Updated: Dec 1, 2020
You know it's good for the mind but some of the other health benefits may surprise you! You may start because of blood pressure or stress but your yoga practice will give you so much more, not to mention the calming effect on the brain. Did you know that...
1.Yoga Gives You Strength
Just because we age, it does not mean that we have to allow the muscles in our body to get weak. You've probably heard that after 40 both men and women should really be doing more strength training, as this has been a hot topic in health now for a while. What you may not realise is that yoga can help us build strength without ever setting foot in a gym, not that I have anything against gyms, mind you! This is because weight-bearing poses such as Downward Dog use body weight to build up your muscles. Many yoga poses do this and maybe as you hold the pose, you don't even realise this benefit. You might straight away think of Plank which is a great example, but what about Eagle (Garudasana)? It's a one legged balance and fantastic for the mind, but standing on one leg will also be wonderful for your muscles, and it's quite good fun too!
2. Yoga help you recover from injuries and keep exercising
When I smashed my elbow and had to have 2 operations, I was still able to do some poses that were non- weight bearing after the first few weeks, such as standing poses like warriors and triangle. I was surprised how much my balance was affected and how hard it was to transition form one pose to another. But I could do some seated poses and restorative yoga and would lie on the floor for ages in Savasana with my arm on cushions. This kept me in touch with my practice and I honestly do believe that the meditative side of yoga also helped me heal faster and better. Eventually I used yoga as part of my physio and my physiotherapist was impressed with my range of movement compared to the norm. It took about six months but I was off the scale for my age because of my practice.
Elite athletes like Dame Kelly Holmes and the footballer David Beckham have become more prone to injury as they age and have famously both turned to yoga. You may have read about this in the press.
3. Yoga is Great for Bone Health
This is an interesting fact that you might not first think of. A pilot study into bone health has shown that yoga can help prevent skeletal problems in the long term. Our bone density naturally deteriorates with time so if we can start to improve it before the damage is done we will be doing ourselves a great favour. Columbia University physiatrist Dr. Loren M. Fishman conducted a study on the benefits of yoga on people with osteoporosis.
"Of the 741 people who joined his experiment from 2005 to 2015, 227 (202 of them women) followed through with doing the 12 assigned yoga poses daily or at least every other day. The average age of the 227 participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia".
All it takes, apparently, is 12 minutes a day. He gave them a sequence of 12 poses, including tree (Vrksasana) and Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) plus deep relaxation (Savasana) and they had to learn it and hold each pose for half a minute. What he found was that the vast majority showed an improvement in bone density in the spine compared to the control group
If you're interested in why it's because yoga increases the production of osteocytes, or bone-making cells, which help with gaining a significant amount of bone mass, along the spine, hips and joints. I couldn't have helped breaking my elbow as I slipped on a dangerously wet pavement and fell at an awkward angle but maybe yoga contributed to my recovery.
4. Yoga Improves Joint Health
You're really lucky if you reach 40 and don't start to suffer from aches and pains, especially if your job involves sitting at a desk and using a computer all day. As an English teacher, I used to have repetitive strain from marking and sometimes could hardly hold a pen, as the pain went into my shoulder and neck. I don't know where I would have been without my yoga practice. A good yoga teacher will start with small flowing movement to help warm the body and I learnt so much about this on my training. I often start by mobilising the shoulders in 'Opening the doors of the heart' and then gently moving through all the joints. Before moving into the full version of any pose, try gently flowing in and out. These gentle sequences are called vinyasa krama in yoga. Inside the body there is a web called the fascia (yes, that's what the photo shows!) In simple terms it's what glues us together. It's made of elastic fibres – to let us change shape, collagen fibres, to keep strong, and a ground substance which has a gelatinous, fluid texture when healthy. This fluid lets organs and muscles glide over each other without pain. Fascia is affected by our daily habits, our thoughts and our emotions and yoga can help it loosen and release. Watch this video to learn more about fascia.
Tom Myers is an expert in this field- watch this video for a clear explanation of fascia
5. Yoga helps you improve sleep and helps with hormonal changes
You know the feeling. You're really tired and it's so unfair because you're unable to rest when you most need it. We've all been there: can't sleep because we're stressed; stressed because we can't sleep. The outcome of this particular vicious circle is clear: pure exhaustion the next day. 75% of menopausal women experience hot flushes and hormonal changes might make it harder to get to sleep. Trust me, I've been there. There may also be many other reasons for insomnia, at any stage of life, where the mind just won't switch off. The good news is that meditation or a gentle, slow sequence such as the Moon Salutation before bed can really help. Other tips are to try to avoid looking at screens at least an hour before bed, as their blue light can stop the body feeling drowsy. Wind down, take a bath before doing a few gentle poses.
The Sleep Foundation says "Yoga isn’t just beneficial for improving core strength, flexibility, and stress levels; it can also help you sleep better—especially if you suffer from insomnia. When people who have insomnia perform yoga on a daily basis, they sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night".
6. Yoga can help with respiratory issues
Finally, yoga is well known for helping you beat respiratory problems. I know this from experience as I used to have asthma which was largely exercise induced, which meant my heart used to work too hard to get oxygen into my lungs, leaving me feeling breathless on a running machine, thinking I was very unfit if I didn't have my inhaler. Once I got into yoga big time and started practising it more I was able to reduce the preventative dose and now I haven't used an inhaler for a good few years. Yoga is a breath- led practice so it will help strengthen the lungs and muscles used in respiration in time and breath-awareness can help you feel calm and relaxed. There are many types of pranayama (breath practices) which are known to help asthma and have the potential to help with serious respiratory conditions such as COPD, though you should approach with caution.
On the subject of COPD, The Lung Institute says: "At this point, yoga is seen by medical professionals as a low-risk, but potentially high-yield way to try and improve quality of life. If you want to get started doing yoga, check with your doctor first".
Still not convinced? Sign up for a class today. I would be really interested to hear your feedback.