Before I made a conscious decision to venture into the unknown and debunk my uneducated misconceptions of yoga by making the journey down to one of the remotest little corners of the Costa Rican jungle, I knew as much about yoga as Donald Trump knows about self-censoring.
Throwing myself headlong into the deep end, I found myself at the gates of the majestic Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa that sits like a treasure amongst the leaves, to live and work under their roof for an entire 5 weeks. At this point my knowledge of yoga amounted to this; I knew it was good for flexibility and on a vaguer level, I was pretty sure I’d read it could really help people suffering with sciatica, of which I was one of the unfortunates.
Gradually though, as I spent time amongst the people who had paid good money to find their way to this peaceful little haven, I heard their stories and quickly came to realise that it wasn’t all just the hippy BS that I had ignorantly dismissed it as before. Some of these people had used yoga to change their lives for the better, as part of their rehabilitation after an injury or as a restorative crutch to aid in recovery from substance or alcohol abuse.
After immersing myself in yoga for an entire month I could clearly see the positive changes in myself. It made me curious about what other benefits yoga might hold. So I decided to do some research.
Here are just 7 of an ever-expanding long list of proven benefits yoga has for our bodies:
1. CIRCULATION: LET IT FLOW!
One of yoga’s biggest benefits is an increased metabolism. Yes, you heard right…yoga keeps you thin! When we eat, our bodies break down the food into nutrients which provide the body with energy. The speed in which our body does this is called our metabolic rate (of which everybody’s is different). Our metabolic rates can differ depending on many different variables such as age, size, or gender but having good circulation is key. Good circulation provides our organs and muscles with oxygen and a constant supply of nutrients which we use as energy. Yoga helps improve the circulatory system through the deep breathing techniques we use. This opens up the arteries, releasing pressure and allowing blood to flow quicker. The advanced technique called Bellows Breath is especially effective for achieving this
2. DIGESTIVE: BURN BABY BURN!
A poor digestive system affects the whole body, including the metabolism. Since the majority of the digestive tract is in the abdomen, strengthening your core muscles can help to improve functionality. Stomach exercises are perfect for this although twists can also help massage and wring out toxins blocked in the intestines. For the abdomen think Plank, or Boat pose. For twists try Eagle, Twisted Chair, Supine Twist or the aptly named Half Gas Release pose!
3. MUSCLES: LEAN, MEAN, YOGA MACHINE!
Anyone that has ever attended a power flow yoga class can attest that it is a proper work out. A lot of the asanas we practice on our mats require us to hold our own body weight. Here, the body automatically targets large muscle groups and uses the smaller muscles to help achieve each position. Yoga tests strength, balance, and flexibility – challenging the body in a multitude of ways so it’s working as one unit. When multiple muscle groups work in conjunction, muscle starts to increase in size and density. The more muscle we build; the more calories we burn, the faster our metabolic rate.
4. REDUCED STRESS AND ANXIETY: JUST BREATH!
Take it from someone who has been there. Stress and Anxiety disorders are no fun. Yoga has been accredited as a great way to relieve the symptoms related not only with these disorders but also the day to day stress we pick up at work and in our social lives. Meditation and seated poses are often recommended for the best results. Deep breathing techniques are regularly used to counter feelings of anxiety or panic. Sitting on a chair, Sun Pose, has been proven to calm the amygdala, the brain structure that can be hyper alert to threats, while it’s cousin Sun Breath pose or Sun Breath twist, helps by lifting the ribcage to promote a deeper calming breath while at the same time twisting to relieve abdominal stress.
5. FLEXIBILITY: FLEXIBLE FRIENDS!
The obvious one! Everybody knows that yogi’s increase their flexibility by gradually practicing yoga. Though form and breathing are incredibly important for proper results, even I myself have experienced noticeable improvements in this department. Especially those troublesome short hamstrings! Using aids such as straps and blocks can help beginners in the early days.
6. BRAIN FUNCTION: ALL IN YOUR HEAD!
The old adage tells us ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’. Although unfortunately, I can’t tell you that yoga has increased my wallet size, I can report that falling into a routine of an early morning yoga class with a restorative class at the end of the day has not only left me energized and creatively charged (remember I’m a writer) but also left me nicely relaxed and ready to roll in for an early night. A 20 minute Hatha yoga routine has been proven to improve cognitive functions such as focus and information retention. The stress relief it brings can improve our moods which makes us more receptive to learning.
7. POSTURE: HEARD IT ON THE STRAIGHT SPINE!
Many of the yoga poses we find ourselves practicing on our mats are designed to improve suppleness and flexibility in our bodies. We also pay a lot of attention to the alignment of our pelvis, spine, head and shoulders, making sure our bones are stacked correctly. Making sure we do this relieves tension, strengthens our muscles, and promotes the natural curvature of the spine.
Chris Barkess is a blogger and aspiring author in his thirties. He also drives trains in his hometown of Newcastle, England. His love of travelling brought him together with his fiancé, Holly, another like-minded travel nut, and the love of his life. Together they embarked on an adventure in 2015 to explore Latin America where they fell in love with the culture. Aside from writing – his undisputable first love, Chris enjoys reading, running, football, and being fully immersed in nature. He is a self-proclaimed Stephen King fanatic.
Chris admits to having been initially sceptical and openly dismissive of Yoga until he realised the benefits it had to offer him; physically, mentally and spiritually. He now recognises the depths to his ignorance.
“The ultimate ignorance is rejecting something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
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