The Three Benefits of Yoga (Part 1)

Woman practising yoga outdoors

April 5 2019 | Yoga Practice


Physical fitness and wellness

Yoga develops, sustains and prolongs your:

  1. Physical fitness and wellness
  2. Mental health and wellbeing
  3. Self-realisation and life purpose

This three-part blog discusses each of these qualities, beginning with physical fitness and wellness.

The definition of physical fitness

Physical fitness is your ability to carry out tasks without undue fatigue. The components of physical fitness are:

  1. cardio-respiratory endurance,
  2. muscle strength,
  3. muscle endurance,
  4. flexibility, and
  5. body composition.

Yoga for cardio respiratory endurance (CRE)

Many people do not realise or can be dismissive about yoga’s capacity as an activity for cardio respiratory endurance (CRE). Think about this: what makes our heart, lungs and arteries pump harder is exercise, and the rate at which we do so. There is absolutely no reason why yoga cannot be used to develop CRE.

Twelve vibrant rounds of Surya Namaskar, the ‘Salute to the sun’ or ‘Sun Salutation’, will exponentially accelerate your heart and breathing, without doing harm. One of yoga’s strengths is that it does not overwork your muscles or joints. It is a counter-balance to the excesses of vigorous CRE activity.

Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)

Yoga for muscle strength

As a group of young men, our physical trainers maintained that body weight was all we needed to develop the strength we needed. The thrust of their argument remains true. Of all the activities I do, I find yoga the best for holistic health. In relation to muscular strength it does this in a natural way proportionate to your body.

Here is a range of asanas (yoga exercises also called postures, positions or poses) which will sustain and build this quality:

Yoga poses for muscle strength

Yoga for muscle endurance

Yoga is particularly good for building stamina and resilience. Postures are sustained for prolonged periods of time, which builds endurance in the small and larger fibres of the muscles created by the opposite pairing of the agonist (contracting) and antagonist (counteracting) muscles.

Yoga for flexibility

Flexibility is the quality of being able to bend easily without breaking. Many people do not readily equate fitness with flexibility. All too often I hear potential yoga students say they cannot do yoga because they cannot touch their toes. I then have to explain that the purpose of yoga is to enable them to do that: it’s not a prerequisite!

When we engage in exercise, particularly vigorous exercise, we become fitter. Conversely: the build-up of lactic acid, plus overworking larger muscle fibres and underworking smaller ones, causes rigidity. The resulting danger is that when we bend or exert, this stiffness causes us to injure ourselves. Once damaged, that part of the anatomy will probably never be as efficient or effective again. As always: prevention is better than cure.

This is a major boon for yoga protagonists. Inherent in yoga is flexibility: it’s what it’s famous for! Given that injury reaps permanent damage, affects performance and shortens careers, it’s unsurprising so many people find yoga the perfect antidote. Even more surprising is that more people aren’t doing it!

Yoga for body composition

Body composition is the percentage of fat, bone, water and muscle in the human body. Muscular tissue takes up less space in the body than fat tissue. Conversely, muscle weighs more than fat. You also have to equate the shape and mass of a person’s body.

Waist size is a great indicator, especially as ‘unhealthy’ fat coagulates around the waist and abdominal organs. It’s also helpful for setting boundaries in relation to the risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes UK cites a large waist size for men of 35 inches and 31.5 inches for women. Here’s the thing: your BMI may be spot-on even though you have a large waist, so you might wrongly assume that you are not at risk when in fact you are.

Let common sense and honesty prevail. Most of us know when we are too big: we can see it and feel it. I believe that being overweight is probably the biggest threat to our health as it ripples out into so many other physical and mental health related factors. We need to kick ourselves out of denial and do something about it. That’s where yoga is immensely useful.

Yoga facilitates leanness because it involves all the other elements of fitness, but additionally requires the body to contort, stretch and relax. This sustains a faster body metabolism so that you burn more fat whilst inactive. It regulates the efficiency of the body’s life support systems – vital organs – and keeps our body clock (circadian rhythm) in sequence. Consequently, the body functions more efficiently and effectively.

Last, and by no means least: yoga as mindfulness develops mental health. This helps us to sustain the inner strength needed to resist bad eating habits in the face of a continual temptation to eat badly from the media, shops and elsewhere.

Nourish your body with the best food you can afford. Go for organic, variety, provenance and taste. Enjoy your food, have the occasional binge, just don’t overdo it. The mantra is balance and quality – not obsession.

Wellness

Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. It is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.

Yoga has the accessibility, adaptability and breadth of repertoire which is unsurpassed for meeting our wellness needs.

Most of us do not require an Olympian physique. But the majority of us do want to enjoy a reasonable amount of physical activity. Then there are the essentials of normal life: walking, agility, housework and the requirements of our workplace.

Our bodies are the products of Darwinism. They do need care and maintenance but not nearly as much as many people think. You do not have to be a slave to exercise. Any obsessive behaviour will likely do more harm than good. Much better to have a realistic wellness programme of which yoga is an active part.


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