Yoga is an ancient form of exercise, originating in India thousands of years ago, and only more recently, becoming increasingly popular within Western societies. You might just think it’s another one of these fads, like avocado on toast, or Pokemon Go, but let’s hope it’s not, because practicing yoga is incredibly beneficial for us. There are a vast array of positives associated with the activity, from stress relief and mindfulness to improving concentration and focus, but to keep things simple, we’re just going to discuss a few of the benefits of yoga that help with our overall fitness.
To kick things off, practicing yoga builds strength throughout our body. Yes, that’s right, not in the same way as weight-lifting builds huge muscles, but yoga certainly works your full body hard, especially your core, and gives you lean, toned muscles and six pack abs, any complaints? Seriously though, Yoga requires full-body strength and offers tangible goals in the form of complex or difficult moves/holds, which, through practice, can be achieved no problem.
Secondly, regular yoga helps to improve your flexibility. Sorry to mention the gym again, we’re not slating you gym-goers, promise, we’re just saying yoga and weight-lifting are extremely different. But funnily enough, they can actually be very complimentary! That’s because lifting weights can build muscle and strength often at the expense of flexibility. Extremely muscular people are often hunched forward because their pectoral muscles are too tight. Therefore, practicing yoga alongside weight lifting or any other form of exercise for that matter, helps to balance your strength building with flexibility. Of course, thanks to the genius of evolution, our whole body is connected in perfect harmony, or in fact in many of our cases, imperfect harmony. For instance, tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can in turn cause back pain. Or improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones can result from tight hips that strain the knee-joint. Therefore, if we improve our overall flexibility, it helps to eliminate any connected issues that can come from tight muscles.
Yoga can actually be used as a warm up or warm down for other sports, and a great tool for recovery post-injury, but also in reducing the risk of injury in the first place. Injuries can often occur through imbalances in muscles, or being off balance in the act of another sport. In fact, balance is considered so crucial to many sports that professional rugby players often practice ballet as part of their training. Who would’ve thought that hey? Clearly balance is an integral part of yoga, and whether improving your balance will help you show off your dazzling side steps on the rugby pitch, or perfectly landing that backflip on the gymnastics mat, yoga can only benefit you.
Finally, one thing many of us strive for today, thanks to the crippling nature of office jobs, is a perfect, or at least an improved, posture. Our head is like a bowling ball – big, heavy, round (and in some cases shiny too!). If it’s balanced directly above a straight spine, it requires a lot less effort for our neck and back muscles to support it. But often, as we lean forward to strain our eyes at the computer screen, our slumped spine means that our head is out of position, which can, as many of us know, cause all sorts of back and neck problems.
Therefore, practicing yoga, can really help to elongate our spine, and build up our core muscles which in turn, help to improve our posture. You’re probably sitting up straighter than ever just as you’re reading this! Well it’s a start…
And best of all? You can do it in your own home, any time you want, with absolutely no equipment necessary except a yoga mat. And if you don’t own one of these, well, then you can just fold over a towel a few times to give you a bit of cushion, no excuses!