Using the breath and the body’s natural heat, we open up the joints, stretch the muscles and the tendons of the whole body. Not just the external muscles that we can see, but those deep inside us, which we can’t see.
Increased physical strength
Other exercise shortens and ‘bulks’ muscle. Yoga stretches muscle, which contracts more efficiently and strongly than non–stretched muscle.
A gauze-like mesh covers our body under our external skin which helps to hold the muscles and internal organs in place. Through years of incorrect posture and imbalance this fascia is warped and stretched and becomes fixed, according to how we hold ourselves. Yoga practise can help us to reverse this and return to a more efficient and healthy posture. Muscles that have been stretched consistently through bad posture become weak. Yoga helps us to return those muscles to full use and strength, thus giving us the support we need to maintain correct posture.
Exercises & strengthens the heart
Stronger physical yoga practice is cardiovascular and aerobic. It warms the body from the inside, increasing the heart rate, but at the same time opening up the blood vessels, and squeezes blood around the body. Yoga movement is never violent or sudden, and it allows plenty of time for rest to keep the heart rate steady. So the heart is never strained.
Enriches the blood
A little known fact is that the surface area of our lungs is approximately the size of a tennis court. Gravity and blood pressure keeps most of the blood circulating around the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide around the lower part of our lungs. Yet many of us only use the top of our lungs. We have forgotten how to breath naturally and efficiently. Yoga practice helps us to re-learn to breath deeply and naturally, just like we used to when very young (see how a young baby breathes from it’s belly). Increased oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange is invaluable to boosting overall health and wellbeing.
Stimulates the endocrine and lymphatic systems
Warming the body, opening the blood vessels, squeezing the muscles and internal organs much like a sponge, releases toxins, moving blood and fluids around and introducing fresh oxygenated blood into every part of the body. The glands of the endocrine system are stimulated, especially in the inversions and half-inversions. This helps improve the efficiency of all their functions, including regulating and improving: sleep patterns, mood, metabolism, growth and cell production, blood pressure, body temperature, body fluid filtration, and sexual functions.
Approximately 50% of menopausal women suffer from varying degrees of osteoporosis. Before menopause, the activity of bone building cells is greater than that those whose function is to remove bone tissue. After menopause, this balance begins to reverse. But yoga can be extremely effective in slowing this process down by helping to regulate calcium in the blood. Keeping the endocrine system stimulated and working efficiently can slow the progress of this imbalance.
The glands of the lymphatic system are stimulated and their efficiency can be improved. This can help the body to be better prepared to resist infection and illness, including lymphatic cancer.
Yoga stimulates the secretion of enzymes that help us break down carbohydrates, protein and fat. Many of the yoga postures massage and stimulate the abdominal organs, assisting with waste transit and relieving constipation.
Can assist weight loss
All the above benefits combine to produce an increase in whole body efficiency. The more regularly yoga is practised, the more the practitioner becomes aware of how important it is to look after their body, and thus they modify their diet and intake of alcohol, which directly, naturally and steadily helps to lose excess weight.
Reduced mental stress and physical tension
Our busy modern stressful lives keep us in a constant state of alert, which we get so used to that we never really learn to relax, both physically and mentally. This keeps the adrenal glands active, releasing what are called ‘fight or flight’ hormones into the blood, which increase heart rate, blood pressure, suppresses the efficiency of the immune system and compromises other non-emergency body functions such as digestion. This is why stress leads to illness and digestion problems. Flopping down on the sofa with a glass of wine does nothing to redress this. It requires regular and consistent periods of mental peace and calm and the kind of physical therapy that yoga provides. Yoga is self-medication.
Improved memory, concentration & eyesight
The improved circulation and introduction of freshly oxygenated blood to the brain that yoga stimulates, can have an extremely beneficial effect on the functions of the brain and nervous system.
More protection against injury for sports people
Sports people are prone to injury because their training and their sports tighten up the body, making it rigid. When the body moves beyond its comfortable limit, like the foot landing awkwardly, it can literally break, because there’s no flexibility. Yoga stretches the muscles and tendons, and opening up the joints the body becomes more pliable. Olympic athletes and professional sportsmen & women who practise yoga find their tendency to injure themselves drops dramatically.