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Myth or Fact: Does yoga have any real fitness benefits?

MANY people swear by the ancient practices of yoga or meditation to keep their body and brain finely tuned. It’s a popular form of physical exercise, now taught in aged care facilities, schools and health centres. However devoted yogis believe it’s the spiritual elements of yoga, which includes relaxation, breathing and meditation that not only improve physical health, but also enhance wellbeing.

Lydia Richards, the lead yoga teacher at Upwell Health Collective in Camberwell said regular yoga practice increases your strength, flexibility mobility and stability. “But yoga is so much more than that,” Ms Richard said.

“The diaphragmatic (deep belly) breathing that we invite in yoga helps to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system through an activation of the vagus nerve, this deep breathing also oxygenates and increases blood flow and helps to rid our body of toxins. “As a result, we feel more calm and relaxed.” She said the act of observing our breath helps to quiet the voice inside our head, allowing us to think more clearly.

“Eventually, returning to this place of observation becomes less of a challenge and the gaps between our thoughts increase. This is the practise of meditation.”

Scientific studies seem to support the view that yoga and meditation can improve wellbeing. Recent research by the University of Southern California found people who embarked on a three-month yoga and meditation retreat had lower physiological and immunological markers of stress and inflammation, as well as improved wellbeing. Participants also had lower levels of anxiety and depression and increases in mindfulness.
The University of California also found one hour of yoga and 15 minutes a day of meditation could help people with mild cognitive impairment. Their moods, memory, focus and the ability to recognise objects and navigate the world all improved. It’s unclear what caused the change, but it’s thought that lower stress hormones and anxiety were likely to play a part.

There is also evidence that yoga can improve fatigue and sleep disturbances in women undergoing or recovering from breast cancer treatment. Mind-body interventions like meditation and yoga can also lead to positive changes in our genetic code.

Coventry University in the UK found evidence that these activities can result in positive benefits at the molecular level, influencing how our bodies respond to stress and anxiety. Even nursing home residents are reaping the rewards with regular group laughter yoga sessions improving the emotional wellbeing. Residents involve in a La Trobe University trial said they were relaxed, happier and more connected to others in the group after undergoing the sessions led by specialist yoga teachers.


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