The regular practice of even a short 15 minute routine of yoga asanas provides multiple levels of benefit to all of the systems of our body. This two part article will cover ten benefits of yoga:
1. Strengthening yoga postures increase bone density
Many yoga exercises, or asanas are considered excellent weight bearing exercises. Our bones reach their maximum density at around 30 years old, and all of us will naturally begins to lose some bone mass with aging. However, especially in women, this loss can be as dramatic as 20% in the first 5-7 years after menopause,* (1) leading eventually to the painful, degenerative condition of osteoporosis.
Integrating weight bearing exercises into your daily routine is important to prevent bone loss. Yoga postures that support the body’s weight and are held isometrically, such as the plank pose, cakrasana (wheel), sahajasana (chair pose) not only strengthen the muscular system, but also increase bone density. Asanas increase the pressure on bones without stressing the joints as movements are slow, deliberate and careful attention is given to proper alignment.
2. Yoga benefits the heart and circulation
While most of us tend to think that only aerobic training benefits the heart, recent research demonstrates that as little as 10 minutes of a regular stretching routines improves heart health. *(2)
Asana practice, which includes not only stretching and but also breath-awareness, deep relaxation and gentle movements improves blood pressure, calms the mind and increases resistance to stress. “A recent review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology indicates that yoga may help lower heart disease risk as much as conventional exercise, such as brisk walking.” (3)
The yoga postures that open and expand the chest, such as bhujaungasana (cobra pose) can be particularly beneficial for toning the heart as the ancient literature of yoga speaks of the benefits of such postures for the anahata cakra.
3. Yoga postures relax and strengthen the nervous system
Many yoga postures increase the flexibility of the spine, which nourishes the spinal cord and improves its functioning. Postures that include a twist, such as Matsyendrasana are known in yogic texts to prolong youthfulness by maintaining the suppleness of the veretral column.
Inverted postures, such as shoulder stand, increase blood flow to the brain, allowing it to be revitalized and refreshed.
4. Asanas for improve digestion and elimination
There are specific yogic postures designed to enhance digestion by working on the “manipura cakra” located at about the height of the navel, which in yoga is considered to be responsible for regulating the “agni” (digestive fire). There are postures that put pressure on this area and which thus help to regulate digestion, appetite and elmination. Postures such as the “bellows pose” (bhastrikasana) tone the digestive system, encouraging complete elimination of waste and eliminating gas. A simple exercise to stimulate efficient digestion is “Utkśepa Mudra” which is practiced first thing in the morning, while still in bed. While lying on the back, the knees are hugged towards the chest and then the legs are straightened out. This movement is repeated 8 times, vigorously. After that, it is recommended to sit up and drink a glass of water.
5. Yoga helps the skin to shine and glow
During yoga asanas, subtle oils are released into the skin which then are reincorporated through a process of self massage. The systematic massage associated with asanas practice has many specific movements that relax and tone the facial muscles and skin in particular. Regular yoga practice, especially if enhanced by a clean, pure vegetarian diet and reglar water drinking, tends to give practitioners a radiant, clear complexion and slows down the process of aging.
*Yoga practices are best supervised by a trained teacher, especially in designing an appropriate individualized daily practice. It is best not to risk injury by practicing from a book, youtube, or information on the web. Ananda Marga acaryas such as myself are available for this free of charge as part of the spiritual guidance we offer.
Here is the Romanian translation of this article.