Yoga’s Physical and Mental Health Benefits

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Photo Credit: Shawn Lam 

Written by Andrew Lee

Yoga seems to be the latest trend in fitness these days.  From college students to celebrities, many have engaged in this mind-body art.  Why has it become so popular?  The answer may lie in yoga’s physical and mental health benefits.

Physical Benefits

Increases Flexibility

If your muscles and joints feel tight, yoga’s poses (asanas) may help relieve your pain.  That’s because every asana stretches muscles and “releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain and fatigue”[1].  Yoga expands your soft tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, and leaves your body feeling limber.  Just over eight weeks of yoga can increase your flexibility by 35%[2].  In a recent study, 62% of a group of firefighters  reported their flexibility improved over a six week yoga program[3].  If you practice yoga continuously, the statistics suggest your flexibility can increase over a short period of time.

Prevents Arthritis & Disability

 Yoga stretches your joints to their fullest extent[4].  This lessens your chance of getting degenerative arthritis or becoming disabled[5].  Various yoga poses exercise regions of cartilage that we rarely use.  According to Dr. Timothy McCall, Yoga Journal’s medical editor, “[j]oint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up”[6].  If your joint cartilage does not receive these nutrients, these unused areas “can eventually wear out”[7]; this causes your bones to painfully grind against each other[8].  Yoga’s asanas that squeeze joints lubricate your unused areas of cartilage[9].  If you practice yoga now, your joints will thank you later.

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