Yoga is about more than holding strange poses. It has a surprising host of benefits for your health. Find out some of the ways that yoga could improve your health and wellbeing.
1. Yoga for healthy joints
One of the most obvious benefits of yoga is improved strength and flexibility. Yoga practice works muscles and joints through a full range of motion – essential for good joint health.
“The cartilage that lines our joints has no blood supply,” explains Keith Watson, yoga therapist at OCHK in Hong Kong. “Instead, it relies on nutrient-rich joint fluid to maintain health. And movement is what pumps that fluid around, so moving joints through their whole range makes sure it reaches every part of the joint.” Yoga also improves muscle length, allowing flexibility, and strength, reducing the risk of joint injury.
2. Yoga for mental wellbeing
Yoga has long been attributed with calming the mind and reducing stress. Its meditative nature encourages you to focus on your breath, clearing your head and allowing you to let go of any mental distractions or anxieties.
With regular practice, it can help rebalance your nervous system, reducing activity in the ‘fight-or-flight’ sympathetic nervous system and enhancing the ‘rest-and-recharge’ activity of the parasympathetics. This then creates a sense of calm, in which your body is better able to cope with the strains of the day.
In addition, yoga can be incredibly beneficial for your mental clarity. Focusing on your breath can prevent distracting or unwanted thoughts from taking over. This not only helps you enjoy a more relaxed yoga session, but it can carry into other parts of life as well. With regular practice, you may find you develop better concentration and productivity in both small tasks and big projects alike.
3. Pain control and better sleep
If you struggle with chronic pain, research shows that yoga is good choice to help you cope. The combination of mindfulness, breathwork and physical exercise tackles chronic pain in several ways.
Firstly, it calms the physiological stress response that accompanies pain, reducing cortisol levels and boosting serotonin. Secondly, the sensory input we get from physical exercise interrupts pain signals, the same way that rubbing a hurt limb eases it. Thirdly, there are psychological benefits, equipping people who have chronic pain with a sense of empowerment.
Hong Kong-based yoga therapist, Charlotte Douglas, says:
“Yoga is incredibly powerful at integrating the mind and body, and giving us a sense of control. Even simple techniques can set off a cascade of positive effects, from the emotional to the hormonal to the neurological. I’ve seen some amazing results in people with deeply held trauma, chronic pain and emotional difficulties.” The relaxation techniques perfected in yoga can also mean better sleep quality. Those who practice yoga regularly report having fewer sleep problems and taking less time to drift off at night.
4. Yoga for better posture
A 2016 census shows that the average working week in Hong Kong is over 50 hours. And, while the new hybrid way of working has many conveniences, the ergonomics of the average home office isn’t one of them. Working on your laptop from the sofa or at the kitchen table can wreak havoc with your posture.
And posture is important. Poor posture is associated with back, neck and wrist pain and headaches, as well as respiratory and digestive difficulties.
How does yoga help? “Posture is all about habit,” says Keith. “Postures we use all the time become ‘set’ in our neurology. These postures are then reflected in the muscle tone and flexibility (or lack of it!) in our bodies. To reprogramme these neurological defaults, we need to increase our proprioceptive awareness (where our body is in space) and improve the coordination and control that will support a new, better posture. Practising yoga encompasses all those things.”
5. Yoga’s benefits as we age
The benefits of regular yoga practice will continue into old age. Falling is a serious hazard for older adults. In the US, it’s the leading cause of injury-related death in the over-65s.
There are several factors that increase someone’s risk of falling. Yoga is the perfect antidote to two of the main ones – poor balance and loss of muscle tone.
Balance involves the nerve endings in our ligaments constantly monitoring our position and feeding that information back to our nervous system. The brain then instructs our muscles to make tiny adjustments to our posture to prevent us from toppling over. Yoga’s smooth, controlled movements and postures are a great way to exercise this feedback system, which is responsible for keeping us safely on our feet.
Maintaining strength, flexibility and coordination through yoga can therefore keep you healthy and independent as you age – and perhaps even prolong your life!
Yoga in Hong Kong
These benefits are just a few of the reasons to incorporate yoga into your daily life. But it’s important to ensure that you practise it correctly to avoid overstretching or straining yourself.
This is especially important if you’re recovering from injuries or surgery, you have a condition such as arthritis or a hypermobility disorder, or you’re new to yoga. A qualified therapist can monitor and adapt your technique to fit your needs. This will not only ensure that your yoga is safe, but you get the most from it.
Whether you’re new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, our qualified yoga therapists, Keith and Charlotte, can help you fulfil your health goals. If you’d like to find out how yoga can benefit you, book a session at our clinic in Central here