Yoga has existed for thousands of years. But, its popularity has grown significantly in the past several years. As of 2016, the number of regular yoga practitioners in the U.S. topped 36 million, up from nearly half that in 2012. From hot yoga and aerial yoga to yoga with goats, there is something for everyone.
Studies have shown that yoga practitioners reap health benefits for pregnancy, menopause, low back pain, and cardiovascular disease. It also has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety as well as benefit breast cancer survivors. Linking the breath to movement, yoga reduces stress and lowers the heart rate. It strengthens muscles while stretching out tight areas like the hamstring, which can be susceptible to injury in other sports and activities. One study even showed yoga was better than just going for a brisk walk because it more positively affected overall mood.
Yoga Alone? or Added to Your Exercise Regimen?
“I tell people yoga should be part of a regular exercise regimen,” Tiffany Field, PhD, a Professor with the Departments of Pediatrics, Psychology, and Psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine and the Director of the Touch Research Institute told Yoga.Health ™. in the Yoga Clinical Research Review, Field emphasized that for “yoga to be adopted into wider practice it needs to be established as a more effective exercise as compared to other forms of exercise.”
Field has not only put time into learning about the effects of yoga on the body, she has been practicing it regularly herself for the past 12 years and recently attended a yoga retreat. Her health is what persuaded her to practice.
“I was a 4 on the osteoporosis scale,” she said, indicating her bone density score. “I had a torn rotator cuff and a little arthritis had set in. Now, all of that’s gone and I directly attribute that to yoga.”
Yoga Strengthens and Supports Athlete's Injuries
Anamaria Baralt has been a yoga instructor at iYoga Studio in Bonney Lake, Wash., for the past four years. But her own practice started 20 years ago. A web designer by day, she’s hooked on yoga the rest of the time and highly recommends it as a primary source of exercise.
“I came to yoga as a triathlete. Triathlons use linear movements—swim, bike, run. It was my coach who suggested I incorporate yoga,” she explained. “It strengthened and supported my injuries, teaching my muscles to be stronger longer, and perform better as an athlete.”
Rebecca Francone, who works with Baralt teaching Bikram yoga, shares an athletic background. She was a swimmer in high school and even swam from Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay a few years ago. Now, it’s all yoga all the time.
“A balanced exercise regimen is important and yoga should definitely be a part of it. Your body needs that movement and stretch,” she said. “I have runners in my class that can barely bend over because they’re so tight.”
Yoga Is For The Major League Players
Although, Baralt was careful to point out that not all forms of yoga are a hefty workout. Yin yoga, for example, is meant to be more relaxing and restorative—quite different from Ashtanga or Bikram, for example, both of which are more physically demanding with Bikram involving heat to 105 degrees.
“Yoga is as intense as any other sport. It’s a hard workout,” she said. “Power yoga has a lot of vinyasas. We hold poses like planks which are designed to get your heart rate up and work hard.”
“Some football teams incorporate yoga into their routines for stretching, strengthening, and preventing injury,” she remarked. “Did you know the Seahawks train with yoga?”
Borden admitted she didn’t really get into yoga until later in life. Originally, she was a runner who even qualified for the Boston Marathon. But eventually, running took a toll on her body. While she ran solidly in her 30s, she started to add yoga in her 40s. Now edging toward 50, she only practices yoga and feels that her body has never been better.
"You Get Your Muscles Stronger and Your Mind Stronger. It’s a Huge Stress Relief.”
“Strong muscles, flexibility, cardio, balance. All of those things go together,” she said, quickly noting that those are not the only perks of yoga. “One of the best benefits is what it does for your mind and stress. It helps so many people mentally. You get your muscles stronger and your mind stronger. It’s a huge stress relief.”
Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a couch potato, yoga provides the opportunity to stretch, strengthen, and relieve stress. Why not give it a try?
EILEEN WEBER is a freelance writer. She has a master's degree in journalism and a professional background in publishing. She has written numerous articles for magazines, newspapers, and web sites. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, three daughters, two dogs, and whole lot of chaos.