There are many benefits to practicing yoga – that ancient Indian discipline that serves to enlighten and help “still the mind”. Yoga therapy has been used increasingly in the West, and yoga classes are popping up in cities across the U.S. The physical and mental challenges that yoga can provide have been seen to yield increasingly greater health benefits for people.
One reason why yoga therapy appears to be so popular and beneficial is because it works on many levels. It can be viewed simply as a system of physical exercise, or as a profound philosophy, and yoga teachers vary in the amount of emphasis they place on different aspects.
Yoga is non-competitive, and suitable for people of all ages, whether they have health problems or not. Yoga therapy has been shown to benefit the body physically. Some people that practice yoga on a regular basis have been able to lower blood pressure, increase their energy, increase their balance, and improve their strength and flexibility. Still others have been able to help improve their hormonal function.
Other mental benefits go hand and hand with yoga therapy. It can help to relieve stress and mild depression, improve concentration and memory, and induce a sense of calmness in people.
Disabled people can benefit from yoga therapy too, and it has been found especially helpful in certain specific ailments, notably asthma and multiple sclerosis.
People can derive more benefits from yoga if they practice for a short time each day, in addition to the lesson, which will usually be weekly in some form of a class. There are many books and tapes which help with home practice, but it is very important to remember that they are only meant to act as a back-up to regular lessons with an instructor.
Many people who find work stressful can benefit greatly from yoga therapy. To still the restlessness of the mind, simple breathing exercises can be employed without having to leave one’s desk. Breathing is an integral aspect of yoga, and it generates heat, relaxes the body and helps to block out distractions. Deep breathing expands the stomach during inhalation, which lowers the diaphragm and creates a vacuum that can help draw more air into the lungs. Repeating breathing exercises 15 to 20 times helps the body in preparation for yoga exercises.
Yoga breathing techniques have been used by professional athletes to improve performance. By breathing deeply through the nose, oxygen is drawn into the lower lungs. The lower lungs contain more blood and have greater oxygen-exchange capacity. Therefore, oxygen, the essential for muscle function, can be delivered in higher concentration to fuel the muscles through yoga therapy.