When you say, “I’m going to yoga class,” you can get many different reactions, from, “Yoga? Seriously, isn’t that a spiritual thing?” to “Wow, are you super flexible?”
Neither of these responses are necessarily the reason someone should or does do yoga. There are studies out now that show that yoga can help people in a variety of ways.
Let me do a quick disclaimer and then get on to the benefits of yoga. Most yoga is safe for most healthy people. If you have severe osteoporosis, high or low blood pressure, ear problems or spinal issues, or are pregnant, you should consult your health care provider, and if you are unsure of if you should be doing yoga, please consult your health care provider.
A few tips before you go to your first yoga class are to know your limits, go slow, warm up properly, stay hydrated, wear clothes that allow you to move freely, ask questions and pay attention to your body. Yoga is not supposed to hurt.
Now that we are done with that, there are many different benefits to practicing yoga even if you are doing it as a class and not hoping to become a yogi. The most obvious benefit of yoga is flexibility. In one study participants had up to 35 percent improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga. Most of the improvement was seen in the shoulders and trunk.
Even though you do not necessarily think of yoga as strength training, it does improve your strength. Staying in poses for several long breaths can provide strength and endurance benefits. There are also yoga classes that work on strength such as a power yoga class.
With the weight bearing exercises also comes strength in your bones, which decreases your chances of osteoporosis.
Yoga can lower blood pressure as well as your heart rate which in turn has an effect on heart disease. Dean Ornish, MD, created the first program to partly reverse heart disease through lifestyle and diet rather than surgery. Studies have also shown that yoga can have an anti-oxidant effect, as well as decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels and give your immune system a boost.
Some studies have also shown that yoga may have a positive effect on learning and memory. Part of this may be due to the yoga component of focusing on the present.
There are many benefits of practicing yoga and, the only way to see if yoga will be helpful to you is to try. So come join a class and see if yoga is right for you.
Candace Davidson is the wellness director for the McPherson Family YMCA. She has a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and is an AFAA certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.