To many, yoga is a great way to relax as well as exercise. There are numerous studies showing it improves mental health such as depression and anxiety. Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded several large grants for the study of yoga. However, yoga also offers several physical benefits.
Stephanie Shorter, PhD, discussed several studies at the Dallas Yoga Conference that points to benefits of practicing yoga regularly. Consistent yoga practice helps reverse the damage done to your cells which leads to less inflammation and greater long term health. Cells aren’t the only thing improved by yoga. The vagus nerve is a nerve that controls both motor and sensory functions. Typically nerves control one or the other, not both. Yoga improves the vagus, or wandering nerve, and increases your variable heart rate.
This mean that instead of your heart beating at the same amount of time in between each pump, the improved variability of the heart rate (thousands of a second variation) conditions your body to respond to different situations. For example, the deep breath from yoga activates the vagus nerve and prepares the body to perform an activity that requires motor function such as the fight or flight reaction.
But how much yoga needs to be performed to see any health benefit? Studies show that shorter practices, three times a week, is more effective than one 90-minutes practice once a week. Mark Whitwell, a teacher with over 20 years of experience, claims he’s seen improvement in as little as seven minutes of yoga a day.
Practicing yoga can calm the mind and also improve the body. The various yoga poses improve flexibility, muscular conditioning, and also the nervous system, leading to long term health benefits.