So you’re practicing your yoga poses each day. You’re feeling great. Calm and peaceful during and after your session.
But did you also know that your body – your actual insides – is improving as you’re doing yoga? In other words, yoga provides real, immediate physical health benefits!
Here are just some of the physical benefits:
- Yoga can make your bones stronger.
- Bikram yoga can increase back, shoulder and hamstring flexibility.
- Hatha yoga has been found to improve focus, memory and cognition.
- Some forms of yoga can help alleviate depression, improve your overall mood and provide back and neck pain relief.
- Yoga may help women increase sexual desire, arousal and improve orgasm.
- Yoga can improve lung capacity.
- Diabetics may want to start practicing yoga because it can lower blood sugar levels.
- Yoga can reduce blood pressure.
- And so much more!
While you’re actually performing your yoga moves, your internal systems and organs may start doing the following:
- Breathing, focusing and the yoga movements themselves cause your vagus nerve – a neural highway in your body – to start the opposite of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress, known as the “rest and digest” response.
- Practice yoga regularly and you may notice that your resting heart rate becomes lower, both during and after your session.
- Your lungs expand during belly breaths, helping increase your oxygen intake.]
- Yoga encourages deep breathing and doing so activates your prefrontal cortex. One study reports that yoga practitioners scored higher on cognitive tests just 20 minutes after completing a session.
- The aforementioned vagus system may release cells during yoga that help fight infection.
- Focusing as intently as one does during yoga helps quiet the brain’s amygdala, helping you control fear and anger.
- Yoga stretches your muscles and tendons. It helps improve your balance.
Priming Your Body for a Yoga Session
Since yoga improves your physical health pretty much immediately, make sure your body is ready and able to take full advantage of yoga’s health benefits: prime it for your session by eating the right foods to help you get the strength, energy and peace that will help you make the most of the session.
As with any exercise, if you eat too soon – or too much – before practicing yoga, you’ll feel sluggish and bloated. It’s best, therefore, to eat a meal no sooner than two hours before class… or not at all if you are able to practice first thing in the morning. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, keep the meal smallish – no more than 300-400 calories.
Opt for a meal of protein, carbs and healthy fats. Don’t eat much fiber or saturated fat – you could have an upset stomach if you do.
A good meal could be some Greek yogurt topped with nuts and fruit; a piece of whole-wheat toast spread with nut butter and fresh, sliced strawberries; or an English muffin topped with chicken salad. Drink no more than 20 ounces of water prior to your yoga session as well.
If you’re going to go to yoga right after work and haven’t eaten anything since lunch, consider having a medium-sized banana or some crackers 30 minutes before class. If heading to class just after rising in the morning, make your snack super small: half a banana or a few swallows of a fruit smoothie are best.
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