It soothes stress, helps you relax and makes you flexible- but you knew that. But yoga can also help you in ways that you might find surprising……
It boosts your endurance
You might not think of it as a lung busting workout, but yoga’s conscious, deep, slow breathing can improve your sporting stamina by increasing lung capacity. If it’s a more intense Ashtanga or Bihram class, so much the better. Researchers in Thailand found even short-term yoga practice improves breathing capacity, which may help those with asthma. Pranayama – yogic breathing exercises – teaches you to exhale fully, get rid of the stale air we carry in the base of our lungs, and so take in more oxygen.
It makes you stronger
Yoga is a weight bearing exercise, so even a basic, low impact class offers some muscle-toning and bone-strengthening benefits. Classic standing poses, like warrior and trikonasana are great for legs and glutes, improving balance, leg strength and leg-muscle control. Downward and upward dog and plank build upper body strength, which many of us lack. Practising sun salutations would be a good way to get a full-body strength training wIt’s orkout. Most yoga moves, but particularly the balances, such as tree, improve core stability. And the posture required in the seated positions can help strengthen your back too.
It aids digestion
While yoga isn’t something to practice after a big meal (it’s best done on an empty stomach), there are certain moves traditionally used for their tummy-soothing and toning ability. All the twists, such as seated, standing or supine, provide a self-massage for your digestive organs, improving tone and increasing transit time- the reason you hear so much stomach rumbling in yoga classes! Some studies also show the stress-relieving effects of yoga may also be useful in those suffering from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
It builds brainpower
Yoga practice requires you to be mindful and in the moment, and a common benefit many people report is an increase in general mental clarity. Research show’s just eight weeks of yoga classes significantly increased participants concentration, motivation and learning ability, whilst decreasing anxiety levels.
It helps your hormones
You may have noticed how doing yoga stretches can ease menstrual cramps by releasing tension in the lower back. But yoga has the power to work on an altogether more holistic level, balancing hormones levels and so relieving many more symptoms of PMS. Two specific poses hit points that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, improving endocrine function and balancing hormones. The first is the bound ankle reclined pose (cobblers pose) – supta baddhakonasana. And the second is the supported shoulder stand, although inverted postures are best avoided once your period has started.
It spices up your sex life
When we’re in the throes of sexual passion, blood rushes to the pelvic region which boosts arousal. When we’re sitting at a desk, in the car, or slumped on a sofa- not so much!!! Modern lifestyles typically constrict blood flow to the pelvis and genitals – but yoga gets it flowing again. Think particularly of those wide legged poses like a wide-legged straddle or cobblers pose. Sex, like yoga, is also a mind-body experience. Yoga also takes you ‘out of your head’ and teaches you to be aware of sensations in the body: a good skill if you ever find yourself mentally writing your shopping list whilst between the sheets. And if you’re too tired for sex? A Harvard Medical School Study found eight week’s yoga practise improved sleepin a group of chronic insomniacs- so no more excuses there.
And yoga, practised properly, means locating, engaging and strengthening your pelvic floor muscles – the same muscles that contract and release as you orgasm. A good yoga teacher will be able to teach you mula bandha – a sort of ‘energetic lock’ that involves holding your abdominal muscles in while drawing up your pelvic floor, all while continuing to breathe fully. It’s not just about contracting the muscles though – yoga, like sex is also about letting go when the time is right.
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Original article written by Hannah Ebelthite for Health & Fitness Magazine