Sit in Lotus. Better yet, rise up into a backbend or soar royally into King Dancer Pose. While it's not as simple as that, one study found that a consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters and cortisol. More dramatic left-sided activation was found in dedicated, long-term practitioners.
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Move more, eat less—that's the adage of many a dieter. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level.
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Yoga may also inspire you to become a more conscious eater. In people with diabetes, yoga has been found to lower blood sugar in several ways: by lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging weight loss, and improving sensitivity to the effects of insulin. Get your blood sugar levels down, and you decrease your risk of diabetic complications such as heart attack, kidney failure, and blindness.
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they're less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an endless tape loop. Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system or the fight-or-flight response to the parasympathetic nervous system.
The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rates, decreases blood pressure, and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs—comprising what Herbert Benson, M. Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space and improves balance.
People with bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor proprioception, which has been linked to knee problems and back pain. Better balance could mean fewer falls. For the elderly, this translates into more independence and delayed admission to a nursing home or never entering one at all.
For the rest of us, postures like Tree Pose can make us feel less wobbly on and off the mat. See also Poses for Back Pain. Some advanced yogis can control their bodies in extraordinary ways, many of which are mediated by the nervous system. Scientists have monitored yogis who could induce unusual heart rhythms, generate specific brain-wave patterns, and, using a meditation technique, raise the temperature of their hands by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
If they can use yoga to do that, perhaps you could learn to improve blood flow to your pelvis if you're trying to get pregnant or induce relaxation when you're having trouble falling asleep.
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Do you ever notice yourself holding the telephone or a steering wheel with a death grip or scrunching your face when staring at a computer screen? These unconscious habits can lead to chronic tension, muscle fatigue, and soreness in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and face, which can increase stress and worsen your mood. As you practice yoga, you begin to notice where you hold tension: It might be in your tongue, your eyes, or the muscles of your face and neck.
If you simply tune in, you may be able to release some tension in the tongue and eyes. With bigger muscles like the quadriceps, trapezius, and buttocks, it may take years of practice to learn how to relax them. Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous system. Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Restorative asana, yoga nidra a form of guided relaxation , Savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara , a turning inward of the senses, which provides downtime for the nervous system.
Another by-product of a regular yoga practice, studies suggest, is better sleep—which means you'll be less tired and stressed and less likely to have accidents. See also Savasana Corpse Pose.
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Asana and pranayama probably improve immune function, but, so far, meditation has the strongest scientific support in this area. It appears to have a beneficial effect on the functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed for example, raising antibody levels in response to a vaccine and lowering it when needed for instance, mitigating an inappropriately aggressive immune function in an autoimmune disease like psoriasis.
Yogis tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient. A study published in The Lancet taught a yogic technique known as "complete breathing" to people with lung problems due to congestive heart failure. After one month, their average respiratory rate decreased from Meanwhile, their exercise capacity increased significantly, as did the oxygen saturation of their blood.
In addition, yoga has been shown to improve various measures of lung function , including the maximum volume of the breath and the efficiency of the exhalation. Yoga also promotes breathing through the nose, which filters the air, warms it cold, dry air is more likely to trigger an asthma attack in people who are sensitive , and humidifies it, removing pollen and dirt and other things you'd rather not take into your lungs.
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Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation—all of these can be exacerbated by stress. So if you stress less, you'll suffer less. Yoga, like any physical exercise, can ease constipation—and theoretically lower the risk of colon cancer—because moving the body facilitates more rapid transport of food and waste products through the bowels. And, although it has not been studied scientifically, yogis suspect that twisting poses may be beneficial in getting waste to move through the system.
Yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. In other words, it slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that can cause stress. And since stress is implicated in so many health problems—from migraines and insomnia to lupus, MS, eczema, high blood pressure, and heart attacks—if you learn to quiet your mind, you'll be likely to live longer and healthier. Many of us suffer from chronic low self-esteem.
If you handle this negatively—take drugs, overeat, work too hard, sleep around—you may pay the price in poorer health physically, mentally, and spiritually. If you take a positive approach and practice yoga, you'll sense, initially in brief glimpses and later in more sustained views, that you're worthwhile or, as yogic philosophy teaches, that you are a manifestation of the Divine. If you practice regularly with an intention of self-examination and betterment—not just as a substitute for an aerobics class—you can access a different side of yourself. You'll experience feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a sense that you're part of something bigger.
While better health is not the goal of spirituality , it's often a by-product, as documented by repeated scientific studies. Yoga can ease your pain. According to several studies, asana, meditation, or a combination of the two, reduced pain in people with arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome , and other chronic conditions. When you relieve your pain, your mood improves, you're more inclined to be active, and you don't need as much medication. Yoga can help you make changes in your life. In fact, that might be its greatest strength.
Tapas, the Sanskrit word for "heat," is the fire, the discipline that fuels yoga practice and that regular practice builds. The tapas you develop can be extended to the rest of your life to overcome inertia and change dysfunctional habits. You may find that without making a particular effort to change things, you start to eat better, exercise more, or finally quit smoking after years of failed attempts. Good yoga teachers can do wonders for your health.
Exceptional ones do more than guide you through the postures. They can adjust your posture, gauge when you should go deeper in poses or back off, deliver hard truths with compassion, help you relax, and enhance and personalize your practice. A respectful relationship with a teacher goes a long way toward promoting your health. If your medicine cabinet looks like a pharmacy, maybe it's time to try yoga. Studies of people with asthma, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes formerly called adult-onset diabetes , and obsessive-compulsive disorder have shown that yoga helped them lower their dosage of medications and sometimes get off them entirely.
The benefits of taking fewer drugs? You'll spend less money, and you're less likely to suffer side effects and risk dangerous drug interactions.
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Yoga and meditation build awareness. And the more aware you are, the easier it is to break free of destructive emotions like anger. Studies suggest that chronic anger and hostility are as strongly linked to heart attacks as are smoking, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Yoga appears to reduce anger by increasing feelings of compassion and interconnection and by calming the nervous system and the mind. It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life, to remain steady in the face of bad news or unsettling events.
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