Yoga: it’s about more than twisting into a pretzel.
Many years ago, when I would ask my friends to join me for a yoga class, my request was received with a rigid and unvarying no! “But it’s so good for you!”, I would say. And they would simultaneously reply, “but it’s so boring”. “It looks so easy, I won’t get a good workout”. Really? They clearly did not know what they were talking about! Yoga is anything but boring. And as far as a workout goes, it utilizes all your muscles and your own body weight providing a whole body strengthening and flexibility workout. People in recent years have obviously gotten wind that yoga is good for you. Now you see yoga everywhere. Commercials, movies, TV shows. Everyone is doing it! We have even incorporated animals into the practice. Yoga with goats, with your dog, with cats with bears, oh my!!
The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’ Thus, uniting mind and body, harmonizing oneself with the universe. According to modern scientists, everything in the universe is a manifestation of the same quantum firmament. One who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be in yoga, deemed a yogi, Yoga is a profound practice which aims for self-realization, to overcome suffering leading to ‘the state of liberation’ (Moksha) But, without becoming too philosophical in this article, I will state that yoga is also a 5,000 year old practice involving the body and all of its health benefits.
I had the honor to interview Dr. Loren Fishman. A medical doctor in New York City and yoga practitioner for over 40 years.
It has become common knowledge that yoga improves balance, flexibility, coordination and posture. But according to Dr. Fishman it also improves range of motion, strength, metabolism (anti-diabetic), reduces hypertension and raises bone mineral density. It lowers anxiety, which seems to be a significant factor in almost all disease including immune conditions, cancer, and accidents.
- Flexibility: probably the most obvious benefit yoga is known for. At first you probably won’t be able to touch your toes. After a few classes you’ll notice a gradual loosening of the muscles. You will notice some aches disappear. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture. “Stretching increases range of motion, and releases PGC1-alpha (a potent anti-inflammatory) from our muscles which activates the energy-producing mitochondria, and stimulates them to reproduce, and give us more energy with less of it wasted on nervous behaviors. Little nerve receptors within the muscles send relaxing signals to the brain when they are stretched.” says Dr. Fishman. That explains why one why feels zen after a good yoga class, those little nerve receptors are hard at work.
2. Builds Muscle Strength: Strong muscles protect against arthritis and osteoporosis. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility. Yoga strengthens muscles the old-fashioned way: by employing them to do arduous tasks, including pitting one muscle group against another, which of course strengthens both. Stronger muscles put additional stress on bones (healthy stress) which stimulates the bone-making cells (osteocytes and osteoblasts) to produce more of the proteins that are the foundation of new bone.
3. Rids our body of toxins. Twisting poses are thought to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Dr. Fishman says, “Amongst other things, yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, not the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, but rather the “rest and digest” side of things, favoring lower anxiety and blood pressure, and greater peace of mind.”
4. Gets blood flowing: Inversions such as Headstand, Handstand, and Shoulderstand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it is pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. It drains the lower extremities of lymph fluid. It thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are the known culprit. Inversions irrigate the upper lung fields, and oblige the diaphragm to lift the abdominal contents, strengthening all the muscles of respiration.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not an easy exercise practice. It’s not about lying on a mat and stretching. It may appear to be boring because of the pictures you see of a practitioner holding a pose for 3 breaths. During these asanas your whole body and brain are focusing on keeping the pose, proper breathing, proper alignment and balancing so you don’t fall over. There is a lot going on in one single asana that prevents yoga from being boring. Yoga works out not only your body, but mind and soul. It is like a 3 in 1 workout! And above all this, since you can also get in shape with other training programs, we can’t dismiss the amazing overall health properties that yoga bestows on our body. Try yoga, it’s fun and good for you. You just might surprise yourself and realize you love it! You will become a believer when you see not only your muscles get stronger and more defined but when you realize that you are no longer sweating the small stuff!
Loren Fishman, MD is medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and is affiliated with Columbia Medical School. He is a lifelong yogi and often integrates yoga into his medical practice. He is the author of ten books and over 90 medical journal articles.
For more information on Dr. Fishman, workshops and yoga please click on link below
Special Thanks to Crunch Marlboro for providing space for photo shoot.