Along with encouraging muscle flexibility and inner relaxation, yoga has many other surprising health benefits that are widely respected within the medical community as an adjunctive therapy.
Alternative and complementary medicines are often overlooked by scientific types. Fortunately, scientific research has confirmed that yoga has many health benefits, particularly for the cardiovascular system, the lungs and the brain.
The science of yoga
A report by Harvard Health explains that yoga can restore baroreceptor sensitivity making it easier for the body to regulate the heart rate. It also lowers cortisol levels which are a major driver of stress in the human body.
Since a part of yoga practice is to control the breathing, people with lung conditions such as asthma can benefit from daily practice as yoga is known to improve lung function. Studies have shown that the lung capacity in those who take up yoga practice regularly, improved considerably over time.
Yoga is also renowned for improving mental health, and reports show that regular yoga practice can activate parts of the brain (such as the hippocampus) responsible for regulating emotions, clear thinking and memory.
Regular yoga practice can also reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The history of yoga
According to research, yoga first began over 5,000 years ago in Northern India. Yoga was first mentioned in sacred texts, such as the Rig Veda. The practice of yoga was developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) as they documented their practice and beliefs in the Upanishads (a series of over 200 scriptures).
In the early 1900s, yogi masters traveled to the West, bringing their teachings along with them. By this stage, Raja yoga (classical yoga), Tantric and Hatha yoga had been developed, and it was Krishnamacharya who opened the first Hatha yoga school in Mysore in 1924.
Three of Krishnamacharya’s students continued his legacy. They went on to increase the popularity of Hatha yoga, and it was in 1947 that the first Hatha yoga studio was first opened in Hollywood by Indra Devi.
Since then, Hatha yoga has developed monumentally with a range of styles and adaptations practised by many all over the world.
The rich origins of yoga are broken up into six historical periods; Pre-Vedic, Vedic, pre-classical yoga, classical yoga, post-classical yoga and modern yoga. Archaeological research shows that a portrait of a yogi meditating in an Asana and figures of different yoga positions carved in stone has offered modern yoga much enlightenment to how yoga was practised by the masters within that period.
The emergence of the Upanishads honours the beginning of the pre-classical yoga period, with over 200 scriptures on death, karma and the cycle of birth. The definition of yoga stands for a union. Being in total union with one’s body, mind and spirit – a practice that is suggestive from the scriptures below. The sacred scriptures cover 3 elements of yoga practice:
- The transcendental self (Atman)
- The ultimate reality (Brahman)
- The relationship between the two
The different types of yoga
There are several ways to practice yoga, and each of the practices comes with a variety of benefits.
Guided by the principles of Patanjali, Ashtanga yoga (eight limb/step yoga) has several elements such as the asana (yoga positions), pranayama (yogic breathing), Dharana (concentration on an object), Dhyan (meditation) and Samadhi (salvation).
The term ‘Hatha’ describes the practice of asana (positions). Hatha is renowned for purifying and cleansing the body’s systems and prepares the mind for more advanced Kundalini and chakra practices. Hatha yoga helps to regulate the mind and body to a higher state of awareness and meditation and along with the six shatkarmas (physical and mental detoxification) mudras and bandhas (psychophysiological energy release) and pranayama ( pranic awakening techniques).
Kundalini Yoga (from the Tantras)
Like many other yoga practices, you can expect to be doing the downward dog, however, the practice of Kundalini is slightly different to other yoga practices as it focuses on the breath and the duration of the positions being held.
Through the art of chanting, meditation and singing, Kundalini promotes higher levels of self-awareness and stillness within. The variations of each of the poses are designed to strengthen the various systems in the body, such as the nervous system and the endocrine.
Kundalini is useful when it comes to treating addiction – as it often helps to build the nervous system and hones in on the powerful life force principle, an amalgamation of therapies that were formulated by Dr Siddick Maurdarbocus, psychiatrist and founder at Les Mariannes Wellness Sanctuary.
The translation of vinyasa is derived from the meaning “to arrange something in a special way” in this case, it would be yoga poses.
Vinyasa students flow from one pose to the next in a flow of breathing as they coordinate the moves. The technique is to seamlessly move from one position to the other coordinating movement with breath to flow. The term ‘vinyasa’ is also used to describe an upward/downward facing dog, a pose commonly used in Vinyasa yoga practice.
There are other types of yoga, including Mantra, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, Raja and Kriya yoga, all of which help an individual to tap into the various energy life forces within.
Health benefits of yoga
Ayurvedic living consists of a healthy diet, massage and regular yoga practice.
The benefits of Ayurveda and daily yoga practice are endless, and those who adopt the Ayurveda way of living will notice a boost in their immune system, have healthier skin, a perfect metabolic system and an overall improvement of their health. Ayurveda is about tapping into the two main life forces within; yin and yang.
The yin energy is female energy representing softness and calmness, whereas the yang represents aggression and dominance – the key is to bring these two opposing forces together to restore harmony and balance within. Yoga also offers numerous benefits in the treatment of addiction. According to research, yoga (when combined with other treatments) helps to break the cycle of addiction by helping a person to change any unhealthy habits by restoring their body and their mind.
By adopting a 360 approach to treatment, the person is treated as a ‘whole’ rather than a single set of symptoms. The 360 approach to healing brings together all the vital components necessary to create an environment that is both safe and encouraging.
Yoga helps to reduce stress and anxiety and can enhance an individual’s mood and overall well being. Practising yoga regularly is known to improve fitness and can lead to an improvement in balance, range of motion, flexibility and strength.