Yoga: A world of health benefits

Many of you who know me, know that I am prone to do a marathon now and again. Most of you know that I am more than a little fond of exercise. The New York marathon was on a Sunday in November in 2010 and I was scheduled to run it. I had been running 100 or more miles a week leading up to the race but was having difficulty gauging my progress. I feared a number of factors were having an adverse affect on the quality of my training despite the quantity.

On the Wednesday before the race I did an 8 mile treadmill workout which was suppose to consist of roughly a 3 mile warm-up, 2 miles at marathon race pace and a 3 mile cool-down. No problem. I felt great and the workout seemed to go well. Unfortunately, when I awakened on Thursday, both of my hamstrings were toast. I went ahead and traveled to New York and ran the race with bilateral hamstring injuries and a tight left calf, knowing within the first 3 strides of the race that my goal of something in the 2:40’s was not going to happen. I finished the race and crossed this race off my bucket list.

After returning home, my workouts over the weeks following the race were spent in cross-training, cycling and yoga, all to assist in recovery from my injuries. This time also afforded me the opportunity to reflect on where my training program had failed in preparing for New York.

Although there were many contributing factors, I really felt that the biggest problem was not what I had done, but something I did not do. I realized as I was taking part in all of my post-race workouts that I had been doing myself a huge disservice by ramping-up the mileage at the expense of doing less, or worse, NO cross-training.

Of all of the cross-training options, I believe, without a doubt, yoga is the most beneficial. As I attended my yoga classes following the marathon, I was reminded of how quickly it makes you feel better. Its healing and strengthening properties at work simultaneously are miraculous. If I had simply made more time for a little yoga during my marathon training I am quite certain I would have avoided injury altogether.

People have been practicing yoga for 5000 years and more than 10 million Americans have a yoga practice today. There are many different forms or types of yoga practice. And they run the gamut from those which are more focused on the meditative component to the most physically demanding forms practiced in hot rooms flowing from one pose to another. These poses are called asanas. And these asanas will bring you many a health benefit.

Yoga, of course, improves strength and flexibility which results in better posture. But it does so much more. It has been show to reduce stress, possibly by its effect on catecholamines, combat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as increase GABA levels in the brain, thus possibly slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Yoga has been shown to increase one’s self-image and improve one’s self acceptance and has a positive effect on mood, decreases anxiety and promotes a more stable and positive outlook on life.

Other medical conditions where yoga has been shown to have benefit includes decreasing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels and providing a boost in immune function. Yoga is a weight bearing exercise and thus helps combat osteoporosis by increasing bone mass and its lowering of cortisol levels may help maintain calcium levels in bones. Yoga increases aerobic capacity, improves asthma, and insomnia and has shown positive effects on multiple sclerosis. Some studies have even shown a possible antioxidant effect.

Additionally, studies have shown a positive effect on learning and memory, improved energy levels and a delay in the aging process. The list truly goes on and on. But the main point I wish to share is that yoga, in all of its forms, feels good, makes you look good and is an enjoyable form of exercise with a seemingly endless number of benefits. And you will begin to see and feel its effects in a short amount of time in your practice.

So if you are looking for a kick in the asana to get you going what better place to start than with a yoga studio near you?

Namaste! – Dr. Grisham