Bending over backwards for yoga !!!
Many modalities of exercise are beneficial for our health but, in my opinion, none more so than yoga. It's health benefits are bountiful and can be closely linked to all of our bodily systems; aiding digestion, lymphatic drainage, the nervous system and ultimately our general well being.
Yoga works on strength and flexibility, improving range of movement and thus reducing the chance of injury.
Digestive motility is improved with yoga moves like cat/cow, supine twist, downward dog and triangle pose to name but a few. All of us have experienced bloating or discomfort at some point in our lives and whilst it is not encouraged to practice yoga straight after eating, it has been proven to help with digestive issues.
The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease and is part of the body's immune system. The lymphatic system is akin to a one way drainage system and helps to remove waste products produced by our cells. The movements in yoga help to support the flow in this vital drainage system. A sedentary lifestyle has been documented as a contributory factor in illness and disease so get that lymph moving!!!
It is widely documented that yoga and meditation can reduce anxiety, depression and stress. Our enteric nervous system or 'brain' of the gastro intestinal tract (gut) functions independently but is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic/sympathetic). The meditative practice of yoga allows us to change our nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) - to give you a brief synopsis of the health benefits this offers: the bronchi in our lungs constrict reversing the dilating effects of the sympathetic nervous system (contrary to belief this doesn't make breathing harder due to constriction it merely regulates our breathing back to normal/steady), our blood pressure and heart rate decrease (which, in
turn, has a beneficial effect on our kidneys, liver and other vital organs), the secretions and motility within our gut improve and our adrenals get a rest from releasing stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline!!!!
The proprioceptive neuro-muscular function (PNF) is used to enhance both active and passive range of motion. PNF is used to improve range of movement and all forms of yoga fit the bill. PNF was originally developed as a form of rehabilitation but is also very effective for targeting specific muscle groups as well as increasing flexibility and strength.
You may be wondering why I am writing a blog on yoga when I do not teach it.
The answer is this: As a huge fan of exercise I have previously leaned toward cardio workouts with endorphin rushes, intense heart rates and extreme sweating. Surely that is what is good for you? "No pain, no gain" right????. However as I have progressed through biomedicine and biochemistry, it has become abundantly clear to me that whilst cardiovascular exercise is most beneficial, it isn't always a good thing long term and without balance. Continuous, extreme exercise in some individuals can actually cause an increase in free radicals which can ultimately have an oxidative effect on our body. The human body is a truly incredible thing. It has so many different systems working away 24/7 to keep us alive and well. And most of the time we are completely unaware of what is going on behind the scenes. The 'balance' of these systems is vital for our well being. As mentioned above yoga helps to maintain this equilibrium, thus helping to keep our metaphoric machine well oiled and working synergistically.
Whatever exercise you do, keep doing it, I'm sure it's marvellous, but if you can intersperse some yoga into your week I can promise, you will not be disappointed. It takes a while, you wont be flexible after two sessions but if you sustain it you will begin to see 'and feel' the difference.