We have all heard of the many benefits of yoga including, physical, emotional and spiritual. The physical practice of yoga is extremely beneficial to the human body. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, leading to better posture, a stronger spine and easier breathing. Below are 5 physical benefits of a yoga practice.
The physical practice of yoga is only one of the 8 limbs. Through asana practice, we gain better control of the body by practicing different postures that strengthen and tone our muscles and organs. Most yoga poses that are practiced focus on engaging the bandhas, or energy centers in the body. Engaging uddiyana bandha, (pulling the belly in and up), tones and strengthens the abdominal muscles and organs. By practicing and repeating yoga poses, the body learns to hold these postures more comfortably and creates muscle memory. The more we practice, the stronger the physical body becomes.
Most yoga poses can be standing, balancing, forward fold, backbends, and hip opening postures. Each one of these categories focuses on lengthening different areas of the body and increasing flexibility of the muscles around those areas. Backbends help to improve the flexibility of the front body (quads, abdomen, front of the neck). Forward folds (either standing or seated) lengthen the back body (hamstrings, spinal erectors, calf muscles). Similar to how the body becomes stronger and better at performing a movement the more we repeat it, the same applies to the flexibility of a muscle group. The more our bodies are in these types of poses that stretches a particular muscle group; allowing us to feel comfortable in those poses and go deeper.
In addition to having a strong and flexible body, yoga is wonderful for our spine! The spine is comprised of 33 vertebrae. These bones are steadied by muscles that help keep our body upright. After sitting for long periods of time or when our muscles are tired, these spinal stabilizers don’t do a very good job at securing the spine and we either slouch or rely on the strength of the neck muscles to hold us up. Overtime, bad posture can cause chronic pain, so it's important for the spinal stabilizers to be strong and healthy to stay pain free!
Proper body posture throughout the practice of yoga is important to maintaining a strong spine. In yoga practice, the body learns how to shift its center of gravity to hold different poses. For each pose, the spine is lifting, flexing, extending or rotating. Each of these movements strengthen the different muscles that support the spine helping prevent compressed discs and maintaining the necessary space between each vertebra. A strong spine is key to preventing many types of injuries, particularly spinal injuries. However, ankle, wrist, knee and hip injuries can also be prevented by maintaining a strong and flexible spine, naturally developed with a regular yoga practice.
One of the main physical benefits of practicing yoga is better breath control. It’s one of the things that connects the body to the mind. This connection allows us to access a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of fight or flight. Practicing yoga helps us control our breath by putting us in a position where we must hold poses, some rather uncomfortable at times, and simply breathe. In Ashtanga yoga, for example, each posture is held for five slow breaths. Not only does each exhale allow us to better access a posture, but the awareness of the breath also brings us to the present moment, which can be difficult to achieve throughout the rest of our day-to-day. By mastering better command of the breath, we achieve a better control of our bodies and minds.
The physical practice of yoga is incredibly beneficial to the human body. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, contributing to healthy body posture, a stronger spine and better breathing mechanics. These physical benefits allow us to keep up with our daily activities pain free.
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