Yoga is a science that is over 5,000 years old and is still evolving. It was developed to provide harmony of the mind, spirit and body.
Yoga views the mind and the body as one entity, and believes that if it is given the right yoga tools and taken to the right environment, it can find harmony and heal itself. Yoga therefore is considered therapeutic.
Yoga takes many forms, and offers many health benefits; I concentrate on gentle and therapeutic yoga. I combine breathing and relaxation techniques with the gentle movement of yoga postures. These gentle classes are designed for relaxation, de-stressing and gentle stretching. It is not a strong physical workout, and is suitable for beginners and postnatal mothers. Classes are listed on the timetable page.
I am also a yoga therapist. Yoga therapy is the adaptation of yoga practices for people with health problems. It can aid in the alleviation of conditions such as low back pain, high blood pressure, asthma, COPD, diabetes, digestive problems, cancer((coping with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, rehabilitation from surgery, and reducing anxiety), MS, Chronic Fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety. Find out more here.
Yoga does not discriminate. Any person, of any age, gender and regardless of health can practise and experience real benefit.
Less stress, more calm
Mental health takes many forms, and breathing, relaxation and meditative techniques within yoga promote the relaxation response within the body helping to reduce stress. The relaxation response brings about decreased muscle tension, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, a deeper breathing pattern, calming of the belly, and a peaceful, pleasant mood. The problem we face in managing stress is that the stress reaction is more easily triggered than the relaxation response. The stress reaction happens immediately without any effort on your part. A loud noise at this moment would startle you, and the stress reaction would speed through your body. A stress reaction happens automatically while the relaxation response must be purposefully sought and brought under control which is what yoga does very successfully.
Among yoga’s anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines and cortisol, hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine — creates a feeling of calm. Some research points to a boost in the hormone oxytocin. This is the so-called “trust” and “bonding” hormone that’s associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.
Yoga believes that the breath is the link between the mind and the body. Yoga teaches you to become more aware of and develop control of your breath. People who practise yoga tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume. Because of the deep, mindful breathing that yoga involves, lung capacity often improves. This also prompts the relaxation response and can stimulate energy within the body. People with Asthma and COPD have been found to experience an improvement in their breathing from practising yoga.
When some people think of yoga, they imagine having to stretch like a contortionist. That makes them worry that they’re too old, unfit, or “tight” to do yoga. The truth is you’re never too old to improve flexibility and this can be achieved through gentle and simple postures without tying yourself in knots.
The series of yoga postures, called asanas, work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and which causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion in joints. It may also increase lubrication in the joints. The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body.
Intervertebral disks in the spine lack an independent blood supply and require movement to deliver nutrients from nearby blood vessels. A balanced yoga practice helps prevent the drying out and degeneration of these disks.
Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time. In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga.
Muscle Strength and Bone Strength
The asanas (physical postures) in yoga will make sure that each and every muscle group of your body is thoroughly exercised and strengthened. Many yoga poses require you to support your own body weight, thus helping you build strength in different parts of the body. For example, Tree Pose includes balancing on one leg which helps to build strength in your lower body. Downward Facing Dog includes supporting yourself with your arms which helps to build upper-body strength. Poses which focus on less movement and more precise alignment in poses, or moving slowly in and out of the poses, can provide strength and endurance benefits. When practised correctly, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
Many yoga poses involve weight bearing which strengthens bones. Yoga has been proven to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol which inhibits bone formation and increases its breakdown.
Posture and balance
With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength. That’s because you’re counting on your deep abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you’re more likely to sit and stand “tall.” Another benefit of yoga is increased body awareness. This heightened awareness tells you more quickly when you’re slouching or slumping so you can adjust your posture. Yoga also helps the body in an overall more balanced way which makes us more stable.
Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Yoga was a key component to the heart disease program designed by an American Doctor Dean Ornish. This was the first program to partly reverse heart disease through lifestyle and diet rather than surgery. On a biochemical level, studies point to a possible anti-oxidant effect of yoga. And yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.