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BELT
Editor's Pick Health and Fitness Lifestyle

What is yoga and how does it work?

Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.

Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the Nigeria typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as iyengar, bikram, and hatha yoga focus on these elements.

Yoga and two practices of Chinese origin—tai chi and qi gong—are sometimes called “meditative movement” practices. All three practices include both meditative elements and physical ones.

What are the health benefits of yoga?

Research suggests that yoga may:

  • Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance
  • Relieve low-back pain and neck pain
  • Relieve menopause symptoms
  • Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations (but yoga has not been shown to help manage anxiety disorders, clinical depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD])
  • Help people quit smoking
  • Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight
  • Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Although there’s been a lot of research on the health effects of yoga, many studies have included only small numbers of people and haven’t been of high quality. Therefore, in most instances, we can only say that yoga has shown promise for particular health uses, not that it’s been proven to help.

What does research show about yoga for wellness?

Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep, and balance.

1. Improves your flexibility

Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shin bones. Tight hamstring can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture

2. Builds muscle strength

Strong muscles do more than look good. They also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain, and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility.

3. Perfects your posture

Your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy. When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it’s no wonder you’re tired. And fatigue might not be your only problem.

Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.

4.Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown

Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.

7. Increases your blood flow

Yoga gets your blood flowing. More specifically, the relaxation exercises you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet. Yoga also gets more oxygen to your cells, which function better as a result. Twisting poses are thought to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inverted poses, such as Headstand, Handstand, Shoulder stand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga also boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. And it thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.

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