Fight stress, find serenity; discover the many health benefits of yoga

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CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — To those who haven’t tried yoga, it may be hard to understand why anyone would want to give it a shot. If you have avoided yoga under the notion that it’s just light stretching, a religious practice or “not real exercise,” then you’re missing out.

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What is yoga?

As far back as 6,000 years ago, yoga was used as a spiritual practice. More recently, however, yoga has evolved into a form of exercise laden with well-known health benefits. Coming from the Sanskrit word for “union,” yoga is an attempt to balance the mind and the body with one’s own breathing by using a series of controlled poses.

These poses are used to increase strength and flexibility while breathing techniques are used to keep control over the body and quiet the mind. Although it may seem a little complicated, a good instructor ensures that each person knows the next pose before they transition into it and that they are doing it correctly. 

Yoga follows the philosophy that exceeding personal limits may lead to injury. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of yoga is its adaptability. For example, if a pose becomes uncomfortable, it is perfectly acceptable to alter it or omit it completely. It is one thing to have a pose be challenging, but it is quite another for it to be painful. 

For this reason, yoga is quite suitable for individuals of all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. However, as with any form of exercise, it is important to check with your doctor if you have any medical conditions or if you are pregnant, as some yoga postures may pose a risk. 

What are the benefits of yoga?

Yoga has a wide array of health benefits and is often recommended as a form of therapy for multiple medical conditions.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, practicing yoga may help with the following conditions:

  • Anxiety and stress.
  • Arthritis. 
  • Asthma. 
  • Cancer (reduces stress and strengthens immunity). 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. 
  • Chronic back pain. 
  • Diabetes. 
  • Heart disease (when combined with a healthy diet).
  • High blood pressure. 
  • Hormonal imbalance. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. 
  • Migraine headaches. 
  • Pregnancy. 

The Mayo Clinic points out that yoga can help maintain a healthy weight and can even be used for weight loss when paired with additional aerobic exercise. They go on to say that yoga can improve “balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength,” and it brings about a relaxed state. Other sources say that additional benefits include increased cardiovascular fitness, circulation and improved digestion. 

Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

How do I get started? 

Getting started with yoga is as simple as putting on some comfortable clothes and purchasing a yoga mat. Yoga is performed without shoes and socks, so there is no need for fancy footwear. Most community recreation centers are very low cost and may even include a mat you can use, but be sure to bring sanitizing wipes to guarantee that you’re using germ-free equipment. 

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years that have made my yoga classes more enjoyable: 

  • Wear stretchy pants with a high-rise fit. You won’t care what you look like the second you realize that they don’t ride down and you have full range of motion. 
  • Wear a fairly form-fitting shirt and don’t wear necklaces. The first time you need to bend down to touch your toes or hang upside-down, you’ll understand why.  
  • If you have longer hair, wear a hair restraint; a simple hair elastic or headband will work wonders to keep your hair out of your face.

What are other ways I can practice yoga?

For those who prefer to forgo the group setting, there are other options to fit your needs thanks to DVDs or online videos, instructional books and card decks.

Want to give yoga a try at home? Check out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube; she offers hundreds of free yoga classes and has over 8 million subscribers!

Yoga is an amazing form of exercise suitable for anyone. Once you see how beneficial and adaptable yoga can be, you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried it sooner. Next time a yoga class is offered, don’t pass it up – you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.

Written by ANNA ENGLAND, Guest Columnist for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of HEALTH Magazine.

Copyright © Southwest Utah Public Health Foundation, all rights reserved.

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