For the novice, yoga can be an intimidating endeavor. The curious observer may fear they are too out of shape or too old to enjoy the many benefits of beginning a yoga practice. Not to fear, the many styles and levels yoga has to offer can provide immense physical benefit for interested students of any age and most fitness levels.
Practicing yoga benefits the body in numerous and unexpected ways. Yoga leads to greater body awareness, may slow the aging process, and improves energy levels. Yoga safely stretches the muscles and increases balance, strength, and flexibility. This method of stretching the muscles decreases stiffness, pain, fatigue, and tension by releasing lactic acid that accumulates in muscles. In addition to stretching the muscles, yoga stretches the soft tissues of the body. Yoga increases strength and endurance, and certain poses like Downward Dog, Upward Dog, and Plank pose, are especially effective in building upper-body strength. By contributing to powerful core strength, yoga leads to better posture, and yoga benefits the joints by increasing lubrication and range of motion.
Regardless of age or fitness level, yoga participants are likely to experience physical benefits in a fairly short period of time. One study documented up to 35% flexibility improvement in participants after only eight weeks of yoga. Most of the increased flexibility was found in the shoulders and trunk.
Because yoga includes deep conscious breathing, lung capacity is often improved. Yoga may be beneficial to people with heart disease, hypertension, and stroke because it slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. In a study that partially reversed heart disease through lifestyle and diet designed by Dean Ornish, MD, yoga was a healing element. Other studies suggest that yoga boosts the immune system functions and has an anti-oxidant effect.