Why yoga is good for the mind and body

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The ancient practice of yoga is something that we haven’t covered recently on the Daily Mind, so I thought I would dedicate this particular blog post to exploring the benefits it can offer to our minds and bodies.

Yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago, but today it is as popular as ever, with classes being held around the world in all manner of places, from gyms and local parks to schools and community centres.

Yoga, in its many forms, involves developing strength, flexibility and breathing as a means to boost physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. This is achieved through practising a series of postures (known as asanas) and breathing exercises (known as pranayama).

Sunset Yoga

The physical benefits of yoga are numerous. Not only does it help to build muscle tone and regulate weight, but it can also improve respiration and circulatory health, improve the flexibility of joints and promote detoxification. Studies have also shown that a regular yoga practice can help people with high blood pressure, heart disease and lower back pain.

The effects of yoga on our mental and emotional wellbeing are even more impressive. If you suffer with low mood, depression, anxiety or sleep problems then evidence suggests that practising yoga could help. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

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It could boost your brain power
Findings published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health have shown that a 20-minute yoga session can help to improve brain function. A group of 30 subjects took part in a 20-minute hatha yoga session before carrying out a series of tests designed to test their ability to focus and retain new information. The yoga practice was found to “significantly improve” their speed and accuracy during the tests.

It can help to combat depression
A research review carried out by scientists from Duke University Medical School in North Carolina found that weekly yoga sessions helped to reduce depression in a group of 69 older adults by 40% over a period of six months. Interestingly, no changes were noted in a comparison group who did not practise yoga, nor in a group who practised Ayurveda.

It can help to ease anxiety
According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the practice of yoga has been found to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a brain chemical that helps to regulate nerve activity. Levels of this neurotransmitter are reduced in people with anxiety disorders. The authors of the study have suggested that yoga stimulates specific areas of the brain, resulting in changes in the levels of this brain chemical.

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It can help you to sleep
Australian researchers have discovered that yoga can help older people to beat insomnia as well as improve their psychological and emotional wellbeing. A study carried out at RMIT University in Melbourne found that volunteers who practised yoga for at least 25 minutes a day over a 12-week period experienced better sleep patterns as well as improved mental and emotional health. The results were published in the International Journal of Yoga.

So, in conclusion, it would seem that a regular yoga practice is well worth taking up. For those of us who want to support our mental and emotional wellbeing, practising a few asanas could help to lift our spirits and boost our overall mood. The best thing is that yoga can be enjoyed by everyone of all ages, so why not find out where your local class is taking place?

About the author: Liz Parry is a writer specialising in holistic health and wellbeing, personal development and spirituality. Follow her on Twitter and Google+

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