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.
Uddiyana can be translated as “upward flying” and bandha as “lock”. This lock is located in the lower abdomen about three fingers below your navel; it is a band of muscle between your two hipbones. This space can be engaged in a full range of ways, from slightly firm, or intensely engaged, drawing the belly into such an extreme that it is visibly pulled up and under the rib-cage. For asana, we work towards something in the middle, as a start. For pranayama, we reach towards the more extremely engaged end of the spectrum.
How to practice Uddiyana Bandha:
1. Pull the low belly in and up towards your spine. For most yogis, this may take some time to recognize that it’s there.
2. Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Take your hands to your belly at your hip bones and begin to press the arch of your lower back towards the floor. While you will not actually lose that space between the back and the floor, you likely will feel your belly begin to engage.
3. If the previous option doesn’t work, stay on your back and stretch your legs out on the floor in front of you. Try to lift your heels an inch off the ground. This is an optimal way to notice your lower abdominal lock.
A strong and engaged core is what you want in most of your yoga postures. This lock stabilizes the body by aligning the hips and spine, drawing strength from the center rather than the extremities. This will create a stronger core for the body to draw from, while also decreasing the potential for injury in the hip and shoulder girdles, as well as in the outer limbs. Once the core becomes strong and a part of practice, it makes other poses easier and more accessible.
There are other internal benefits to this lock, such as keeping the digestive organs clear and moving, helping the flow of energy sealed inside the body, building prana (life force) and heat while assisting in the removal of impurities. According to ancient yogis, the solar plexus (Manipura Chakra), is the seat of fire within our physical and psychic systems. The lower chakras are the energy centers of many vital functions and health issues within the physical body. Keeping this part of the body active and working prevents lower back problems and promotes healthy adrenal glands while improving kidney, bladder, and liver function.
By engaging Uddiyana lock the breath above the belly fills the lungs and rib-cage, thus, initiating ujjayi breathing. In addition to building focus and concentration on the breath’s sound, ujjayi is a powerful pranayama that heats the body and stimulates the flow of blood, increasing your circulation as well as your metabolism. Taking in more air also oxygenates the blood, which keeps the blood healthy and more resistant to disease.
While nurturing and providing an outlet for stress, relaxation and stretching, yoga is not easy. If we ignore our core muscles, we will likely have a higher risk of injury. When feel the intensity of our body getting stronger, the heat we’re creating and the sweat forming across the brow; acknowledge that your effort will not go unnoticed or be in vain, but will rather build towards a safer and stronger practice. Keep your energy centered, protect yourself from injury and celebrate your strength, awareness, and diligence.
Yoga can be transformative, and though the advanced yoga postures are in fact difficult to the beginner, the changes that yoga can bring into one’s life belie the apparent simplicity of just stretching muscles. After all, we stretch muscles at the gym during a warm up. So, what is the difference between yoga and regular workouts? Yoga integrates the breath with movement and consciousness with physical stretches as a way of strengthening the internal muscles of the body; particularly the pelvic floor.
In yoga, through the breath, and focusing on it within our body, we come to a greater understanding of both our body and ourselves. We begin a more conscious relationship with our individuality. We meet that unique expression of ourselves expressing physically in that moment. We can begin a process of changing that which is blocking the vital flow of our energy.
That is why it doesn’t matter what state we are in when we begin practicing yoga. We might not be flexible, or perhaps we are in pain, or distracted. It is a journey of discovery, not of trying to fit ourselves into an external idea, even if that idea is represented in that moment by the yoga posture we are trying to do. T.K.V. Desikachar (son of the great yoga master Sri Krishnamacharya ) wrote that the body can “only gradually accept an asana”. We should not strain ourselves, or judge ourselves, if we cannot fit into that posture. That posture is a possible outcome, yes, but what we do in our practice of yoga is to take the journey.
T.K.V. Desikachar makes another important point: “We should remain flexible so that we are still able to react to changes in our expectations and old ideas. The more distanced we are from the fruits of our labors, the better we can do this… Paying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us – this is the meaning of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering. ”
The asanas are a way of preparing us to more fully meet the challenges of life in a way that does not throw us off balance, but increases our capacity to adapt to those changes that are inherent in life. They allow us to be more sensitive and aware to what is really going on inside and in life itself. This growing self-knowledge then provides us with a complete picture in which our responses to whatever situations confront us more accurately reflects what is truly present. There is a deeper engagement that goes beyond the wandering of the mind, the self-doubt, the domination of our preconceptions and expectations, or our need for something to be a certain way.
When we are distracted or preoccupied with doubt, worry, fear, and even hope that is attached to an outcome (need), the vital energy of our whole being is leaking, diffused. Through yoga practice, we can clear the debris, to redirect our subtle energy within, to sit within the body, our being, again. This is an energetic aspect of self-mastery. Integral to this is the knowledge of oneself as whole, and simultaneously a part of the wholeness that is within everything.
References: The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar
Research shows that yoga is very beneficial when it comes to alleviating stress and controlling the effects of high blood pressure (hypertension). Some doctors actually encourage patients to practice yoga as a preventative measure. Yoga provides a holistic approach to dealing with constant worry and stress, which enables you to alleviate its harmful side effects. The practice of yoga stretches, postures and poses help relieve tension and pain throughout your entire body. With focus, guided meditation practices and basic breathing exercises you can train yourself to still your mind, thus relieving stress.
The best things about the practice of yoga is that you can stretch and relax your body at anytime you our feeling overwhelmed by stress. It helps you become aware of what is going on inside your body. The more you practice the easier it becomes to achieve balance and harmony.
Another great thing about yoga is that you can practice certain breathing and relaxation techniques anytime you are feeling anxious, worried or under pressure; all you have to do is take a break, sit down, relax your shoulders, take a long steady breath in and slowly exhale. By repeating this practice three to five times, you will notice that you feel calmer, less stressed and energized.
When it comes to controlling high blood pressure, there are two effective yoga exercises that have been proven to help lower blood pressure:
Inverted yoga reverses the action of gravity on the body. The most profound changes brought about by Inverted Yoga is better circulation. In inverted poses, legs and abdomen are placed higher than the heart. Perform this pose by lengthening up through the legs and keep them very active so your spine opens and the entire body becomes involved in the pose. One of the reasons for this is the force of gravity is reversed and the rate of blood flow back to the heart (venous return) becomes significantly greater.
During inverted poses, gravity causes the blood to flow easily back through the veins and this brings the blood pressure in the feet to a minimum. This in effect gives skeletal muscles a chance to rest. This drainage of blood and waste from the lower body back towards the heart helps alleviate other symptoms, such as varicose veins and swollen ankles as well.
Did you know the simple act of breathing, inhaling and exhaling has the power to nourish the body, calm the mind and ultimately reduce stress?
However, not just any breathing will do the trick. If you're like most people, you take short, shallow breaths, pulling your stomach in as you inhale and never emptying your lungs of carbon dioxide when you exhale; but what most people don't know is that long, slow breaths are more efficient and beneficial than short, fast ones.
To take in a good breath, your lungs must first be completely empty. the key to efficient breathing lies in exhaling completely. A full exhalation begins with the upper chest, proceeds to the middle chest and finishes with tightening the abdominal muscles. Only after a good exhalation can you draw in a good lung full of the oxygen-rich air your
blood needs to nourish your cells.
The practice of rhythmic breathing can help harmonize the body, mind and emotions. This unique breathing technique eliminates stress as well as, fatigue and negative emotions such as anger, frustration and depression, leaving you calm and relaxed.
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a strong body, and a calm mind. This theory of eight different limbs, or components, is also known as “Eight-Limb Yoga”. It doesn’t imply that the practitioner has a double set of limbs, but Sri K. Pattabhi Jois showed that the optimum path of purification is made up of eight spiritual practices.
The basic idea is that these limbs only can be kept in balance by the appropriate application of the Ashtanga Yoga method.
The first four limbs that symbolize Ashtanga Yoga, and are considered externally correctable are (original names within double quotes):
– Moral codes or “yama”
– Self-purification or “niyama”
– Posture or “asana”
– Breath control or “pranayama”
Followed by the other set of limbs which are the internal practices:
– Sense control or “pratyahara”
– Meditation or “dhyana”
– Concentration or “dharana”
– Contemplation or “samadhi”
K. Pattabhi Jois stated that practicing these Eight Limbs, the body will become strong so that it can perform these methods well. If the body is weak, and the sense organs are not functioning well, practicing will not be productive. This is a primary philosophy that K. Pattabhi Jois applied and it is important that the Asthanga practitioner understand this.
Vinsaya and Tristhana in Ashtanga Yoga
Vinsaya is a style that makes Ashtanga and its fundamental principles different from other styles of yoga. Vinsaya basically means the movement and breathing is used effectively together in order to cleanse the body. Each movement is accompanied by only one breath. Sweat is an important product of Vinsaya. When you produce sweat, it indicates that you are successfully applying the method. When you perform the Asanas, or postures, the body produces heat which causes your blood to “boil” and excrete toxins from the body. These toxins are found in your sweat. So the more sweat you produce, the more toxins are released. This is the natural way for the body to rid unwanted substances.
The poses are used to fully develop the physical strength and health of the body. It is the sequence of practice that make this possible. There are three postures used in Ashtanga Yoga.
The three are grouped on different levels:
– The first is the Primary Series which aims on aligning the body and also detoxifying it.
– The second is the Intermediate Series opening and cleansing the energy channels which comes to the process of purifying the Nervous System.
– The last series would be the Advanced Series from A to D. In this set, the grace and strength are assessed.
Tristhana is another yoga principle which symbolizes the close union of the three places of action and attention. First is the posture, second is the breathing technique, and last is the Dristhi (view or gaze/focal point). All these three should work together to perform a function.
The breathing is always controlled and synchronized with the movements in such a way that each movement is accompanied by breath. Ujjayi breathing, a yoga breathing technique; is used in the implementation of Ashtanga Yoga. Applying this ancient technique is something that one must work on gradually in daily practice. This is an amazing breathing exercise that will intensify the internal fire and help the nervous system.
Both Ashtanga and Tristhana deal with the series of Dristhi. This allows your mind to be purified and stabilized clearly. Clearing your mind (sometimes compared to an active monkey) and cleansing it is the ultimate goal in the Eight-Limb Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga.
If you’ve ever practiced any type of Vinyasa yoga such as Ashtanga, then chances are you’ve heard the word ujjayi breathing. What is ujjayi breathing and why is there such emphasis placed on moving with the breath in yoga practice? Ujjayi (translated from Sanskrit as victorious), is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body. Since the breath is our life energy (prana), the in- and out-breath is what nourishes and cleanses the body and mind. The quality of the breath tells us something about our physical and emotional state – whether we are relaxed, tense, stressed or balanced.
How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing
1. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale out your mouth. When you breathe out of your mouth, imagine you are trying to fog up a mirror. Use the whisper muscles in the back of your throat to make a deep “haaa” sound.
2. Continue Step 1 but now when you exhale, close your mouth half way through the exhale. The first half of the exhale will leave through your mouth and the second half of the exhale will leave through your nose. As the exhale transitions to your nose, try to keep the whisper muscles in your throat activated. Imagine you’re fogging up a mirror with the breath from your nose.
3. Keep your mouth closed the entire time as you continue to breathe in and out through your nose with the throat muscles constricted. Usually, it is easier to make the “Darth Vader” sound on the exhale, but overtime you will be able to make the sound with equal volume on the inhale. When first learning Ujjayi, don’t worry if your breath sounds forced or even silent. With practice, your Ujjayi breath will start to sound like the waves in the ocean.
“If you are running at a certain pace, there is a tendency to open your mouth because breathing through your nostrils may not be sufficient. But you never ever breathe through your mouth during asanas. This is not an aerobic exercise – asanas are about building internal strength of the organs and the whole system”. ~ Sadhguru
Once Ujjayi breathing is learned in a seated position (such as easy pose), the next step is to retain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana practice. During your practice, try to keep the same length and evenness of the breath in and out (through the nose) as much as possible. Once you find your Ujjayi breath in a pose you feel comfortable with, try to maintain that same quality of breathing throughout your yoga practice. While controlling the breath we can control the mind and this is a very important part of yoga practice. Overall peace in the body can come only when the mind is calm and stable.
Caution: When practicing Ujjayi breathing, be careful not to tighten your throat. Do not attempt this breathing exercise if you have a respiratory condition, like asthma or emphysema. Stop if you become faint or dizzy. Remember to always work within your own range and abilities. If you have any medical conditions, talk with your doctor first before beginning any yoga practice.
Your adrenal glands are located just above each of your kidneys and play a crucial role in many bodily functions, including balancing hormones. When there is a constant high amount of cortisol and adrenaline in the body, these important little glands become very tired. Their job is doubly hard with challenges like endometriosis, hormonal imbalances and other issues that are becoming common, particularly for many women.
If you're experiencing adrenal fatigue, then you probably already have some of the symptoms including difficulty falling asleep, easily frustrated or irritated, lack of concentration and mood swings. You may be having what could be the result of overworked adrenal glands, and a sustained "fight or flight" response in the body. That may sound like a lot very common symptoms, but unfortunately adrenal fatigue is very common, so the symptoms that arise are sometimes seen in our daily lives as just being “normal”. Because the adrenal glands are so important in regulating our stress response and aiding a huge number of bodily functions (including digestion), the body starts to down-regulate our body’s other less necessary tasks and it’s this down-regulation that often causes the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The main culprit of adrenal fatigue is cortisol, an important hormone that’s become the infamous stress hormone. If you’ve got overactive cortisol, then your body tends to work in overdrive and then crash suddenly when you least expect it.
The one thing to note is that adrenal fatigue can sometimes take a while to develop, and therefore prevention is essential. It is also worth noting that it takes several months to restore balance to the system. My personal experience with recovery has been that there are good days and bad days. The best thing I have learned to do is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – through deep breathing, relaxation and yoga! Above are some fantastic, refreshing and restorative yoga poses to replenish the adrenal glands.
Tips to Begin
Props are a great addition to a restorative yoga practice. If you don't have a bolster roll up a blanket. These poses are best enjoyed in a warm room where you will not be disturbed. Relax in these poses for 3-10 minutes per pose, breathing slowly and consciously through any tension or emotions that arise. The aim of the poses is to allow your body to relax, so if you feel uncomfortable at any point then use pillows or blankets as described, or slowly come out of the pose. Listen to your body and enjoy!
*The above article is for educational purposes only and should not replace the advice of a healthcare professional. Prior to beginning any exercise regimen including yoga, consult with your physician first.
Kapalabhati is a very important asana and it should be part of your daily practice. This pose is also known as the Fire Breathing Pose, due to intake and outlet of air, with force. The exercise purifies your lungs and nasal passage. It is one of the powerful breathing exercises which help the entire body. It is one of a kind of the breathing exercises in Pranayama. Kapalabhati helps to make the motions of diaphragm very easy and controlled. This helps it to discard the muscle cramps present in bronchial tubes. Lot of force is used to do this asana. While exhaling the process is very strong and while inhaling it is done very calmly. It is a very energizing technique to re-boot all your muscles. It is a cleansing technique which emphasizes on cleaning your air passages and blockages in your chest.
Here are the 5 benefits of practicing the breath of fire:
Cleanses the body of toxins
Kapalabhati clears the body from the constant intake of toxins, thus detoxifying it. This technique helps to replace any toxic air with fresh air. The breathing mainly takes place from the abdomen, as opposed to the chest, and this specifically is what helps to remove the toxic air. Kapala means "the skull" and bhati means "brings lightness." Breathing in this way lightens your skull by extracting problems like sinusitis. This is an invigorating and energizing practice as it fills your stuffy skull with fresh air.
The practice also improves bowel movements which rids the body of the many diseases.
Excellent for respiratory problems
It is also one of the best exercises for asthma patients and people suffering from respiratory problems. This stimulating breath can do wonders for every single tissue in your body. The breathing technique will invigorate your spine.
Increase blood circulation
It is also useful for maintaining blood pressure. The abdominal organs also become strengthened from the pressure applied to these organs while breathing and exhaling. It increases the blood circulation due to fresh supply of blood. It is also useful for removing impurities from the blood.
Tones the abdominal area
The abdominal area is toned with the help of this breathing technique. It helps clear the entire nervous system which proves to be very useful in making the body fit.
Helps with decision making
A sense of calmness is also achieved due to the lightness of the skull. Kapalabhati helps one to think better and make decisions quickly while also keeping the mind alert. This is a wonderful breathing technique to help the mind and soul, as it helps to awaken the spiritual power which heals many problems facing many of us today.
Caution: It is important to exercise all precautions before following any of the asanas from this article. To avoid any problems while doing the asanas, it is advised that you consult with your doctor and an experienced yoga instructor who can best illustrate this breathing technique.
By practicing yoga regularly it may help in the treatment of high blood pressure, and may also help to lower blood pressure. Yoga asanas stable your blood pressure when it’s abnormally high. Asanas have favorable effects on the nervous system. By practicing certain yoga asanas you can not only lower your blood pressure, but also reduce the effects of hypertension on the other organs of the body.
There are a few categories of asanas which are recommended to lower blood pressure: forward bends, sitting poses, and some inversion poses.
Forward bends have the best effects on high blood pressure, so they can help you the most to lower your blood pressure. These exercises have a calming effect on the brain, the blood circulation to the brain is normalized, and they help you reduce the stress from the sense organs, things that lower blood pressure. So, the brain, the sympathetic nervous system and the sense organs are relaxed, the cardiac output and the pulse rate decelerate at the same time, and blood pressure stabilizes, so it lowers blood pressure when it’s high. Other asanas which have beneficial effects on the nervous system and help you lower blood pressure are Uttanasana (standing forward fold) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) , which have to be practiced with the head resting on props, so the blood circulates more freely into the aortic arch. These help you lower blood pressure.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Virasan (Hero Pose) are some of the sitting asanas which can be practiced to get a lower blood pressure by the hypertensives, which in most cases are hard breathing. These poses eliminate the tension from the ribs and the intercostal muscles, so they help you to breathe with no difficulty, and lower blood pressure.
Other poses which may help to lower blood pressure are supine poses, like Supta Baddhakonasana which helps by relaxing the abdominal region, bringing overall calm to the body and nervous system.
Inversions asanas such as, Viparita Karanti (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose) and Halasana (Plow Pose) revitalize the nerves, assure the control over the lungs and diaphragm, so if you practice these exercises constantly, you will get a lower blood pressure. Also useful are Shavasana and pranayama, which provide control over the automatic nervous system. As the senses and the mind are calmed, the blood pressure stabilizes, and in case of hypertension; leads to a lower blood pressure.
*The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always check with your physician prior to starting any yoga regimen.
Prenatal yoga is an exercise that is designed to promote breathing exercises, posture and emotional relaxation. This approach is often sought by pregnant women who are preparing for a natural childbirth or who wish to stay physically and emotionally healthy during their pregnancy. One of the many benefits of prenatal yoga is the lack of physical exertion that is required, which makes it a safe practice for many moms-to-be.
During the pain that is associated with a natural childbirth, prenatal yoga will promote proper breathing that will help to make the process an easier one. In addition, relaxation is essential during the childbirth process and although it can be difficult, prenatal yoga can help to teach women how to relax themselves as much as possible.
For some, prenatal yoga may be sought as part of a spiritual process that helps them to connect with their unborn child and/or prepare for the new arrival. In some cases, prenatal yoga may even be beneficial after the birth as it instills techniques that are associated with relaxation. As every new mom knows, there is a definite need for relaxation after having a child.
Furthermore, prenatal yoga may help women to return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly than others. For most, this is a struggle that takes a lot of patience and determination. In general, yoga is an exercise that promotes not only physical fitness and proper breathing, but also spiritual and emotional connections.
If you are searching for a prenatal yoga class or instructor, the best place to start is through your physician. During your visit, ask your doctor if prenatal yoga would be safe for you and, if so, who you could contact for instruction. Some physicians may be aware of local classes or instruction being given and will often be able to refer patients to a class that is most convenient for them. Most women prefer to have the father of their child or a friend or family member attend prenatal yoga classes for support and guidance. Having someone familiar will also make the classes more enjoyable and relaxing for the mom-to-be. Before enrolling in prenatal yoga, it’s best to make sure that the instructor is licensed, certified or highly trained and experienced in teaching this type of relaxation method.
*The information in this article is to be used for informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of, or in conjunction with, professional medical advice. Anyone with questions regarding prenatal yoga should consult their physician for further information.
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