National Yoga Month – Origins, practices, and benefits of yoga

By Betty Murray

Yoga is an ancient practice dating back more than 5,000 years. The term “yoga” means “to join or yoke together,” and the practice — which is built on three main structures of exercise, breathing, and meditation — brings mind and body together.

Yoga means different things for different people. For some, it is a spiritual experience, some use yoga as a means of stress relief and relaxation, while for others, yoga is simply a form of stretching and exercise. No matter how you use yoga in your own life, there are numerous health benefits to regular yoga practice.

Health Benefits of Yoga

1.     Reduce risk of heart disease — Harvard Health Publications reports that yoga can lower cardiac risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
2.     Ease headaches and migraines — Yoga can help improve skeletal alignment, which can be a cause of headaches and migraines. It’s ability to reduce stress may also improve or prevent headaches and migraines.
3.     Promote a healthy weight — A study of 15,000 healthy adults found a link between regular yoga practice and decreased (or at least maintained) body weight. Regular yoga practice has also been associated with mindful eating, according to researchers from the University of Washington.
4.     Increase bone density — A 2009 study found that practicing yoga can make bones stronger by increasing bone density.
5.     Lower blood sugar levels in diabetics — Reuters reported that three months of regular yoga practice decreases body mass and blood sugar in diabetics.
6.     Provide relief from chronic back and neck pain — Various research studies have found that yoga can provide relief for sufferers of chronic back or neck pain.
7.     Improved lung capacity — A 2000 study out of Ball State University found that consistent yoga practice over several weeks can increase vital lung capacity.
8.     Improved immunity — A recent study from researchers in Norway found that yoga can boost immunity at the cellular level. Yoga promotes better breathing. Better breathing results in improved circulation, which improves function of all organs in the body.
9.     Improve sleep — Researchers from Harvard have found that participating in daily yoga for eight weeks can improve quality of sleep for people suffering from insomnia.
10.  Lower blood pressure — A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hypertension reports that yoga can help decrease blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.
11.  Increase flexibility — A Colorado State University study found that a form of hot yoga, Bikram yoga, can increase strength and flexibility.
12.  Fight cravings — Regular yoga practice has also been associated with mindful eating, according to researchers from the University of Washington.

Types of Yoga

There are many different types and styles of yoga, but the more common styles include:

Iyengar yoga – Ideal for learning correct alignment. Beginners can use props like belts, blocks, and bolsters to help them get into poses with correct alignment.
Ashtanga yoga – More vigorous yoga in which each pose is held for only five breaths before moving on to the next.
Mysore yoga – This is Ashtanga yoga taught in a one-to-one group setting. Great, safe way for beginners to learn yoga, as they are able to go at their own pace.
Vinyasa flow yoga – This type of yoga offers a great workout, as the class moves from one pose to the next in a continual flow. This is fast-paced, and may not be ideal for beginners.
Bikram yoga – If you love to sweat, this style of yoga is for you. Poses are done in a heated room, which helps to facilitate the body’s release of toxins. Every bikram yoga class follows the same sequence of 26 poses to stretch and build muscle strength while ridding the body of toxins.
Kundalini yoga – Designed to awaken energy in the spine, Kundalini yoga also includes meditation, breathing, and chanting.
Hatha yoga – A gentle yoga style that is focused on the physical practice of yoga over meditation and chanting.
Yin yoga – Intended to increase flexibility, Yin yoga focuses on seated postures targeting connective tissues in the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. Each pose is held for one to 10 minutes. If you need to relax, this type of yoga is for you.
Restorative yoga – Another yoga style intended to promote healing and relaxation. Simple poses in Restorative yoga may be held for as long as 20 minutes with the help of props.
Jivamukti yoga – A Vinyasa-style yoga practice that often includes chanting, music, and scripture readings. Jivamukti yoga teaches students to apply the philosophy of yoga in their daily lives.

If you are new to yoga, there are several yoga studios in the Dallas area that offer beginner classes. Take time to build yoga into your daily exercise routine and you will undoubtedly notice the physical benefits. You may even notice mental benefits, such as reduced stress level and improved mood.

Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.



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