- Exercise & Fitness
10 Health Benefits of Yoga - Interview with 007
My love affair with yoga began in fall of 2000. As a personal trainer and fitness instructor at a four diamond hotel and spa, I longed to teach guests yoga. I avidly attended classes and yoga teacher training, and was soon teaching yoga overlooking sapphire sea, under the shade of coconut palms. In 2004, tourism to Hawaii plummeted, and my employers created an annual fitness spa membership that catered to locals. CB was our seventh local to join . . . she found her membership card which read "007" most amusing. The 63 year young Ms. 007 became firmly entwined in my yoga journey. 007 became my greatest yoga fan, a true friend, and the perfect example of what is achieved with tenacious optimism. Today at 72, she continues to make progress in strength, flexibility, weight loss and positivity.
Me: CB . . . how about an interveiw on your experience with the health benefits of yoga?
007: Sweetie . . . what a fabulous idea! Would love to give my opinion on my improved health and mental status.
Me: You have attended yoga classes for over seven years. Would you say this is one of the reasons for your continued good health?
007: Indeed . . . all the medical professionals in my life agree that yoga has done me a world of good.
Yoga is more than just exercise. Make yoga your passion and it will enhance your life. Both CB and I bloom with yoga's health benefits. CB, aka 007 has graciously agreed to chime in for the10 reasons why.
A little stretching/yoga before your work-out prevents cramps and injuries. I've noticed most people - including myself - often neglect to stretch before lifting weights or running. I have my clients stretch both before and after they exercise.
Practicing yoga three times a week will keep your muscles flexible and long. The most common injury among bodybuilders is a torn rotator cuff. The chest and shoulder muscles get stronger, tighter and shorter from bench pressing huge amounts of weight, until something snaps. Cows head arms and eagle arms are two very simple yoga poses that prevent rotator cuff injury.
“Over-training in any one sport can cause repetitive stress and other more serious injuries. Yoga is a full-body workout that creates both strength and flexibility. You need to have both. "One without the other is a recipe for disaster,” says Baron Baptiste owner of Baptiste Yoga and former assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
007: The fact that we do an entire yoga program several times a week gives me a focus for the rest of my daily schedule. I feel energized and able to face the concerns that come with a busy life.
No yoga class is complete without a few balancing poses. Tree pose, dancer pose, and balancing half moon pose are just a few to increase your agility. One morning I ran down the stairs to get the ringing phone and tripped over the cat who was racing down the stairs between my legs - I was airborne over four stairs. I give credit to yoga for landing squarely on both feet. Focusing on balancing helps older adults become more vigilant about falls.
007: I can relate to this - my two cats often race me down the stairs. I have learned to hold the handrail and mindfully walk down carefully. The yoga gift of "mindfulness" applies in so many ways.
3. Heart Health
The sun salutation is a series of yoga poses that strengthen the heart. In Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power yoga the sun salutation is repeated over and over to build heat in the body. Although there are many variations of the sun salutation, most contain forward fold, lunges, plank, cobra, and downward facing dog. These poses involve your bigger muscles and will have you sweating in no time.
007: Too true, but it is a "good" sweat. I love the routine that gets us warmed up and ready to face what the day might bring. "Heartwarming" in every sense of the word.
4. Muscle Strength
Squats, lunges and push-ups are weight bearing exercises that strengthen our muscles. Chair pose, warrior poses, and plank pose mimic the movements of squats, lunges and push-ups. When the poses are repeated over and over as is done in a yoga vinyasa or "thread", it has the same effect a weightlifter gets when he repeats sets.
007: I am definitely stronger in every way. Katherine and I design an annual program for me to work on strength, balance and flexibility. Thanks to this, each year sees my fitness improve.
5. Muscle Awareness
With a regular yoga practice you are continually aware of tight spots as you hold your poses. Most people are tighter on one side. Yoga is sanskrit for "to yoke together" and your aim is to balance your left and right side by holding poses for an equal number of breaths. If my body is feeling tight or out of alignment, it is brought to my attention as I go from pose to pose.
007: Keeping the body balanced and loose is better than ending up in a doctor's office hoping to get prescription meds.
"The mind is king of the body, but the breath is king of the mind," says world renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar. Your breath literally becomes your yoga and this is the feature that sets yoga apart from any other sport. Inhaling through my nose, I become aware of the air going into my body. Exhaling, I tighten my abdominal muscles drawing my belly button towards my spine. Inhaling, I imagine my breath supplying oxygen to all my muscles. Exhaling, I let go of the tension I feel one muscle at a time. For many more breaths I become aware of my tight spots. I like to start with my jaw and shoulders and move down. I believe deep yoga breathing detoxifies your entire system.
007: I have learned to use deep breathing whenever I need relief from stress or anxiety. Much cheaper and quicker than drugs or alcohol.
7. Stress Reduction
Patterned movement timed to breath requires focus. While the mind and body are moving together, stressful thoughts are put aside and tedious tasks are forgotten. In his book Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, Iyenar writes "Yogic science believes that the regular practice of asanas or poses and pranayama or breath strengthens the nervous system and helps people face stressful situations positively."
007: So true and so much better than pills.
Antioxidants are blood components that eat up free radicals. Free radicals age us and lead to heart disease, arthritis and cancer. A recent study shows that yoga increases antioxidants in the blood stream. Glutathione and antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase were measured in the blood of two groups of police trainees aged 21-27. One group participated in a 5 month yoga program. The antioxidants in the blood of the yoga practitioners was significantly higher than that of the control group.
007: Because I have leukemia, my physicians agree that yoga helps my body to fight this cancer- for which I remain grateful.
At the end of every yoga session is corpse pose or savasana. Lying on your back, your goal is to completely relax the body. More difficult is to relax the mind by letting go of chaotic thoughts drifting through your head, but thought control is a valuable skill. Not only does meditation teach relaxation techniques, but research shows it has a physical effect on certain mental processes. A 2011 psychiatry/neuroimaging journal documents a study showing how meditation causes positive changes in gray matter concentration in the brain. Areas of the brain effected were learning and memory, emotion control, self identity, and perspective taking.
007: My favorite pose! at the end of an hour of breathing and poses, this total relaxation pose is the icing on the cake. I keep threatening to spend the whole hour in this pose.
10. Social Niche
Yoga is a social niche with a worldwide network. 007 and I have spent many enjoyable hours practicing yoga seaside. Trade winds fan us, as we move with our breath under the palm trees. We meet world travelers, who value yoga's many health benefits as much as we do. What a joy to hear of their unique yoga experience.
007: So true, Katherine and I are the one constant in an ever changing group of health minded visitors to Oahu.
Special thanks to 007 aka CB. CB, a retired librarian, is a reservoir of the extraordinary facts and data she has collected throughout her 70 years. She is a treasure.
1. "10 Best Poses for Men" Men's Health Magazine by Paige Greenfield http://www.menshealth.com/yoga/basics/10_best_poses_for_men.php#ixzz1nQVNfPeM
2. Yoga: The Pathway to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar 2001 Dorsling Kinderly Great Britain
3. "Cancer Treatment: Role of Yoga, Naturopathy and Prayer" by Manju Sengar, Manisha Bhutani, Dhiraj Aggarwal and Vinod Kochupillaby Manju Sengar, Manisha Bhutani, Dhiraj Aggarwal and Vinod Kochupilla Health Administrator Vol: XVII, Number 1: 151- 157,pg.i http://medind.nic.in/haa/t05/i1/haat05i1p151.pdf
4. "Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density" Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Volume 191, Issue 1 , Pages 36-43, 30 January 2011 by Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927(10)00288-X/abstract