Yoga poses, such as the Downward-Facing Dog, offer a variety of health-promoting benefits.
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Despite its recent boom in popularity, yoga is an ancient practice that owes its roots to a number of Indian spiritual traditions. Yoga poses increase your strength and flexibility levels by placing your body in unusual positions for extended periods of time. These poses, called asanas, tend to focus on specific body parts, and often include breathing and meditating techniques. While some advanced stretches can be intimidating, don't be put off by pictures of yogis in contortionist positions. Most of the popular yoga stretches range from beginner to moderate difficulty levels, and are easily learned with the help of a certified yoga instructor.
The most obvious benefit of yoga stretching is increased flexibility. This helps boost your range of motion in your muscles and ligaments, while reducing your risk of injury. Thanks to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, many adults are developing joint and muscle stiffness in earlier stages of life. This happens due to dehydration in your connective tissues, according to the Yoga Journal website. The less moisture you have in your muscles, the easier it is for your fibers to adhere to each other, making you less supple and more prone to injury. Fortunately, regular yoga stretching can help stimulate the production of the tissue lubricants that keep your muscles flexible and strong.
It should come as no surprise that taking a break to stretch and relax can help reduce your stress levels. Even as little as 30 minutes of yogic stretching and breathing exercises have been linked to significant improvements in energy levels and positive mood changes, according to a 1993 study published by Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology. While some of these benefits may be linked to endorphins released during the workout, the controlled breathing techniques that accompany yoga stretches help promote a relaxed and meditative mental state.
Management of Chronic Conditions
A regular yoga practice can also help you reduce some of the risk factors related to certain chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia and anxiety, according to MayoClinic.com. Since different poses target different anatomical structures in your body, yoga stretches frequently offer therapeutic secondary benefits that can improve your health. For example, the popular Downward-Facing Dog yoga pose provides an intensive stretch for your shoulders, calves and hamstrings while offering limited therapeutic benefits for conditions such as sinusitis, asthma, sciatica and high blood pressure.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga practice offers an intensive strength-training workout. As you balance your body in different positions, your core muscles work overtime to help stabilize your primary muscles. Additionally, many poses transfer your entire body weight onto muscle groups not traditionally used for that purpose, such as your arms or shoulders. Unlike many weightlifting exercises, yoga stretches help you build lean muscle that adds strength without developing bulk.