Yoga and Meditation: Exploring the Long-term Benefits of a Regular Practice

  • 10th August 2016

When you think of yoga, you might picture ultra-flexible practitioners who can get into poses you never would dream of being able to accomplish. While some advanced yoga poses certainly suit some adults, yoga is more than just a practice for “bendy” people. Originally from India, yoga is more than an exercise: it is a way of life and well-being, which combines exercises (asanas), meditation, and breathing techniques. You can also practice meditation without asanas.

More than ever, conventional medicine professionals are writing “prescriptions” for yoga to help treat and prevent a variety of health ailments. Unlike medications, yoga and meditation are virtually side effect free, and can be practiced as often as you like and are able. Stress Reduction and Mental Health Benefits  Yoga has its roots in spirituality, and meditation is often an integral component of each practice. Even if you are not particularly “spiritual,” the body-mind link is relevant for everyone. Quieting your mind and being more in tune with your body can provide significant stress reduction. Yoga is also recommended for patients with anxiety and/or depression. As an added bonus, yoga can even boost your self-confidence and overall outlook on life. Adults who meditate on a regular basis may also notice improved concentration at work. Cardiovascular Effects of Yoga Asanas are the postures in the physical aspect of yoga. The speed of the asanas partly dictates the overall practice. For example, asanas practiced at slower speeds are usually part of a relaxing yoga practice, while higher speeds are associated with practices that wake you up and work on your muscles. The latter type can increase your heart rate and cause a sweat—in these cases, you might be reaping some of the cardiovascular benefits of yoga. While it is said that ancient yogis relied on yoga as their primary form of exercise, it’s important to incorporate other forms of exercise as part of an overall fitness plan for heart health. These include aerobic routines, such as walking, running, bike riding, and swimming. Endocrine Health and Yoga The endocrine system is made up of hormone-producing organs that regulate health and reproduction. Asanas that improve lymphatic flow and get rid of toxins are often used to maintain thyroid and kidney health. Some women also practice yoga for fertility issues. Yoga can even help when you start seeing the signs of menopause. With regular yoga practice, menopausal women often experience better weight management, fewer hot flashes, decreased irritability, and improved quality of sleep. Pain Management One of the most promising long-term benefit of yoga is pain management. In fact, an NCCIH study found that participants with chronic back pain experienced improved symptoms after six months of regular yoga practices. The same group of adults also had less disability. Aside from back pain, yoga may also be beneficial for fibromyalgia, arthritis pain, and headaches. Meditation by itself may not alleviate the physical effects of chronic pain, but it may help take your mind off of it. Other Health Benefits Yoga and meditation can also offer better coordination and balance—this is especially important as you age. The postures of a yoga practice can physically improve these benefits, while meditation helps to clear your mind so you are more aware of your coordination and balance. Yoga asanas also have the added benefit of improved flexibility. In addition to better body conditioning, yoga is often recommended as an alternative way of treating digestive issues and high blood sugar. Exploring the Different Types of Yoga and Meditation Knowing which type of yoga class to sign up for is important if you have any specific medical conditions. Hatha is the most popular type of yoga—this style integrates breathing and meditation techniques with the asanas. Hot (brikham) yoga is a trendy form of the practice that utilizes a room of 95 degrees or more for boosted stretches and detoxification. Other forms of yoga include power (ashtanga), kundalini, and viniyoga. Some yoga studios specialize in one style of yoga, while others offer multiple classes with different styles. It is helpful to take a beginner’s class to grasp basic breathing techniques and postures before moving on to advanced classes with more specialized styles. Meditation practices alone don’t have the wide variety that yoga does. Many people find it helpful to focus on an image or a mantra during meditation. A seated position is desirable, especially if you plan on meditating for a long time. Still, meditation is also possible standing—or even walking! Some yoga studios also offer guided meditations, if you need some additional assistance calming your thoughts and getting started with a solid practice. A Regular Practice Reaps the Most Long-term Benefits When it comes to your health, yoga and meditation can offer some significant benefits. The key to reaping these benefits, however, is to stick with a long-term plan. One yoga or meditation session a week might help you feel relaxed, but you won’t gain the same long-term benefits as you would with practicing three times per week. Before you get started with yoga, make sure you talk to your doctor. Certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, serious injuries, and pregnancy, can warrant modifications in yoga. You will also want to make sure that your yoga teacher is certified and experienced. Meditation, on the other hand, is a safe practice for anyone—the key is to find a comfortable seated or standing position. People who meditate daily experience less stress, better clarity, and overall more happiness. If you can’t fit in a long meditation session, don’t sweat it: multiple shorter sessions are even better. Start with a few minutes a few times a day and see how you feel. Resources McCall, Timothy (2007, August 28). 38 Health benefits of yoga. Retrieved from this source Yoga: In depth. (2013, June). Retrieved from this source Yoga for health. (2014, September 18). Retrieved from this source Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who also has a certificate in nutrition. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites. Previously, she worked as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication an MA in English. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Georgia State University. When she's not writing or studying, she enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.

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