FITNESS

6 reasons to practise yoga

We know yoga is good for stretching, but its other benefits may surprise you. Here are six reasons to say Namaste to regular practice.

Health benefits of yoga

For thousands of years, yoga has been balancing body and mind. Its three main elements are exercise, breathing and meditation, and its benefits are plentiful. We all know that when you feel good about yourself, you tend to make better decisions for your health and wellbeing. Being mentally strong is important when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off long-term. “Practicing yoga puts your mind in a positive state. This positivity can help keep you focused on your weight-loss journey,” says exercise physiologist Neil Russell. Here’s how yoga can boost your health and happiness.

1. Yoga can help with weight loss

Researchers in the US have found that by doing just one yoga class a week, study participants lost an average of 1.3kg in six months and were also better able to maintain the loss. “Yoga is a great way to switch-up your routine, the strength and flexibility you develop can help you improve in other activities like walking or running,” says Russell. We know how important it is to add variety to your exercise routine and now could be the time to stretch yourself to a more mindful you.

2. Yoga can ease back pain

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, as much as 80 per cent of Australians experience back pain at some point in their lives. Yoga helps strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, which can greatly reduce back pain and prevent further damage. It can also help us identify and handle the pain. “Understanding the body and how it moves and functions is important, and yoga is great at keeping us aware of how we’re feeling,” says yoga instructor and founder of Yoga Medicine, Tiffany Cruikshank.

3. Yoga can banish stress

Life can be stressful. Regular yoga workouts can help us ‘check in’ with ourselves and take time out to just breathe. “Yoga helps to improve our mindset. It’s about taking the time to say to yourself, ‘What I do affects me. I’m not trying to be perfect, but I am taking responsibility for how my actions affect me,’” says Cruikshank.

4. Yoga can help ease depression

Feeling low, or struggling with depression? You’re not alone. Around 1 million Australians suffer from depression every year. However, a small German study showed promising results – participants who took two 90-minute yoga classes a week reported significant improvements in perceived depression and anxiety after three months. “Moving through the positions and concentrating on breathing redirects focus and creates an awareness of our overall wellbeing,” says Megan McDonough, co-founder of the Wholebeing Institute. “It helps you be present in the moment.”

5. Yoga makes you happy

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson describes the brain as, “Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good”, meaning we tend to hang on to negative thoughts, and can end up consumed with unhappiness. While yoga is a great way to clear the mind, a simple exercise after class can also help us rewire our brains. “We feel good after exercise, so as soon as you walk out of your yoga class, write down what you did well,” says McDonough. “Maybe you held a position for longer, or could do something that you couldn’t do before. By writing these small, progressive achievements down, we can look back on them and remember how good we felt.”

6. Yoga can help improve your posture

Yoga can help to realign your spine, strengthen your abdominal muscles and maintain good posture. It’s not just about looking better. According to the Harvard Business School, simply standing taller can give a better first impression, while researchers at the University of Nebraska found that women who sit up straight at the dining table have a tendency to eat less.

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Find your yoga style

Keen to give yoga a try but unsure where to start? Use this quick guide to find the right class.

I'm a beginner

Hatha: Focused on slow body movements and centering your breathing, this gentle form of yoga helps melt away stress.
Yengar: This is a dynamic form of hatha yoga.
Vinyasa: This style of yoga is all about the flow of one movement to another in sync with your breathing. It’s a good choice for beginners.

I've done yoga before

Hip-Hop yoga: Looking for something a bit more upbeat? This is vinyasa yoga done to the sounds of Snoop Dog and Jay Z.
Anti-Gravity yoga: Also known as aerial yoga, this is a little bit of fun. It involves using gravity to realign your spine and stretch and strengthen your muscles while you’re hanging from a hammock.

Challenge me!

Ashtanga: Also known as power yoga, this suits those who already have a good level of fitness.
Kundalini: Not for the faint-hearted, this helps you focus on your core and push yourself mentally.
Bikram: Also known as hot yoga, this is 26 poses in a room heated to 38°C.