By Kelsey Frazier
Wellness can be defined as a balanced lifestyle where all systems — body, mind, and soul — work together at their highest capacity. Naturally, due to our human nature, it’s easy to become imbalanced due to the effects of our environment, personal life, work, diet, and more. Yoga has proven itself time and time again to be a great counter to these influences, restoring the body to a more balanced state. Scientific studies have proven these effects, citing yoga as a great benefit to the respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, digestive, endocrine, and muscular systems. Here’s how:
We’ll start with the lungs. Breathing is perhaps the primary facet to a yoga practice. In yoga the breath is linked to prana, or life energy, and is largely responsible for moving prana through the body. Pranayama, the yogic practice of controlling the breath, works to maximize this energy in the body. These practices improve lung function, maximize intake of oxygen and create more efficient exhalations. More efficient breathing = less wasted energy = higher function.
Yoga has been shown to boost levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues and thins the blood by making platelets less sticky. This cuts the level of those clot-promoting proteins in the blood which often lead to heart attacks or stroke.
Your lymphatic system is largely responsible for immunity and circulation within the body. When you contract and stretch muscles in yoga postures you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells) which assists the lymphatic system in fighting infection, destroying cancerous cells, and disposing of toxic waste products.
The nervous system is the primary communication system in your body. The brain sends signals to the body via the nervous system using electronic impulses transmitted via nerves. Bundles of fibres form the large nerves, and yoga asana has actually been shown to stretch and purify these bundles. Yoga has also been shown to stabilize the nervous system in response to stress, allowing us to live calmer more well-adjusted lives. Thus, in practicing yoga we are reducing stress in the body and thus reducing the chance of disease in the long run.
Many of us spend our days at desk jobs, while others can be found staring at their phone screen throughout the day. Some of us push our bodies with physical exercise on a regular basis leading to tight and fatigued musculature. As a result, we often develop muscular imbalances. “When you start to understand these imbalances, you start to understand the genius of yoga poses,” Ray Long, MD, orthopedic surgeon, sports-medicine specialist, and author of the book series The Key Muscles of Yoga and The Key Poses of Yoga says. “When they’re done with proper alignment, you simultaneously stretch the muscles that tend to be tight or overactive and strengthen the muscles that tend to be weak or underactive.” Many people start taking yoga because they’re tired of muscular tightness. It’s easy to see why.
Think back to our discussion regarding stress relief. Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation—all of these are caused and exacerbated by stress. When you practice yoga you reduce stress in the body, ultimately reducing the chance of these digestive issues. Yoga also eases the symptoms of constipation and lowers the risk of colon cancer by facilitating more rapid transport of food and waste through the bowels. *insert poop emoji here*
Your glands are responsible for the secretion of hormones which work together as messengers in the body, telling your systems when to turn on and off. They affect your metabolism, emotions, growth, sexual development and functioning. Yoga takes pressure off of the glands, particularly the adrenal gland, relaxing the stress response and shifting the body into a state of relaxation. It’s in this state of relaxation that the body is able to recalibrate and return to it’s natural, balanced state. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of stress related diseases.
#WinterIsComing. Boost your immunity for the cold months ahead with yoga! Asana and pranayama have great effects on immune function, but it’s meditation that takes the cake. According to Yoga Journal, meditation has “a beneficial effect on the functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed (for example, raising antibody levels in response to a vaccine) and lowering it when needed (for instance, mitigating an inappropriately aggressive immune function in an autoimmune disease like psoriasis).”
…and there you have it! A comprehensive look at how Yoga affects every system in the body. Ready to step on the mat?