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Introduction to Yoga

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Introduction to Yoga

Yoga is more than just a workout—it’s actually a combination of four components: postures (like tree pose), breathing practices, deep relaxation, and meditation that can transform your health on many different levels. To show you how easy yoga can be and how you can reap the many health benefits, Harvard Medical School experts created An Introduction to Yoga.

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For years yoga was considered a fringe practice embraced mostly by celebrities and “New Agers.” But today millions of Americans from young children to seniors in their eighties and nineties are practicing yoga. And that’s good news because this mind-body practice actually has the power to help your health in dozens of different ways.

Yoga is more than just a workout—it’s actually a combination of four components: postures (like tree pose), breathing practices, deep relaxation, and meditation that can transform your health on many different levels. To show you how easy yoga can be and how you can reap the many health benefits, Harvard Medical School experts created An Introduction to Yoga.

In this fascinating new report, you’ll discover:

3 ways yoga can help alleviate arthritis pain

The yoga techniques that help improve balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination

How yoga can help reduce your risk of heart disease

Why yoga may be the perfect way to relieve migraines and fight osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, IBS, or fibromyalgia

A study that shows how yoga increased blood vessel flexibility 69% and even helped shrink arterial blockages without medications!

Why pain specialists are urging doctors to prescribe yoga for lower back pain

4 frightening ways stress harms your body and how yoga can help undo the harmful effects

And so much more.

Did you know research shows that up to 90% of doctor visits are linked to stress-related problems? That’s why yoga is such a perfect remedy. It’s the one tool that simultaneously releases stress while improving strength, balance, flexibility, and overall health. No pill has the power to improve so many areas of your life at one time.

Yoga works across multiple systems in your body at one time. For example, it helps to:

Rev up your immunity by raising levels of natural, disease-fighting antioxidants in your body

Activate areas of the brain that increase joy and diminish emotions linked to stress

Switch on genes that promote health (in as little as 8 weeks even if you’re a beginner)

Decrease the need for diabetes medications by as much as 40%

Reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and increase energy levels

Lower your risk for falling and may even help you re gain your balance if you stumble

And the meditation component of yoga may even help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and fight age-related declines in memory. In fact, yoga does so much for your health, studies show people who do yoga use 43% fewer medical services and save anywhere from $640 to more than $25,000 a year!

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine,, Harvard Medical School, Associate Neuroscientist, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Lauren E. Elson, MD, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Instructor, Harvard Medical School. 51 pages. (2021)

  • Why practice yoga?
    • What is yoga?
    • The four components of yoga
    • A brief history of yoga
  • The health benefits of yoga
    • Reduced stress
    • Better physical health
    • Better mental health
    • Increased well-being
  • Which type of yoga is right for you?
  • Before you start: Safety first
    • When to get a doctor’s approval
    • Advice for people with arthritis
    • Advice for people with high blood pressure
    • Advice for people with osteoporosis
    • Advice for people with glaucoma
  • Yoga postures
    • Equipment
    • Terminology used in the routines
    • Tips for a better, safer practice
  • Loosening Yoga Practice
  • Chair Yoga Practice
  • Standing Yoga Practice
  • Floor Yoga Practice
  • Yoga flows
  • Breathing, relaxation, and meditation practices
    • Breathing practices
    • Deep relaxation
    • Meditation
  • SPECIAL SECTION: Taking it to the next level: How to find the right class
    How to find the right class
  • Resources
  • Glossary

Why practice yoga?

Yoga may be the antidote for what ails you. And we’re not just talking about a single problem like back pain or insomnia. According to research, up to 90% of all doctor visits can be attributed to stress-related complaints. In our always-plugged-in, stressed-out lives, yoga provides the respite to make you feel better—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. It is arguably the one tool that we have that simultaneously improves strength, balance, and flexibility, while helping to dial back negative self-talk and ruminations as well as stress from deadlines, financial issues, relationship struggles, and other problems. No pill has the power to improve so many areas of your life at once. Imagine what could happen if you used yoga like you use your toothbrush—for routine self-care, on a daily basis.

In contrast to the daily pressures and demands of modern life, yoga gives you an opportunity to step back and simply be present in the moment—and science is discovering a myriad of benefits to doing that. Here are some of the demonstrated ways yoga can help you:

Improved health. Yoga works on multiple systems of the body at once, so its effects are widespread. Among other things, it can reduce your risk of heart disease and boost your immunity, while easing your back pain and helping to conquer stress eating.

Greater well-being. Several studies show that the more frequently you practice yoga, the more you experience positive emotions, along with greater satisfaction in life, joy, energy, improved quality of life, and an enhanced sense of well-being.

Savings in health care costs. According to a Harvard study in the journal PLOS One, when researchers compared medical costs for 4,400 people before and after relaxation training, which included techniques such as meditation and yoga, they found that people used 43% fewer medical services and reaped estimated savings ranging from $640 to $25,500 per person each year.

Yoga is easier to do than you might think. Photographs of advanced yoga practices may intimidate you, with their gravity-defying postures and pretzel-like contortions. However, basic yoga is accessible to almost everyone and can even be done in a chair. In fact, the more physical limitations you have, the more important it may be for you to try yoga, with its many benefits.

 

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