Yoga: what’s it good for?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Yoga: what's it good for?Think yoga is only for health nuts and masochists? So did I – until recently.

I never really ‘got’ yoga until about six months ago. I’d been to a smattering of classes here and there over the years, but found them far too gruelling and intense – too hard – so I preferred to do my own form of ‘pigeon yoga’ at home (just some stretching, really).

What I didn’t know, though, is that you are not actually supposed to experience discomfort or feel like you’re straining your body when practising yoga – well, not much. Instead of heaving, grunting and generally torturing myself to try to match the deep, muscle-crunching poses (or ‘asanas’, in yoga speak) of more advanced students, I was actually supposed to be holding them lightly (the poses, not the students), in a way that felt comfortable for my body.

Once I discovered this, something clicked into place, and I was a goner.

I go to classes now about three times a week – sometimes more, sometimes less – and not only do I no longer experience the niggling pains and discomfort in my shoulders, neck and back that come from sitting in front of a computer for hours, I sleep better, feel calmer and – oddly enough – find that when I make an effort to squeeze a yoga class into a particularly hectic day, I actually feel like I have more time, that I’m more in control.

Another unexpected benefit is that I feel more, well, powerful – and beautiful. It is an awesome thing to feel truly at home in your body, and when you feel strong, your cellulite, batwings, or flabby gut no longer seem like such a big deal. How you feel starts to trump how you look. (And the bonus is, with regular practice, you start to look the way you feel.)

But don’t take my word for it – here are just a few scientific studies to prove that yoga…

… kills stress (and keeps you young)
Researchers found that women who routinely practice yoga have lower amounts of an inflammatory protein that is normally linked to ageing and stress. It also showed that yoga practitioners have smaller increases in the protein after stressful experiences than women who are not yoga practitioners.

… boosts strength and flexibility
One study compared people who performed an average of about 21 hours of hatha yoga classes over eight weeks with a sedentary control group. At the end of the study period, the yoga group showed significant improvements in flexibility, balance and muscular endurance.

… improves concentration
Tests on 84 American students who took yoga classes over a 10-week period found that regular practice significantly improved concentration levels after only eight weeks. (The same study found that it reduced anxiety and boosted motivation.)

… eases back pain
A UK trial has found that people with back pain had greater improvements in everyday physical tasks if they did weekly yoga sessions.

… makes you feel beautiful
A study comparing women who practiced yoga regularly with those who did other forms of exercise – as well as women who hadn’t done any form of exercise for at least two years – found that those who practiced yoga expressed healthier attitudes toward their bodies and had fewer disordered eating behaviours (suggesting that yoga can also help to encourage weight loss through healthier eating habits.)

There is enough anecdotal evidence (and in many cases scientific research) to suggest that yoga can also alleviate conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, clinical depression, anxiety, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma.

IMAGE: Yuri Arcurs/

Which yoga is right for you? >>

Written by

Rachel McGregor is a Cape Town journalist (and part-time narcissist) specialising in food, health and lifestyle-related features. In her spare time she loves to cook and poke fun at hipsters. Sometimes she dreams of giving it all up and becoming a millionaire.

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  1. NaturalDiva

    This article makes me want to grab my Yoga mat and go for a class right now.

    6 years ago •

  1. Pseudo_kate

    Completely agree. I used to think the same about yoga until I started practicing. It’s amazing, you walk tall and light on your feet, and feel so fresh after each class.

    6 years ago •

  1. Tasha

    I am really going to kick start with my yoga program that I have been neglecting for a while now.

    7 years ago •

  1. Firefly

    I love how I feel during and after a good Yoga session. Its good for the mind, body and soul.

    7 years ago •

  1. Maddy

    i love yoga and its a great thing to incorporate with cardio and strength training.

    7 years ago •

  1. Sam

    I’ve never tried Yoga before. I sounds like I’ve been missing out.

    7 years ago •

  1. Mpoyif

    I used to also think that Yoga was for lazy people, being an adrenaline junkie, but have since realised the necessity of being calm sometimes (since my chilren arrived) and Yoga helps immensely with this

    7 years ago •

  1. Botes

    Yoga is wonderfull, I try going atleast 4 times a week, it does wonders for stress and it just makes you feel like a million bucks!!!!!

    7 years ago •

  1. Rochelle Stewart

    I have never been so stiff and sore after I did my first yoga class! Not for sissies!

    7 years ago •

  1. Zu

    Im a sufferer from killer migraine and tension headaches and yoga is my life saver no matter that i remained a begginer for 2 years now, but the stretchings alone is quite beneficial.

    7 years ago •

  1. diamond

    Yoga is truly relaxing, i always try to squeeze in a few minutes every week

    7 years ago •

  1. ricebunny

    i love yoga since ive started it really improves my fitness and flexibility

    7 years ago •

  1. The Ferosh 1

    I love yoga,been doing it since 2010.but I take a break in winter,I can’t get up at 4am since I prefer doing it early in the morning when its peaceful and quite

    7 years ago •

  1. landman

    This review is more for the mature ladies with osteoporosis, myself i have osteogenisis imperfecta, so takes this from me Yoga is good for you,because Yoga Builds Bone’s and with gentle stretches it prevents- it, but consult your doctor before u start taking Yoga Classes, and remember to take classes only from a experienced certified teacher explaining to him/her your bone density.

    7 years ago •

  1. Debsie

    Think i will break my back if i try this haha

    7 years ago •

  1. Geisha Girl

    Been a yogi since last year and I am hooked. Feeling stronger than ever, inner strenght!
    I love the Hot Vinyasa classes, as it fast, flowing and detoxing!

    7 years ago •

  1. honey_child

    Yoga is definately on my to do list this year!

    7 years ago •

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