Yoga can help you live longer!  A bold statement but let’s break it down and look at why this may be true:

 

  • What is yoga?

Yoga is a combination of breathing techniques, exercise and meditation. It originated in India and can be traced back to over 5000 years ago. It is spiritual and physical and helps to improve health and happiness. The original purpose of yoga is to train the body and mind to become more self-aware.

 

  • Is yoga hard?

Yoga is for people of all fitness levels. You don’t have to be super flexible or super strong to start practising yoga. You will soon become stronger and more flexible the more that you do.

 

Yoga-Benefits

  • Will yoga increase my energy and fitness?

Yoga is a great way to increase your energy, strength, flexibility and balance. It will help to stretch and tone your muscles. In one study (1) 79 adults completed 24 sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. The results speak for themselves. They all experienced a compelling increase in upper body strength, weight loss and endurance. The women also showed a decrease in body fat percentage. Another study followed 66 elderly people who practised either yoga or calisthenics for one year. After this time, the total flexibility of the group who practised yoga had increased by nearly four times that of the calisthenics group (2).

There are certain yoga poses which are designed to increase strength and to build muscle eg. The plank strengthens arms, legs, shoulders and abs, and the warrior pose builds strength throughout the whole body.

One of the ways that yoga increases energy is through deep breathing. Great yoga moves to help with energy include the downward dog which opens and lengthens the back of the body and the cobra pose which opens the chest and boosts the intake of breath. It’s important to focus on your breathing, trying to slow the breath and breathe deeply.

 

The following poses are great for increasing your energy:

  • Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – This will open the chest, heart and shoulders and stretch the spine, back of the neck, thighs and hip flexors. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart and your heels directly below your knees. Press your feet into the floor and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Keep your arms straight and interlace your fingers underneath you. Push the back of your head into the floor and hold this position while taking a few deep breaths.
  • Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) – This increases the flexibility of the spine, strengthens the spine and shoulders and stretches the chest. Lie on your front with your legs out straight behind you. Press the tops of your feet and your thighs into the floor. Inhale, straighten your arms and lift your chest off the floor. Hold the pose for between 15 and 30 seconds and then lower back to the start position.
  • Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – This will energise and rejuvenate the whole body. Start on your hands and knees with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Push up through your hands to lift your hips straighten your legs. Spread your fingers, keep your tail high, keep your toes facing towards the front of your mat and sink your heels into the floor. Let your head hang down and move your shoulder blades down towards your hips. Engage your quads to take most of the weight from your arms. Check that the distance between your hands and feet is correct by coming into the plank position – the distance is the same for these two positions. Do not shorten this distance in order to get your heels to touch the floor. Take a few breaths, then bend knees to come back to the start position.

 

  • Can I lose weight by practising yoga?

Yoga sustains the metabolic system and helps to burn fat which will lead to weight loss. It can also re-balance your hormones which can help to stabilise your weight.

The following poses can help aid weight loss along with a healthy diet:

  • The Plank (Kumbhakasana)– This will help to strengthen your core. Start on your hands and knees and push up onto your hands and toes making sure that your arms are straight and that your shoulders are over your wrists. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Warrior 11 (Virabhadrasana B) – A great stretch for the legs, groin and chest, it also increases stamina. Stand with feet apart and arms raised out to the side. Turn your right foot out and bend your right knee directly over your right ankle. Make sure that your hips and shoulders are facing forwards. Turn your head to look at your right hand, sink your hips towards the floor and press down into your feet. Relax your shoulders and hold for 3 to 6 breaths before changing sides.
  • Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) – These will bring more strength, flexibility and tone to the whole body. Stand straight with your feet parallel to each other and your arms by your side. Inhale and raise your arms out to the side and above your head keeping them straight. Bring your palms together and lean backwards slightly, looking upwards towards your hands. Exhale and take your arms wide and down as you bend forward from the hips keeping your legs straight (bend your knees slightly if the pressure is too much). Let your head hang down. Step your right foot back into a lunge followed by your left so that you are in plank position. Lower yourself down to the floor slowly and push up with your arms so that your torso and hips are off the floor. Hold for a few seconds. Inhale and push back so that you are in downward facing dog with your arms and legs straight. Exhale and push back so that your head is between your arms. From this position bring your right foot forward into a lunge, followed by your left foot and slowly uncurl your body until you are standing straight. Repeat using the left foot first.

 

  • Will yoga reduce stress and anxiety?

Yoga is amazing at reducing stress and boosting relaxation.  Generally, people who do yoga, including the three elements (poses, breathing and meditation) have been shown to have a lower heart rate which means that they can deal with stress in a more positive way. Relaxing yoga poses are great for relaxing both your body and mind. Yoga has been shown to reduce the secretion of cortisol (the stress hormone) (3). One study followed 24 women who described themselves as being emotionally distressed. After completing 3 months of yoga they had significantly lowered their cortisol levels and also their stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression (4).

Another study followed 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The had yoga classes twice a week for 2 months and were shown to have significantly lower levels of anxiety at the end of the study (5).

As well as reducing the secretion of cortisol, yoga has been shown to increase serotonin levels (the happy hormone), which can change the chemistry of your brain and improve your mood, thereby decreasing stress and anxiety.

The following poses will help to reduce stress and anxiety:

  • Big toe pose (Padangusthasana) – This is a great stretch for the whole of the back of the body particularly the hamstrings. Stand upright with feet parallel. Contract your quad muscles, keep your legs straight and hinge from the hips bending your body forwards to reach your toes. Reach and wrap the thumb and index finger of each hand around your big toes and second toes. If you can’t reach your toes, then use a band or strap placed under the feet and hold the ends. Inhale, straighten your arms and lift your torso as though you are going to stand up. Then exhale and lift your tailbone. Keep your head relaxed and lift your sternum as high as you can. Inhale (lifting your torso and contracting your quad muscles) and exhale (lift your tailbone and relax your hamstrings) for a few breaths. On your final exhalation, pull up on your toes and bend your elbows out to the side. Lengthen your torso and gently lower into the forward bend. If you have short hamstrings, concentrate on keeping your torso long. Don’t overstretch or bend your knees to touch your toes. Hold this final pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then release your toes and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and bring your torso back up to standing position.
  • Bow pose (Dhanurasana) – This pose stretches the whole of the front of the body while at the same time, strengthening every muscle in the back. Lie on your front with your hands alongside your body. Exhale, bend your knees and bring your heels as close as you can to your bum. Reach back and grab hold of your ankles with your hands. Keep your knees in line with your hips. Inhale and lift your heels away from your bum whilst also lifting your thighs away from the floor. Press your shoulder blades together and look forwards. Keep breathing (this makes it more difficult as your belly is pressed into the floor). Hold this pose for 20-30 seconds then exhale as you release back to the starting position.
  • Cat/Cow pose (Marjaryasana) – This is a combination of two poses that warm the body and stretches the back and neck, bringing flexibility to the spine. Start in a tabletop position (on your hands and knees) making sure that your knees and hips are in line as well as your hands and shoulders. Look ahead and extend your head and tailbone. Exhale and round your spine towards the ceiling, keeping your shoulders and knees in position. Tuck your chin into our chest and curl your tailbone under. Your shoulder blades will separate for a nice stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then reverse the stretch by dropping your belly and arching your back. Pull your shoulder blades towards each other and look ahead and extend your head and tailbone. Hold for 30 seconds.

 

Will yoga improve my concentration?

Yoga concentrates on your breathing which calms your mind and makes you more relaxed meaning that you can gather and retain more information as well as helping you to think more clearly. 15 minutes of yoga in the morning can greatly improve concentration later in the day.

The following poses will help with concentration:

  • Tree Pose (Vrksasana) – This pose stretches the thighs, groin, torso and shoulders. Stand with your feet together and your hands (palms together) together in front of your chest. Bend your right knee and place the right foot on the left inner thigh. Lengthen your tailbone and lift your chest to stand tall. Press your left foot into the floor and your right foot into your left inner thigh. Keep your hips facing forward and your right knee out to the side. Take 5-10 deep breaths then release back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Eagle pose (Garudasana) – This pose stretches the shoulders and upper back, while at the same time, strengthening the thighs, hips, ankles and calves (avoid this pose if you have a knee injury). Stand straight with your arms at your side. Bend knees slightly and lift left leg to place left thigh on top of the right thigh. Hook your left foot around the back of your right calf. Balancing on one foot, bend your arms and place the right arm on top of the left. Your right elbow should be snuggled into the inside of your left elbow. Lift your forearms so they are perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands need to be facing each other.
  • Warrior 111 (Virabhadrasana III) – This strengthens the whole of the back of the body. Stand with feet hip distance apart. As you inhale, reach your arms up straight. Shift your weight onto your left foot and take your right leg out straight behind you, leaning forward as you do. Keep your legs strong to help you keep your balance. Slowly reverse the position to get back to the start and repeat on the other leg.

Yoga-Benefits-2

  • Can yoga look after my heart?

High blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart disease and yoga has been shown to lower both blood pressure and pulse rate. A study showed that people who practised yoga for 5 years had lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t (6). Another study looked at the effects of a lifestyle change of 113 people with heart disease. This included one year of yoga training, dietary changes and stress management. There was a 23% decrease in total cholesterol and a 26% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol. The progression of heart disease was halted in 47% of patients (7). This shows that yoga combined with a healthy diet and lowering levels of stress is beneficial to a healthy heart.

The following poses will help to keep your heart healthy:

  • Big toe pose (Padangusthasana) – This is a great stretch for the whole of the back of the body particularly the hamstrings. Stand upright with feet parallel. Contract your quad muscles, keep your legs straight and hinge from the hips bending your body forwards to reach your toes. Reach and wrap the thumb and index finger of each hand around your big toes and second toes. If you can’t reach your toes, then use a band or strap placed under the feet and hold the ends. Inhale, straighten your arms and lift your torso as though you are going to stand up. Then exhale and lift your tailbone. Keep your head relaxed and lift your sternum as high as you can. Inhale (lifting your torso and contracting your quad muscles) and exhale (lift your tailbone and relax your hamstrings) for a few breaths. On your final exhalation, pull up on your toes and bend your elbows out to the side. Lengthen your torso and gently lower into the forward bend. If you have short hamstrings, concentrate on keeping your torso long. Don’t overstretch or bend your knees to touch your toes. Hold this final pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then release your toes and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and bring your torso back up to standing position.
  • Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – This will open the chest, heart and shoulders and stretch the spine, back of the neck, thighs and hip flexors. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart and your heels directly below your knees. Press your feet into the floor and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Keep your arms straight and interlace your fingers underneath you. Push the back of your head into the floor and hold this position while taking a few deep breaths.
  • Head to knee forward bend (Janu Sirsasana) – This is a very calming pose that can help with headaches, insomnia and anxiety. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Take the right knee outwards and press the right foot into the inner left thigh. Hold your left foot (or shin if you can’t quite reach your foot) inhale and lengthen your body. Exhale and fold forwards from the hips, pulling your toes back towards you. Push your tail bone towards the floor and hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Then repeat on the other side.

 

  • Can yoga improve my posture?

It is very common these days for people to have bad posture. Being hunched over a computer and constantly using a mobile phone are just two examples of where your head tends to lean forwards causing poor posture.

Doing the mountain pose (Tadasana) will help you to see whether you have good or poor posture.  You cannot correct something if you don’t know what is wrong:

Stand with your back against a wall and your feet together. Make sure you are well balanced (you can move your feet a few inches apart if this is more comfortable) with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Lift your tailbone (there should be space between your lower back and the wall). Stand straight and relax the shoulders. Look straight ahead and make sure that your shoulders and the back of your head are touching the wall. This may be uncomfortable if your head is forward from your shoulders. Exhale and stretch your arms to the ceiling so that your elbows are in line with your ears. Take care as to whether raising your arms has caused any tension in your neck. Hold for a few breaths and return to the starting position. If you felt any tension when in this pose, then you may need to improve your posture and yoga can help with that.

The following poses will help to correct bad posture:

  • Mountain pose (Tadasana) – As well as helping you to discover what your posture is like, this pose is very good for correcting poor posture.
  • Cat/Cow pose (Marjaryasana) – This is a combination of two poses that warm the body and stretches the back and neck, bringing flexibility to the spine and helping to improve posture. Start in a tabletop position (on your hands and knees) making sure that your knees and hips are in line as well as your hands and shoulders. Look ahead and extend your head and tailbone. Exhale and round your spine towards the ceiling, keeping your shoulders and knees in position. Tuck your chin into our chest and curl your tailbone under. Your shoulder blades will separate for a nice stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then reverse the stretch by dropping your belly and arching your back. Pull your shoulder blades towards each other and look ahead and extend your head and tailbone. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Camel pose (Ustrasana) – This pose stretches the front of the body, including the chest, abdomen, hips and quads. It improves spinal flexibility and posture. Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width apart and rest your hands on the back of your pelvis with your palms facing downwards. Inhale and lift your heart keeping your hips over your knees (it is important to keep this position and not to let your hips drop or your thighs drop forward) Lift your head, opening the throat. Twist slightly to reach back to one foot and hold onto the heel then reach back with the other hand. Lift the pelvis and keep your head in a neutral position. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. To release from this pose, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis and lift your head and body by pushing your hips down. Lift your heart first followed by your head.

 

  • Can yoga help prevent migraines?

Yoga can be very helpful in reducing how often migraines occur and the severity of them. Studies have shown that people who do yoga and take medication have fewer and less severe migraines than people who just take medication. Stress is one of the things that can cause a migraine and as yoga has been shown to reduce stress, it makes sense that this will also reduce how often migraines occur.

The following poses can help with migraines:

  • Seated neck release (Sukhasana – meaning easy pose with neck stretch) – Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Extend your right arm down past your right knee. Take your left hand over your head and place your hand on the right side of your head. Using gentle pressure, tilt your head to the left and hold for 30 seconds. Return to the start and repeat on the other side.
  • Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) – This pose deeply relaxes the body and brings relief to the legs, feet and spine as well as gently stretching the neck. Lie on the floor with your legs up against the wall so that you are in a ‘L’ position. Keep your legs straight and breathe deeply for about 30 seconds.
  • Corpse pose (Savasana) – This is a total relaxation pose and quite often used to finish a yoga session. Lie on the floor on your back with your legs straight and your arms by your sides and palms facing upwards. Breathe slowly and deeply for 30 seconds.

 

  • Will yoga help me sleep?

People who have trouble sleeping and who do yoga daily fall asleep faster, stay asleep for longer and fall back to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night.

Make sure that you are doing the right poses to help you to get to sleep. Some yoga poses can be energising and therefore not beneficial to inducing sleep.

The following poses are perfect for preparing your body for sleep:

  • Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) – This pose deeply relaxes the body and brings relief to the legs, feet and spine as well as gently stretching the neck. Lie on the floor with your legs up against the wall so that you are in a ‘L’ position. Keep your legs straight and breathe deeply for about 30 seconds.
  • Lying butterfly (Baddha Konasana) – This is a classic therapeutic pose. Lie on the floor, bend your knees and press the soles of your feet together. Let your knees fall out to the sides and relax for 30 seconds.
  • Corpse pose (Savasana) – This is a total relaxation pose and quite often used to finish a yoga session. Lie on the floor on your back with your legs straight and your arms by your sides and palms facing upwards. Breathe slowly and deeply for 30 seconds.

 

So, what do you think now? If we put it all together you can see why yoga can improve your quality of life and help you to live a longer, happier life.

Give it a go – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Take a look at our Timetable here or Book onto our Next Class!