Yoga - health benefits Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that dates back thousands of years. It was designed as a path to spiritual enlightenment, but in modern times the physical aspects of Hatha yoga have found huge popularity as a gentle form of exercise and stress management. There are many different varieties of Hatha yoga, but each one essentially relies on structured poses (asanas) practised with breath awareness.


Researchers have discovered that the regular practice of
yoga may produce many health benefits, including increased
fitness and normalisation of blood pressure. Yoga is a
renowned antidote to stress. Over time yoga practitioners
report lower levels of stress and increased feelings of happiness
and wellbeing. This is because concentrating on the
postures and the breath acts as a powerful form of meditation.

THE ASANAS
Each posture, or asana, is held for a period of time and
synchronised with the breath. Generally, a yoga session
begins with gentle asanas and works up to the more vigorous
or challenging postures. A full yoga session should exercise
every part of the body and should include pranayama
(breath control practices), relaxation and
meditation. The different postures or asanas include:
• Lying postures
• Sitting postures
• Standing postures
• Inverted, or upside down postures.

A RANGE OF BENEFITS
The physical building blocks of yoga are the posture (asana)
and the breath. A series of poses held over a period of time
and synchronised with the breath exercises every part of the
body. Benefits include:
• Cardiovascular system (heart and arteries) - asanas
are isometric, which means they rely on holding muscle
tension for a short period of time. This improves
cardiovascular fitness and circulation. Studies show that
regular yoga practise may help normalise blood
pressure.
• Digestive system - improved blood circulation and the
massaging effect of surrounding muscles speeds up a
sluggish digestion.
• Musculo-skeletal - joints are moved through their full
rage of motion, which encourages mobility and eases
pressure. The gentle stretching releases muscle tension
and increases flexibility. Maintaining many of the asanas
encourages strength and endurance. Weight bearing
asanas may help prevent osteoporosis, and may also
help those already diagnosed with osteoporosis,
practised with care, under the supervision of a qualified
Yoga teacher. Long term benefits include reduced back
pain and improved posture.
• Nervous system -
improved blood
circulation, easing of
muscle tension and the
act of focusing the mind
on the breath all
combine to soothe the
nervous system. Long term benefits include reduced
stress and anxiety levels, and increased feelings of calm
and wellbeing. Anyone can practise yoga.
Yoga is non-competitive and suitable for anyone,
regardless of their age or fitness level. Your yoga teacher
should carefully guide and observe you and modify postures
when necessary. An asana should never cause pain.
If it hurts, ease back on the stretch or don’t do it at all. It is
important to keep within your physical limits. If you are over
40, haven’t exercised for a long time or have a pre-existing
medical condition, you should check with your doctor before
starting any regular exercise routine.

DIFFERENT CLASSES
There are many different varieties of yoga, each one with a
slightly different slant. Hatha yoga is one of the more popular
forms in Australia. Yoga is taught in classes, catering for
beginners through to advanced practitioners. Suggestions
for getting the most out of your class include:
• Wear comfortable clothes and take a blanket, since
many poses are performed sitting or lying down.
• Allow at least three or four hours since your last meal.
• Always tell your yoga teacher if you have a specific
complaint, so they can advise against any asanas that
may aggravate your problem.
• Always tell your yoga teacher if you are pregnant, have
had a recent injury, illness, surgery, high blood pressure,
heart problems, or osteoporosis.
• Don’t talk during the class because it will disturb your
own quiet focus and that of others in the class.

WHERE TO GET HELP
• Your doctor
• Other health professionals
• A qualified yoga teacher
• ‘Go for your life’ Infoline Tel. 1300 739 899

THINGS TO REMEMBER
• Yoga is an ancient science of living that incorporates
gentle exercise, breath control (breathing practices
called pranayama) and meditation.
• The physical foundation of yoga is a series of structured
poses (asanas) performed with breath awareness.
• The health benefits of regular yoga practice may include
alleviation of high blood pressure, improved posture and
circulation, and a sense of wellbeing.

Article provided by the Better Health Channel. Visit
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au for further information.