It is a given that flexibility is an important aspect of yoga.
Many people have mental images of yogis with their arms and legs wrapped around
like pretzels. While flexibility is one of the physical benefits gained by yoga
practice, there are several others equally important to overall well-being.
Balance, strength and stamina should be considered as additional physical
assets and contributors to health that can be improved through yoga.
While strength may not be the top trait usually associated with yogis, it is certainly one of the results of regular yoga practice. Standing poses increase strength in the legs. Downward facing dog, one of the most popular yoga poses, and inversions are effective ways to make the arms stronger. Many yoga classes and sequences focus on improving core strength through the abdominal muscles.
Due to the variety of poses, many of which are different from everyday movements, yoga works well to improve balance. There are simple balancing poses like tree pose that can be practiced by beginners and a number of more advanced balancing asanas. Balance is an important ability to maintain, especially as we age.
A regular yoga practice will increase your stamina and endurance. Some yoga styles and individual classes are very aerobic. Even slower paced classes will help to improve stamina. One way to do this is by increasing the length of time you hold poses. Depending on the asana, anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes may be appropriate.
Joint health and range of motion is also improved through yoga. Learning how to correctly align the limbs and effectively use adjacent muscles can help to treat or avoid common problems with shoulders, knees and hips. Increased strength and flexibility takes pressure off of the actual joints.
In addition to improving aspects of general health, yoga can effectively address a number of specific health issues. This an area that used to rely primarily on anecdotal evidence. In recent years, numerous research studies have been completed regarding yoga and a variety of health conditions. Yoga can have a positive effect with problems such as low back pain, depression, blood pressure, stress, insomnia, osteoporosis and heart disease.
It is important to talk to your yoga teacher if you have a specific health issue or concern that you hope to address. Make sure they have the experience or understanding needed to help you. While many yoga teachers are trained to deal with a variety of injuries and health problems, some are not.
Even if you are in perfectly good health, a yoga practice can be beneficial to the physical body. The general aspects of overall health described above can all be improved safely and effectively with yoga. You may also find increased body awareness; understanding the physical body is an important aspect of health. By the way, lack of flexibility is not a valid excuse for not trying yoga! Rigid and inflexible types can, perhaps, benefit the most from yoga.