From CrossFit to ultra-marathons, many of us think exercise is fast-paced, hot and sweaty. But physical activity doesn’t always have to vigorous to be effective. Whilst cardio, or moderate to fast paced exercise is required to keep our heart and lungs healthy, we also need to look at activities that increase our flexibility, strength and mental health too.
Research is beginning to show that regular yoga could lower the risk of heart disease and hypertension. Yoga may also lessen the symptoms of depression, headaches and pain-related diseases like arthritis or back pain, whilst keeping you strong and supple (which is really important as we age!).
The Government recommends that UK adults get 150 minutes of moderate to fast-paced exercise a week (or 60 minutes a day for kids), but they also recommend strength and flexibility exercises three times a week.
Whilst it might seem slow compared to traditional exercises classes, team sports or a sweaty gym session, yoga’s health benefits keep pace and can supplement what we think of as ‘traditional’ forms of exercise. And it’s not all about standing with your hands pressed together, one foot up against your knee chanting ‘ommmmm’.
One of yoga’s main benefits are the gentle stretches, which over time improve your flexibility. This means everyday tasks such as tying your shoelaces or reaching for things out of the cupboards become easier and are less likely to cause injury. As we get older our muscles become tighter and shorter – yoga can keep the body’s joints lubricated and increase the range of motion your muscles can perform.
When practising yoga you usually move slowly from one position to another, engaging both your mind and your body. Building body strength and focusing on how your body moves is a great way to build co-ordination, another essential tool for keeping us steady as we age.
Gentle stretching as part of a yoga class can help provide relief from back and joint pain, and arthritis. Yoga also helps to improve the way we hold ourselves – tight muscles can result in bad posture, which again results in pain.
Stretching helps release tight muscles and yoga’s ability to gently build strength in our core and limbs will help support areas that hurt. Focusing on achieving the correct posture for yoga poses can be translated into how we sit, stand and move outside the yoga studio. The relaxed nature of yoga also helps you find ‘mindfulness’, which relaxes the body providing further relief from pain.
If you have issues with pain or injuries it is important to discuss these with your class teacher and it is advisable to take a class with a registered yoga instructor, rather than trying it yourself at home. Your instructor will ensure you only try positions that will not put strain on effected areas, and who will make sure you’re holding yourself correctly in each pose.
As most yoga classes are relaxed and gentle, it’s not an exercise that is associated with weight loss and calorie burning, however yoga uses your own bodyweight to help you tone and strengthen muscles, which can give you better definition. Toning your muscles will also help you burn more calories in your day to day life, though it is wise to keep in mind that the main benefits from yoga are not weight related, but strength, flexibility and wellness instead.
Find your fit
When we think of improving our fitness we often think of huffing and puffing away in the gym, or beasting out a 20k run. But yoga can be a great way to work-out and improve strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility. These are all skills will help to better develop your ability in whichever sports you play, as well as everyday life – and will help prevent injuries too.
Yoga is generally slower paced than many exercise classes or sports and is therefore a great way to forget the stresses of the day. Yoga helps you to focus on the moment and find some ‘me time’, a key part of mindfulness, and can help you switch off from thinking of every little thing that has happened in the day.
Who said yoga was just for grown-ups? There are lots of family yoga classes, there’s even baby yoga! Taking a class together is a great way to spend some quality family time and can teach the kids something new. Poses can be tricky, so they’re good to practice at home together – nothing like a little bit of family competition!
But on a serious note, starting yoga young helps build a healthy muscle system, perfect for kids’ balance and co-ordination. It can give them a healthy start to life and also teaches them techniques for effectively dealing with stress – which will be great during exam time and as they become young adults.
Yoga for all
Unlike a lot of sports, yoga is truly inclusive. No matter what you see on Instagram you don’t need any fancy kit and anyone, no matter what level they’re at, can take part as poses differ in difficulty, from the super easy sun salutation to the trickier crow. If you haven’t tried yoga before, why not try a trial class at your local gym or leisure centre?