart disease — and the ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Which brings me to…
#6. Improve your sex life! Yoga makes your body look good and feel good. PsychologyToday.comwrites yoga can boost arousal, desire, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction, and notes that great sex begins with deep relaxation. Yoga boosts arterial blood flow to those important parts of your body, and more.
And what could be better than feeling good about yourself, your body, your posture, and your endurance!
There are many opportunities to practice yoga here in Cuenca. Different instructors offer different disciplines and levels, ranging from gentle beginner to more challenging sessions. Feel free to share your thoughts about yoga in the comments below. Do you do it for health, relaxation, fitness or…more? What are your favorite studios and instructors? Share your thoughts about practicing at home (I enjoy some YouTube instructors).
Dr. Andrew Weil. Three Breathing Exercises And Techniques. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/
GAIAM. Can yoga replace strength training?
Harvard Health Blog. Yoga for better sleep.https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/8753-201512048753
HuffingtonPost.com. Yogic Breathing: The Physiology of Pranayama. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kripalu/yoga-practice_b_4762303.html
Livestrong.com. What are the benefits of yoga for seniors?https://www.livestrong.com/article/123114-benefits-yoga-seniors/
PsychologyToday.com. Want Better Sex? Do Yoga.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/201007/want-better-sex-do-yoga
WebMD.com. Yoga. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/yoga-workouts
YogaBasics.com. Yoga for beginners.http://www.yogabasics.com/